Errol Morris

Big dragons in Game of Thrones

The best movie culture writing from around the internet-o-sphere. There will be a quiz later. Just leave a tab open for us, will ya?

read more...

TABLOID_-_ErrolMorrisStill

In 1988, a documentary about a man in Texas convicted of a murder he did not commit made it to the top of numerous critics’ best-of lists, became one of the most widely-seen non-fiction films of its era, and even created enough publicity to overturn the conviction of the film’s subject.  However, The Thin Blue Line, despite the considerable attention and critical praise it attracted, was absent at that year’s Academy Awards because it was reportedly not considered a documentary. One can easily make a case inverse of the Academy’s evaluation, that this particular work actually defined what the documentary is, and can be, in North American filmmaking since. In what seems to be a decade-plus-long mainstream renaissance of the non-fiction form, The Thin Blue Line’s influence is palpable to a level nearing ubiquity. At the same time, nobody makes films quite like the intimidatingly intelligent and perceptive Errol Morris: filmmaker, investigative journalist, essayist, perceptive tweeter, and arguably (depending on who you ask) the first postmodernist documentarian. So here’s some free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from the man who inspired Werner Herzog to eat a shoe.

read more...

killing

At the heart of Joshua Oppenheimer’s new documentary, The Act of Killing, is an interesting experiment. The general conceit is that he’s contacting mass murderers who are living in a culture that celebrates rather than vilifies their crimes against humanity, and he’s challenging them to film reenactments of the murders they’ve carried out in their real lives, but in the dramatic film genre of their choice. As you can see in the new trailer for the doc, some of their short films end up looking like crime films, some experimental art films, and some gaudy Bollywood musicals, but the tie that binds them all together is that they’re really disturbing to watch, and they just may leave you examining how you react to the murder you see so frequently projected up on the big screen, and why it is you react the way you do.

read more...

werner herzog eats his shoe

Filmmaker Les Blank died today at age 77 from bladder cancer. He is best known for directing Burden of Dreams, a feature film on the making of Werner Herzog‘s Fitzcarraldo. Roger Ebert, who we lost to cancer just days ago, called it “one of the most remarkable documentaries ever made about the making of a movie.” Two years earlier, Blank made another film with Herzog as the subject. It’s wonderful title is Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe. Probably not coincidentally, it also involved one of Ebert’s favorite films of all time, Errol Morris‘s directorial debut, Gates of Heaven. The 20-minute short film is, of course, literally named. Blank shows us Herzog cooking up his shoe and then eating it during a public event, part on stage at the UC Theater in Berkeley in front of a large crowd and part at a famous Berkeley restaurant called Chez Panisse. Why did Herzog eat his shoe? Because he told his friend Errol that if he ever manages to finish that first documentary of his that he’d eat his shoe. Plain and simple. In the short, Herzog offers that he’ll eat the other shoe he’d worn that day if a major studio picks up Gates of Heaven for distribution. New Yorker Films, which ended up finally releasing Gates in 1980, didn’t count. 

read more...

Searching for Sugar Man

Nobody was surprised last week when Daniel-Day Lewis took home the Best Actor Oscar for Lincoln. It was an accomplished performance by an actor working in a league of his own. But another reason the award seemed so very unsurprising is the fact that a well-known actor was rewarded for embodying a familiar real-life figure. Awards ceremonies have made something of a habit out of rewarding actors for portraying famous real-life persons. One of my major gripes about Philip Seymour Hoffman taking home the gold for Capote in 2006 was the fact that Hoffman, who had never been nominated before, had previously lifted so many original characters off the page and gave them incredible depth (of course, I’m referring to Twister). But the face of a known actor embodying another known face functions like a magnet of praise when accomplished convincingly. The opposite can be said of non-fiction filmmaking. The critical and box office success of Searching for Sugar Man marks the culmination of a trend that’s seemingly particular to mainstream documentary filmmaking: the use of the medium to resurrect or elevate a previously under-appreciated or forgotten personality.

read more...

Movies based on true stories are rarely — if even ever — 100% accurate. To make it an engaging story for an audience, obviously some dramatic license must be used. And for the time constraints of a feature, there has to be a good deal of condensing and abridging and in many cases exclusion. For the full accounts of real life, we may have nonfiction books or magazine articles or the Internet, and these more extensive and comprehensive tools are easily accessed after seeing the film in order to get at the greater truth. Movies based on true stories are more like teasers of true stories. And like most advertisements they have to stretch reality to pique our interest. Argo is certainly that kind of teaser. But are people giving Ben Affleck‘s latest too much credit in the accuracy department? I keep reading stuff about how the actor/director aimed for realism (see the post from yesterday about the film’s sound design), which may be the case in terms of tone and technical accomplishments such as period costumes and production design. There is quality to the recreation of time and place, if not all facts. Meanwhile, many critics are calling this film “stranger than fiction,” which is very misleading given just how much fictionalizing went into the script in order for it to have themes and a whole lot of suspense (too much, in my opinion, near the point of feeling like self-parody).

read more...

Why Watch? “The dimensions of a recliner chair are very similar to a casket,..” Yesterday, we looked at an editing student’s excellent take on an NFL team’s comeback from the brink, but documentary legend Errol Morris has a far quirkier sports concept in mind. In this doc for ESPN, he explores the dedication it takes to support your favorite team even in death. Thanks to DocBlog for featuring it. What will it cost you? Only 8 minutes. Skip work. Watch more short films.

read more...

Of all the films being developed in the Hollywood-sphere right now, perhaps no other has more reasons to be excited about it than the upcoming, based-on-a-true-story shocker Freezing People is Easy. First off, it’s based on the life story of Robert Nelson, a man who spearheaded a movement in cryonics that saw several bodies being frozen back in the 60s, with disastrous results. Nelson’s story is darkly funny, shockingly grisly, and endlessly interesting due to its many twists and turns. It’s already been documented to great success in the man’s memoirs, “We Froze the First Man,” and also in a segment on the radio program This American Life entitled “Cold as Ice,” and it’s really a tale that everyone needs to hear. Secondly, the talent bringing this story into yet another medium, this time the big screen, is impressive. Freezing People is Easy is set to be the second dramatic work by famed documentarian Errol Morris (Tabloid), and it’s being shot from a screenplay that was written by Stranger Than Fiction’s Zach Helm. These are names whose next projects I would have been anticipating whether they were attached to a story I was already interested in or not. Throw them all together and there’s reason to celebrate. The third reason I’m looking forward to this one is how well the cast seems to be shaping up. It’s already been reported that Paul Rudd is attached to play Nelson as the lead, and now a report from Deadline Redondo Beach says […]

read more...

Culture Warrior

Usually I’m quite cynical about end-of-year lists, as they demand a forced encapsulation of an arbitrary block of time that is not yet over into something simplified. I typically find end-of-year lists fun, but rarely useful. But 2011 is different. As Scott Tobias pointed out, while “quiet,” this was a surprisingly strong year for interesting and risk-taking films. What’s most interesting has been the variety: barely anything has emerged as a leading contender that tops either critics’ lists or dominates awards buzz. Quite honestly, at the end of 2010 I struggled to find compelling topics, trends, and events to define the year in cinema. The final days of 2011 brought a quite opposite struggle, for this year’s surprising glut of interesting and disparate films spoke to one another in a way that makes it difficult to isolate any of the year’s significant works. Arguments in the critical community actually led to insightful points as they addressed essential questions of what it means to be a filmgoer and a cinephile. Mainstream Hollywood machine-work and limited release arthouse fare defied expectations in several directions. New stars arose. Tired Hollywood rituals and ostensibly reliable technologies both met new breaking points. “2011” hangs over this year in cinema, and the interaction between the films – and the events and conversations that surrounded them – makes this year’s offerings particular to their time and subject to their context. This is what I took away from this surprising year:

read more...

The supplementary title for Werner Herzog’s new documentary about capital punishment is “A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life.” These clauses are placed in a perplexing order that seems, at first, to run in reverse. However, when viewing the film, it becomes abundantly clear why life is not necessarily a linear trajectory that ends in death, with all the mutual exclusivity implied in the assumed separation of these categories. Instead, Into the Abyss argues that death is something one perpetually lives with, especially the certain knowledge of impending death in the case of state-run execution or in the memory of death when one’s loved one has been murdered. The certainty and harsh reality of death not only plagues the prisoner and the victim’s kin, but also profoundly effects a large array of individuals involved directly or indirectly with every heinous crime and execution. The timing of the release of Into the Abyss is worth noting. In September, Troy Davis was executed in the face of massive public protest and significant lingering doubts as to the fairness of his trial. Many anti-death penalty advocates saw the case as a potentially fatal blow for state-run execution, as it illuminated flaws within the system which in turn troubled capital punishment’s logic of justice. A mere two months later, the Troy Davis case has been almost completely forgotten in the public sphere as the news cycle has turned its lenses to Occupy movements and the ongoing reality show known as GOP debates. The […]

read more...

Culture Warrior

We often don’t think of commercials as having authorship, at least not in the same way we think of movies. Commercials are created by advertising companies, by focus groups, by strategists; not by “artists.” But while the purpose of a 30-second ad may on the surface differ from the motive of a feature length film (though not always), both are media assembled through a particular economy of storytelling devices and are made often by a collaborative company of individuals. But commercials don’t often contain credit sequences, and thus the phenomenology of its making is cloaked and the personalities who made it unconsidered. The focus is on the product being sold, not the creative team selling it. So it can be surprising to find out that well-respected, top-tier, artistic filmmakers often direct commercials. Sure, many filmmakers regularly make commercials as a more lucrative and less time-consuming alternative to feature filmmaking, and there are many visual artists who have honed an ability to express their personality in various media forms, but a surprising number of supposedly cinema-specific auteurs make commercials, despite a lack of apparent monetary need or professional benefit. This subject came to my attention recently because of a series of articles on Slate last week by David Haglund about the oeuvre of the Coen brothers that included the filmmaking duo’s commercials in considering their larger cinematic contribution. It’s an interesting way to view a filmmaker’s career, for it forces you to look for their identifying traits and revisited themes via […]

read more...

Lots of info is swirling around regarding legendary documentary filmmaker Errol Morris’s second dramatic work. Morris is intent on making a biopic of a man named Robert Nelson, who was a television repairman who joined a group of cryogenic enthusiasts in the late 60s, took over their makeshift operation, and took it upon himself to start freezing people post death. Nelson’s story has already been told in his own memoirs “We Froze the First Man,” and in a segment on NPR’s This American Life entitled “You’re Cold as Ice.” Morris will be filming a screenplay by Stranger than Fiction’s Zach Helm that takes material from both. First, The Washington Post has confirmed with Morris that he has cast Paul Rudd in the lead role of Bob Nelson. While there is a lot of dark humor to be had in the prospect of an in over your head TV repair man trying to run a cryogenics operation, this story goes some dramatic places as well, so this will be an interesting role to see Rudd take. He started his career doing more dramatic stuff, but has recently been known for doing mostly straight comedy. This could be a good chance to see what kind of chops Rudd is working with. A second bit of news on the project is that The New York Observer is reporting This American Life creator and host Ira Glass will be collaborating with Morris on the film in some capacity.

read more...

Errol Morris is the kind of master filmmaker that can essentially do no wrong. He’s one of the best documentarians of our time, and his output seems to get better and better. With Tabloid, he sets out to try to capture every side of a truly complex story – one that involves that damned old sin of love and lust and the press. Depending on who you ask, Joyce McKinney either rescued the man she loved from brainwashing Mormons by taking him on a sex-laden trip or she kidnapped him from his devout religious community, chained him to a bed and raped him. Or, there are several other options if those don’t suit you. Sexy and confusing. That’s how I like ‘em.

read more...

Whether you’re trying to avoid the releases this week or augment them with even more movies, Your Alternate Box Office offers some options for movies that would play perfectly alongside of (or instead of) the stuff studios are shoving into the megaplex this weekend. This week features one major release that has blue naked women, a political subplot, and huge action set pieces. Avatar 2? No! It’s X-Men: First Class, and it’s a movie that demands to be double featured.

read more...

Every week, Landon Palmer and Cole Abaius log on to their favorite chat client of 1996 as THEFANFROMLONDON and DinoDNA007 in order to discuss some topical topic of interest. This week, the two tackle the fact that no documentary has ever been nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. Why all the hate, AMPAS? Sure, it has its own category, but that doesn’t deny it entry into the big game. Is there an internal bias against non-fiction? Should Jackass 3 been facing off against The Social Network? Will we see a documentary nominated for Best Picture in our lifetime?

read more...

Culture Warrior

With the release of Pixar’s Up, last year saw a great deal of conversation surrounding the ghettoization of animated movies at major awards shows. This debate resulted in something of a minor, qualified victory for animated cinema of 2009, as Up was the first animated movie to be nominated for Best Picture since Beauty and the Beast, but then again it sat amongst a crowded bevy of nine fellow nominations, and animated films remain unthreatening to their live action competitors because of the separate-but-unequal Best Animated Feature Category. I’d like to take this space to advocate for the big-category acceptance of yet another marginalized and underappreciated category around awards time: non-fiction films.

read more...

Culture Warrior

The Room is different from other bad movies. Anybody who has seen it knows this. Its success is so potent, and the film is so rewatchable and addictive because it resides in an exclusive liminal space between the token wonderfully bad genre movies (e.g., Plan 9, Hobgolbins, Troll 2, and everything in between) and infuriatingly incompetent beyond-amateur crap like Manos: The Hands of Fate or Birdemic. The Room is so incredibly unique in part because, at a $6 million investment from the enigmatic Tommy Wiseau that covered everything from production to advertising, this is bad filmmaking on a relatively “large” scale. With The Room, Wiseau found himself in the impossible position of being able to – as the film’s sole source of funding – exercise total creative control while simultaneously displaying unwieldy incompetence regarding the entire filmmaking process.

read more...

Culture Warrior

I argued in a Culture Warrior article last year that bad films give audiences a degree of power and authority over the enormous and intricate machinations of filmmaking – in other words, that in an industry so large, with so many levels of production and with such a complex process from inception to completion, for a work of incompetence to somehow arise is an instance of seemingly impossible serendipity. Bad films are more believably possible – and come about, arguably, more often – through the process of independent filmmaking, a venue where resources may be limited but accountability may be absent altogether. Thus, a masterpiece of incompetence like Tommy Wiseau’s The Room is likely if not inevitable when there are significant sources of funding provided by a first-time feature director who doesn’t know the first thing about narrative storytelling, much less the difference between 35mm and HD cameras – or Troll 2, in which a language barrier also provided a barrier to competent filmmaking.

read more...

Citizen Kane

Landon Palmer takes a look at one of the most hotly debated topics in the history of film — that of the best there ever was, and whether or not Citizen Kane is it.

read more...

cw-foundfootagefilmmaking

This week’s Culture Warrior talks fake movies that look real but are fake, from Paranormal Activity to Blair Witch to old people getting in it with garbage.

read more...
NEXT PAGE  
Some movie websites serve the consumer. Some serve the industry. At Film School Rejects, we serve at the pleasure of the connoisseur. We provide the best reviews, interviews and features to millions of dedicated movie fans who know what they love and love what they know. Because we, like you, simply love the art of the moving picture.
SXSW 2014
Game of Thrones reviews
Got a Tip? Send it here:
editors@filmschoolrejects.com
Publisher:
Neil Miller
Managing Editor:
Scott Beggs
Associate Editors:
Rob Hunter
Kate Erbland
Christopher Campbell
All Rights Reserved © 2006-2014 Reject Media, LLC | Privacy Policy | Design & Development by Face3