“There’s your dog; your dog’s dead. But where’s the thing that made it move? It had to be something, didn’t it?”
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
Response to Peary’s Review:
I find Gates of Heaven more inherently intriguing than Peary — though I am troubled by the fact that Morris seems to be presenting his participants in the quirkiest possible light, strategically editing and interweaving their interview clips so that they all come across as either deluded, arrogant, or ridiculous. It’s no surprise that the main cemetery on display, Bubbling Well Pet Memorial Park in Napa Valley, makes no mention whatsoever of the documentary on its website. One scene in particular — in which Bubbling Well’s founder fawns over a photo of a couple’s unusual-looking dog (“This is a most unusual, most unusual [dog] — I just can say I’ve never seen anything like it…”) — stands out as especially mean-spirited on Morris’s part.
Knowing the unique direction Morris would eventually take with his documentaries (i.e., his use of an “Interrotron” machine, allowing his subjects to look directly at him while speaking to the camera), this early film feels quaint, stylistically-speaking, in comparison. Yet Morris’s characteristically droll, highly philosophical approach to his material is in clear evidence: as Roger Ebert noted in his overview of the title on his “Top 10 Favorite Films” list, “Morris is not concerned with his apparent subject. He has made a film about life and death, pride and shame, deception and betrayal, and the stubborn quirkiness of human nature.” Whether one agrees with Peary’s more cynical perspective, or Ebert’s loftier one, this cult favorite should be seen at least once, simply for its notoriety.
Note: It’s interesting that Peary fails to mention that this film was the basis for Les Blank’s short documentary entitled “Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe”; click here to read more about the bet that led to this event, as well as Morris’s eclectic background in general.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments: