Gates of Heaven

Overview

Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris' debut immediately attracted acclaim for its straight-faced treatment of a subject practically begging for ridicule. When the Foothill Memorial Gardens pet cemetery, located north of San Francisco, closed (its land was sold for a housing project), the 450 animals interred there had to be moved to Bubbling Well Memorial Park in nearby Napa. Morris saw the transfer as an opportunity to explore the world of pet owners who are so devoted that they see nothing wrong with giving their...
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Overview

Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris' debut immediately attracted acclaim for its straight-faced treatment of a subject practically begging for ridicule. When the Foothill Memorial Gardens pet cemetery, located north of San Francisco, closed (its land was sold for a housing project), the 450 animals interred there had to be moved to Bubbling Well Memorial Park in nearby Napa. Morris saw the transfer as an opportunity to explore the world of pet owners who are so devoted that they see nothing wrong with giving their animals a full dose of the last rites. His simple technique was to film his subjects, usually seated, talking about their loved ones, alternating with shots of the two cemeteries and the move. Critic Roger Ebert became an early champion of the film, and Morris' struggles to finish it resulted in a very amusing short film, Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe. The German filmmaker had bet Morris that he would never complete the film, and when he did, Herzog publicly boiled and consumed one of his shoes for the camera of director Les Blank.
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Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Tom Wiener
The cheap laughs that any filmmaker might wring out of pet cemeteries are nowhere to be had in Errol's Morris' first documentary. It's not that Gates of Heaven isn't amusing at times, but Morris does force us to examine those people sincerely and unaffectedly devoted to animals who had become their companions. The film walks a tightrope between offering respect for the pet owners and revealing the absurdity of the funeral business in general. (It's not unlike The Loved One or Juzo Itami's The Funeral in that regard.) Morris allows his subjects to carry on at some length, but he's careful not to let any of them come off like truly addled animal lovers. It's in his shots of the two cemeteries in question, with a clear California sky arcing over the tombstones featuring Fluffy and Rex, when the film takes a more surreal turn. Like Frederick Wiseman, Morris stands back and allows the material to speak for itself. His later films have strayed from this minimalist approach, but Morris has managed to maintain his integrity as an inquisitive, provocative filmmaker.
Chicago Sun-Times - Roger Ebert

When I put it on my list of the 10 greatest films ever made, I was not joking; this 85-minute film about pet cemeteries has given me more to think about over the past 20 years than most of the other films I've seen.
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Product Details

  • Release Date: 7/26/2005
  • UPC: 883904129660
  • Original Release: 1978
  • Source: Mgm (Video & Dvd)
  • Format: DVD

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Zella Graham Interviewee
Cal Harberts Interviewee
Technical Credits
Errol Morris Director, Editor, Producer
Ned Burgess Cinematographer
Jay Miracle Sound/Sound Designer
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