This is my entry for “G” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “G” documentaries I’ve reviewed are Galapagos: The Enchanted Voyage, The Gnomist, Gimme Shelter, Goldman Sachs: The Bank That Rules the World and Grey Gardens.
Title: Gates of Heaven
Release Date: October 1978
Director: Errol Morris
Production Company: Gates of Heaven
This was Errol Morris’ first movie and features several people associated with the pet cemetery business. Much like his second film Vernon, Florida, which I watched a couple of years ago, the movie is made up entirely of interviews of various people, edited together to build a story. There is no narration and only an occasional establishing shot and newspaper headline to provide context.
The first part of the movie focuses on Floyd “Mac” McClure who attempts to fulfill his lifelong dream of opening a pet cemetery in Los Altos, CA. He’s contrasted with a man who runs a rendering plant the traditional destination of dead animals – including beloved pets – where they are turned to tallow. After McClure’s cemetery fails financially, the 450 animal bodies are exhumed and moved to Bubbling Well pet cemetery in Napa, CA. This much more successful pet cemetery continues to operate through today under the operation of the Harberts family. Interviews with the Harberts include two sons, one a dreamy musician and one a practical businessman with experience in the insurance industry. The film also includes interviews with people talking about the pets they had buried in the cemeteries.
The biggest takeaway from this movie is the wide gap between the philosophy and attitudes of the people interviewed. At one extreme are the people deeply sincere about there passions,whether it be their pets, their desire to have a place to inter deceased pets, or to play guitar. At the other are the businessmen who are very crass about their capitalist interests of making a back, whether it be by rendering or burying animals. The one thing that all these people have in common is an unawareness of how they may come off to other people.
Roger Ebert considered Gates of Heaven to be one of the top ten movies of all time. Maybe there was something about seeing it as an underground movie in the 1970s when there were no other documentaries like it around had a mesmerizing effect, but I don’t see it as great as all that. Nevertheless, it is an interesting glimpse into the human experience through an unusual topic. And it made Werner Herzog eat his shoe.
Note: I could not find a trailer for Gates of Heaven but the entire movie is on YouTube should you be interested.