Monday, November 13, 2006

[1980] GATES OF HEAVEN: ROGER EBERT! BEST MOVIE EVER! I don't think it's quite that good but I guess the Rog is just championing a little-seen film that he thinks everybody should see--and I would agree that this is something you should see. The selling point is that it's a documentary about a pet cemetary but really it's only tangentially about that. It's more like Morris cobbling the stories together of the cemetary owners and the owners of the deceased pets into a 83-minute long meditation on the ever-present human fear of death and how one form this took was this one particular pet cemetary. There's some good subplots, too; the rendering plant manager was hilarious--he's sort of cast as the clear-eyed cynic in the first half of the film, versus the visionary South Dakotan who made it his mission in life to give pets decent burials and not just thrown "in the trash" (as he says a few times.) Later we switch to the second cemetary (the first one goes out of business) where it's a family business and we have two sons who have sort of fallen into the family business without intending to: an older son who's had some failures and had to move back into the cemetary business and is constantly on-camera talking up self-helpish strategies for how to be a successful person, and a younger son who works hard at the business but is a bit laid back and basically just wants to play his guitar when he can. So you have some family dynamics going on in here too. Morris clearly enjoys his subjects--there's very little condescension here, even to the doofy pet owners who are sometimes comic relief (like when this one lady is trying to get her dog to sing to her) and at other times just really desperately hopeful people, trying to honor the way they felt about their animals as best they can. It's quite good and moving stuff. (I do dispute the 1980-ness of this film, though. From what I can tell it was in the can and being shown at festivals pre-1980, but it didn't pick up a distributor until 1980. But if that's what counts for the IMDB, then that is what we shall go with.)

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