Dir: Kevin McDonald. 1999. UK-US. 48 mins.
Prod Co: Minerva Pictures. Int'l sales: Film Transit International (+1 514 844 3358). Prods: Paula Jalfon, Colin MacCabe. DoP: Neve Cunningham. Ed: Stephen Devlin. Mus: Alex Heffes. Main cast: Errol Morris, Werner Herzog, Tom Luddy, Philip Glass.
An Oscar-winner earlier this year for the controversial One Day In September, director Kevin McDonald is also noted for perceptive documentaries on such diverse film figures as Howard Hawks and silent funnyman Eric Campbell. Now, he casts a sympathetic eye over the obsessive world of Errol Morris. The result is a concise, cogent insight into the span of a career that provides the perfect curtain-raiser for festival retrospectives or small-screen salutes. Dedicated film channels should consider it an essential addition to their catalogues.
Based around interviews with Morris and colleagues like Werner Herzog and Philip Glass, the film offers a straightforward but fascinating account of the filmmaker's preoccupations with death, all-American eccentricity and the blurred boundaries between fact and fiction. Biographical information paints a portrait of a perfectionist whose time as a private detective was just a prelude to his filmic investigations of what makes people tick. Gathered under chapter headings, the film works through Morris' films on pet cemeteries and the self-mutilation capital of America to the ground-breaking Thin Blue Line in which his evidence was responsible for exonerating a convicted murderer. We witness his "interratron" invention in which the interview subject can look directly at the camera and at Morris.
We also learn of his belief that silence and a good listener will always prompt the subject to reveal themselves. "We all see ourselves as being protagonists in a private drama of our own construction," he asserts. "That's the human condition." If the film has a flaw it is a trim running time that leaves you wanting to know more. On the other hand, it expertly serves to whet your appetite for revisiting Morris' work.