With Errol Morris’ latest film, The Pigeon Tunnel - a fascinating portrait of former British spy and famed novelist John le Carré - arriving on the Bertha DocHouse screen on 20 October, we take a look at the documentary giant’s extensive career and pioneering filmmaking techniques.
Known for his piercing interrogation style and unusual topics, and with fourteen feature documentaries and an Oscar under his belt, Errol Morris has been revered as one of the most exciting documentary filmmakers of the past 40 years.
One of Morris’ most pioneering camera techniques was the Interrotron, named by his wife as it combines ‘interview’ and ‘terror.’ This invention is a variation of a teleprompter, but rather than seeing text over the camera lens, the interviewee sees the face of the person asking the questions. Morris says that this speaker-to-camera interview set-up enables “true first-person” documentary, as it maintains direct eye contact with the interviewee.
After twenty years of reviewing films, I haven't found another filmmaker who intrigues me more...Errol Morris is like a magician, and as great a filmmaker as Hitchcock or Fellini.
Gates of Heaven / 1978 / 85 mins
The Thin Blue Line / 1988 / 101 mins
The fascinating, controversial true story of the arrest and conviction of Randall Adams for the murder of a Dallas policeman in 1976. Billed as ‘the first movie mystery to actually solve a murder,’ the film is credited with overturning Adams’ conviction for the policeman’s murder, a crime for which he had been sentenced to death.
With its use of expressionistic reenactments, interview material and music by Morris’ longtime collaborator, the Oscar-nominated composer Philip Glass, The Thin Blue Line pioneered a new kind of nonfiction filmmaking. Its style has been copied in countless reality-based television programs and feature films and it was voted fifth in Sight & Sound’s list of the top documentaries of all time.
Available to watch on The Criterion Channel
The Fog of War / 2003 / 107 mins
Winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary, The Fog of War tells the story of America as seen through the eyes of the former Secretary of Defense, Robert S. McNamara. One of the most controversial and influential figures in world politics, he takes us on an insider’s view of the seminal events of the 20th Century.
Combining extraordinary archival footage, recreations, newly declassified White House recordings, and an original score by Philip Glass, the film is a disquieting and powerful essay on war, rationality, and human nature.
The Fog of War is available to watch on Amazon Prime.
The Unknown Known / 2013 / 105 mins
Donald Rumsfeld, congressman for over fifty years, advisor to four presidents and so-called principal architect of the Iraq war, has never been short for words. Renowned for his linguistic gymnastics, and an uncanny ability to use rhetoric to bewitch and befuddle, how will Rumsfeld fare under Errol Morris’s penetrating gaze?
Morris allows Rumsfeld to take the stage as the writer/performer of his own life, using the many thousands of internal memos he calls ‘snowflakes’. But as he is pulled back to retrace controversial flashpoints such as the invasion of Iraq, accusations of torture, and the revelations of Abu Ghraib, their conversation becomes a cat-and-mouse game of argument and counterargument, evidence and evasion. An utterly mesmerising portrait, taking us beyond Rumsfeld’s infamous web of words and into the unfamiliar terrain of his mind.
You can watch back our Q&A with Errol Morris about The Unknown Known here.