A note before commencing reading: Usually, my blog posts are only focussed on films that I think are awesome. This week, I’m changing tack quite dramatically by writing about films that I really dislike. I’m hoping that it may inspire some debate amongst readers, maybe someone can prove me wrong or convince me to embrace what I currently cannot bare…
I love documentary film: shorts or features, political or personal, professional or budget, there’s nothing I won’t watch… with one exception… anything by Errol Morris.
This is a painful confession for me to make, considering that Morris is one of the so-called ‘masters’ of documentary film, with a pile of critically acclaimed ‘classics’ under his belt such as The Fog of War, The Thin Blue Line, A Brief History of Time and, most recently, Tabloid.
Granted, I must also confess I haven’t watched them all, but after trying to sit through three of them (The Thin Blue Line, Vernon Florida and Tabloid) and failing miserably (I got about 35 mins into The Thin Blue Line, 10 mins into Vernon, Florida and 60 mins into Tabloid) I just thought it wasn’t worth going on.
The first Morris film I watched was The Thin Blue Line, which was made in 1988. It was an extremely important film because it helped to free a man from prison by exposing corruption within the American justice system. Despite its undeniably significant impact, in my opinion the film itself is a tedious watch, relying on dead-pan interviews with bland, monotone characters and dependent on poorly made reconstructions of actual events. However, wider audiences clearly don’t agree with me, the film has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a metascore of 79 on Metacritic… this all leaves me thinking, what is it I’m not getting?
I powered on, convinced that I would not judge Morris by one film alone. I decided to watch Vernon, Florida, thinking that it would be quite a different film to Thin Blue Line, being described by one IMDB contributer as a documentary that ‘intersplices random chatter [Morris] captured on film of the genuinely eccentric residents of Vernon, Florida.’ Upon beginning the film, I found the audio alone to be severely grating, with the noises of trucks storming through the one-horse town dominating and intruding into the storytelling of Morris’ first bizarre interviewee. Perhaps this is some artistic point that Morris is trying to make, but I found it highly irritating. As I mentioned above, I barely got into the film before I turned it off.
I realize I should have persevered, but I just couldn’t hack it. Despite my two failed attempts to see a Morris film through, I decided to give it one last shot. Thinking that perhaps the last two films were a bit dated, I chose to watch Morris’ newest offering, Tabloid, which was released late last year.
On paper Tabloid has everything you could want from a good documentary, a scandalous, long-forgotten story (of an American beauty queen who travels to England and allegedly kidnaps and rapes a Mormon missionary), a totally bonkers central character (the beauty queen, Joyce McKinney), and a few reasonably charismatic contributors to the story (some newspaper guys).
However, in true Morris style, he drags out this peculiar, complicated story into a tedious monolith of a film. He brings out the true ugliness and shallowness of all the individuals who participate in the interviews, which I suppose is a skill in itself, but personally, it led me to feel uninterested in their lives and unresponsive to them.
I made it further into this film than any of my previous attempts, making it past the half–way point, but giving up after an hour of listening to a variety of different accounts, opinions and claims without having any sense of what was true and what was false.
I tired of Joyce and her over-the-top, delusional testimony. I couldn’t be bothered to find out how the story ended. I just didn’t care, it didn’t matter, it wasn’t important in my mind; I felt no guilt in abandoning the film and never looking back.
So, Errol, I’m sorry, I’ve tried, I just don’t like your films. Luckily for you, there seem to be lots of people out there who do not share my views (well except for this guy who seems to agree with me).
I would invite anyone who has an opinion to please comment, I’d love to know what others think… can anyone convince me of Errol Morris’ greatness?
If you haven’t seen an Errol Morris documentary before, please do not take my opinion as law, I encourage that you watch for yourself before you make any judgements.