Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris on the creative process
Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris has a very unique style of storytelling. His films usually focus in on the retrospective, giving his subjects the opportunity to reflect on past traumas, past glories and past versions of themselves. He helped revolutionize the industry with the use of techniques and flourishes previously frowned upon in traditional documentary filmmaking such as the reenactment.
Part of his creative process includes the use of a device he invented called a “Interrotron.” It allows the subjects of his films to look at him, the interviewer, while also looking straight into the camera, creating the sense that his subjects are addressing the viewer directly. He’s been lauded among the film community as a visionary and his film debut, 1978’s Gates of Heaven is required viewing in film schools across the country.
Gates of Heaven, about a small Florida town and a pet cemetery scandal that rocked the nation, sits among many film critics “Best of” lists including the late Roger Ebert who included the documentary in his list of ten best made films of all time.
In 1985, he made the film The Thin Blue Line which featured a Dallas psychologist dubbed “Dr Death” and a case involving a slain police officer and a man serving a life sentence for a murder he did not commit. The footage and investigative reporting initiated in service of the film ultimately assisted in the framed defendant being freed.
Since then, Morris has gone on to make several critically acclaimed projects including his 2014 Netflix series Wormwood where the director examines the 1953 death of scientist and CIA employee Frank Olson.
His latest film is titled My Psychedelic Love Story. It takes a look at the past relationship of LSD guru Timothy Leary and his love interest Joanna Harcourt-Smith.
Revisit our 2014 conversation with the acclaimed director on why “Wormwood” is like an “Everything bagel,” how he captures the art of the story and how the mid 20th century inspires his obsession with retrospective filmmaking. Plus, why he enjoys f*cking with people. All that and more on the next Bullseye!
My Psychedelic Love Story is available now on Showtime.
This interview originally aired in 2018.
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Bullseye is a celebration of the best of arts and culture in public radio form. Host Jesse Thorn sifts the wheat from the chaff to bring you in-depth interviews with the most revered and revolutionary minds in our culture.
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