Gates of Heaven (Errol Morris / U.S., 1978):

"It often happens that a man is more humanely related to a cat or dog than to any human being" (Thoreau). But then again: "Pet owners are cowards without the courage to bite people themselves" (Strindberg). Viewed through Errol Morris’ blank-gaze lens, the "good, solid business enterprise" of pet cemeteries ("a need to be fulfilled") suggests Kubrick discovering Mark Twain. A graveyard for critters is the brainchild of one Floyd McClure, who, on his wheelchair facing the camera, traces his "Kismet idea" back to his squashed childhood collie. On the other side is his nemesis, the rendering merchant who proposes that recycling horses and circus animals has roots in the Old Testament. The trail of evictions, lawsuits and exhumations builds to the image of two verdant squares in the middle of the desert, the U.S. flag flapping placidly over tiny tombstones and tiny coffins -- the Bubbling Well Pet Memorial Park, run by a wannabe impresario and his sons. People talk, clumsily and ardently. Some mourn the death of their pooches while recommending neutering, others declare canine loyalty as something unattainable by humans. One elderly woman sits on her doorway and, over the course of a rambling, remarkable monologue, lays out something like a life: "Boy, if I could only walk... And my son, if he was only better to me... They went to court. It was somebody else’s kid... Everybody loved that dog. I miss that little black kitten so much..." The framing (interviewees are posed against floral wallpaper and beneath portraits of poodles, in front of a wall of wheat crops or a panorama of cacti) is fastidious, funny, and saved from kitsch by the quietly seething emotions on display. Morris records them stilly, his structure pivots on rhyming-contrasting editing which weaves together a miniature frieze about the ways we desperately attempt to ward off loneliness and end up building shrines to it. "God is love; backwards it’s dog." A mysterious cine-object, a cosmic statement, ultimately a chilling vision. Cinematography by Ned Burgess.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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