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Posted by on Feb 28, 2007 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Guest DVD Review (Part II): Gates Of Heaven

B00094AS6I.01._AA240_SCLZZZZZZZ_.jpgThis is the second part of this review. Part One is HERE.

DVD Review Of Gates Of Heaven

Copyright © by Dan Schneider

Not much else occurs in the film, although there is a montage, near the end, of animal plots, with engravings and photos, which is strangely moving- somewhat akin to seeing photos of the war dead from Vietnam or Iraq, or a listing of Holocaust victim names. Yet, the Morris of the later, greater films, is still in utero here. There is not much in the way of plot- just as the MGM DVD is bare bones, with only a few trailers and not a single extra feature, just banal apothegms from grieving people, as well as some bizarre moments where people digress from their pets into other areas. None of the people are formally named, which adds an everyman quality to the film, even if it often confuses.

The most interesting character in the film is the head of the animal rendering plant that the initial idiot. McClure, resents. The man seems to glee in the repugnance with which most people hold his industry- even as he snarkily claims rendering to be the oldest recycling profession around, and when he grins, one feels he is a totally amoral sadist at heart. Oddly, compared to the stream of idiots who blather on incessantly, he is a breath of relief. That Morris, unlike a Michael Moore, who always makes his documentaries about himself, or Werner Herzog, who obsesses on weird darers of fate, merely likes to let others speak becomes a positive thing in this almost stream of consciousness film. Morris never utters a word of querying here. And there was not alot that cinematographer Ned Burgess needed to do, for the film has a raw college film feel to it.

This ‘simply film them’ technique reached its apotheosis in the recent The Fog Of War, where former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara mea culpas his life and the human desire to kill en masse. That film, not this one, could be argued as a Top Ten Of All Time film.

In this film, Morris merely lets us look long and hard at the strangeness of humanity. This film is not about pets, nor even death, but the strange ways the human psyche can twist itself into a thousand little bizarre strands, none of which ever comes quite together in the same way. Yes, I love animals, and value them higher than most human beings, for they do not lie, cheat, nor steal. They may have less capabilities, but this also means they do not willfully deny those capabilities. Yet, when they are dead, as when a person dies, they are just dead meat.

There is a fundamental difference between life and death. I knew this from the first I saw a man murdered. It is an irresoluble thing, and Morris is wise enough not to tackle it, merely use it to study people and why they believe in the odd things they do. This film could have been just as successful exploring religion, or UFO believers, or Bigfoot hunters. The real question is what impels these weird people to act as they do, or did? And how can they not recognize how silly they are, or were?

It is now nearly three decades on, and the older folk are likely all dead. But, is Danny Harberts now a fiftysomething stoner, with a bald pate, and a gray ponytail, still digging holes for dead dogs, as Classic Rock blares into the night? And what of the con artist aspect of it all? I recently had to put a long time pet of mine to sleep. She was too far gone, and the cost of keeping her alive, for even a night, was outrageous, with no guarantees. To try to gouge and play on someone’s sentiment to pay several thousand dollars for a burial is, in my book, a pretty unethical thing to do- even more so than some questionable veterinarians out there, yet Morris never probes this aspect of the ‘industry’. One wonders why not.

Perhaps it’s because all that his long line of lovable losers of love can muster are trite apothegms like, ‘There’s your dog; your dog’s dead. But where’s the thing that made it move? It had to be something, didn’t it?’

The weirdest and most hypnotic person onscreen is an old lady who sits in her home’s doorway, and divides the film’s halves between McClure and the Harbertses. She is Florence Rasmussen- the poster girl for human strangeness, and she distractedly and digressively paints her tale of woe, and her no good grandson- whom she’s going to get money back from, and his whorish ex-wife, whom she calls a ‘tramp.’ What this has to do with dead pets is anyone’s guess, although she ends her soliloquy by lamenting the loss of a black kitten and suspecting that a kitty serial killer is on the prowl. She is sort of the addle-brained female equivalent of what Danny Harberts will likely end up as. Yet, despite all that, there is a genuine movement of emotion that the film conjures; as well as some truths- even if as trite as the quote which ends the last paragraph.

Perhaps the greatest emotion conveyed is when dumb old Floyd McClure says, ‘When I turn my back, I don’t know you, not truly. But I can turn my back on my little dog, and I know that he’s not going to jump on me or bite me; but human beings can’t be that way.’ And this is why the film is worth watching.

It is not even remotely a great film, but it is an interesting document, something that, like a truly great film, such as Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story, could be sent on a spaceship for aliens to find in a million years, and tell something of what a real human was. The fact that such qualitatively disparate examples of an art form can reach the same level of inner….dare I say it?, truth, is one of those grand ineffables that makes art worth indulging, sort of like the last shot of Gates Of Heaven, of the Harberts’ growing dream cemetery at dusk. On and on it just is. Then, like life and dream, it all ends. So, too, humanity. Alack?

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