Errol Morris Overview
Errol Morris may be always be known as the man who inspired director Warner Herzog to eat his own shoe, but the storied career of the Academy Award winning documentarian has done its own part to establish him as an artist who can surely walk on his own two feet.
Born in New York in 1948, Morris first studied the art of music under the direction of Philip Glass’ tutor (a peer who would later score Morris’ films The Thin Blue Line, A Brief History of Time, and The Fog of War). After later partaking in a variety of studies including history, science, and philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Princeton, and Berkeley, Morris found himself unstimulated and instead turned to the world of film. But, he would only discover film to be his true calling after a return visit to Wisconsin in 1975 where he was granted an interview with serial killer Ed Gein who resided at the state hospital in Madison.
After being introduced to German director Warner Herzog through a mutual friend, the two made plans that summer to secretly open the grave of Gein’s mother to test their belief that the killer had already dug her up. Although Herzog arrived ready for the undertaking, Morris never showed and the project was scrapped. After several other script starts that ended with the same result, Morris became known for abandoning his projects, thereby causing Herzog to declare that he would eat his own shoe if his friend ever completed and screened a film. That film was 1978’s Gates of Heaven, a morose look at the pet cemetery business which Roger Ebert’s named as one of his top ten favorite films of all time. Told strictly through interview and void of narrative, it became Morris’ trademark style and also introduced his thematic obsession with stories of murder and death, as odd and mysterious as their subjects. It also introduced his self-crafted tool, branded by Morris’s wife as the “Interrotron” because it skillfully combined two elements – terror and interview.
Similar to a teleprompter, Morris and his subject each sit facing a camera while the images of the other person’s face are projected onto the lens so each is looking directly at a human face, thereby provoking the interviewee to express themselves in open monologue. The tool would later be used on numerous follow-up works, including Vernon, Florida (1981), The Thin Blue Line (1988), The Dark Wind (1991), A Brief History of Time (1991), Fast, Cheap and Out of Control (1997), Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. (1999), the Academy Award winning The Fog of War (2003), and most recently, Standard Operating Procedure (2008).
One of his earlier films, The Thin Blue Line, became Morris’s most famous work because it became a central figure in getting its subject, Randall Adams, out of his prison sentence. Although it was one of the critics’ top picks that year and to this day one of the most critically acclaimed documentaries ever made, it was shockingly not nominated for an Oscar which provoked controversy regarding the nomination practices of the Academy.
In 2002, tensions were eased as the Academy hired Errol to make a short film with famous icons, from Iggy Pop to Laura Bush, discussing notable movies. In 2007, Morris was asked to create a second short with that year’s nominees. In addition to films, Morris also is an accomplished director of television commercials including the popular Apple Switch campaign, as well as work for an impressive portfolio of clients including Adidas, AIG, Cisco Systems, Citibank, Levi's, Miller High Life, Nike, PBS, The Quaker Oats Company, Southern Comfort, Toyota and Volkswagen.[show less]