ERROL MARK MORRIS (born February 5, 1948) is an American film
director primarily of documentaries examining and investigating, among
other things, authorities and eccentrics. He is perhaps best known for
his 1988 documentary The Thin Blue Line , commonly cited among the
best and most influential documentaries ever made. In 2003, his
documentary film The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of
Robert S. McNamara
Robert S. McNamara won the Academy Award for Best
. He has also made short films under contract for the controversial
lab diagnostic company Theranos.
* 1 Biography
* 1.1 Early life
* 1.2 Unfinished project on
* 1.3 First films
* 1.4 The Thin Blue Line
* 1.5 Commercials
* 1.6 2010–present
* 2 Style
* 3 Filmography
* 3.1 Feature films
* 3.2 Short films
* 3.3 TV show
* 4 Awards and honors
* 4.1 Honorary Degrees
* 5 Bibliography
* 5.1 Books
* 5.2 Articles
* 6 References
* 7 External links
Morris was born on February 5, 1948, and raised in a Jewish family in
Hewlett , New York .
After being treated for strabismus in childhood, he refused to wear
an eye patch. As a consequence, he has limited sight in one eye and
lacks normal stereoscopic vision.
In the 10th grade, Morris attended
The Putney School
The Putney School , a boarding
school in Vermont. He began playing the cello, spending a summer in
France studying music under the acclaimed
Nadia Boulanger , who also
taught Morris's future collaborator
Philip Glass . Describing Morris
as a teenager, Mark Singer wrote that he "read with a passion the
forty-odd Oz books , watched a lot of television, and on a regular
basis went with a doting but not quite right maiden aunt ('I guess
you'd have to say that Aunt Roz was somewhat demented') to Saturday
matinées, where he saw such films as
This Island Earth and Creature
from the Black Lagoon — horror movies that, viewed again 30 years
later, still seem scary to him."
Morris attended the
University of Wisconsin–Madison
University of Wisconsin–Madison . Morris
graduated in 1969 with a B.A. in history. For a brief time Morris held
small jobs, first as a cable television salesman and then as a
term-paper writer. His unorthodox approach to applying for grad school
included "trying to get accepted at different graduate schools just by
showing up on their doorstep." Having unsuccessfully approached both
University of Oxford
University of Oxford and
Harvard University , Morris was able to
talk his way into
Princeton University , where he began studying the
history of science, a topic in which he had "absolutely no
background." His concentration was in the history of physics, and he
was bored and unsuccessful in the prerequisite physics classes he had
to take. This, together with his antagonistic relationship with his
Thomas Kuhn ('You won't even look through my telescope.' And
his response was 'Errol, it's not a telescope, it's a kaleidoscope.')
ensured that his stay at Princeton would be short.
Morris left Princeton in 1972, enrolling at Berkeley as a Ph.D.
student in philosophy . At Berkeley, he once again found that he was
not well-suited to his subject. "Berkeley was just a world of pedants
. It was truly shocking. I spent two or three years in the philosophy
program. I have very bad feelings about it," he later said. He became
a regular at the Pacific Film Archive . As Tom Luddy, the director of
the archive at the time, later remembered: "He was a film noir nut. He
claimed we weren't showing the real film noir. So I challenged him to
write the program notes. Then, there was his habit of sneaking into
the films and denying that he was sneaking in. I told him if he was
sneaking in he should at least admit he was doing it."
UNFINISHED PROJECT ON ED GEIN
Hitchcock 's Psycho , Morris visited Plainfield,
Wisconsin in 1975. While in Wisconsin, he conducted multiple
Ed Gein , the infamous serial killer who resided at
Mendota State Hospital in Madison. He later made plans with German
Werner Herzog , whom Tom Luddy had introduced to Morris,
to return in the summer of 1975 to secretly open the grave of Gein's
mother to test their theory that Gein himself had already dug her up.
Herzog arrived on schedule, but Morris had second thoughts and was not
there. Herzog did not open the grave. Morris later returned to
Plainfield, this time staying for almost a year, conducting hundreds
of hours of interviews. Although he had plans to either write a book
or make a film (which he would call Digging up the Past), Morris never
Ed Gein project.
In the fall of 1976, Herzog visited Plainfield again, this time to
shoot part of his film
Stroszek . After the shooting finished, Herzog
handed Morris an envelope with cash in it. Morris walked over to the
motel window and tossed the envelope out the window into a parking
lot. Herzog went out to the parking lot and brought the money back,
again offering it to Morris, saying, "Please don't do that again."
Morris accepted the $2,000 and used it to take a trip to Vernon,
Florida . Vernon was nicknamed "Nub City" because its residents
participated in a particularly gruesome form of insurance fraud in
which they deliberately amputated a limb in order to collect the
insurance money. Morris's second documentary would be about the town
and bear its name, although it makes no mention of Vernon as "Nub
City", but instead explores other idiosyncrasies of the town's
residents. Morris made this omission because he received death threats
while doing research; the town's residents were afraid that Morris
would reveal their secret.
After spending two weeks in Vernon, Morris returned to Berkeley and
began working on a script for a work of fiction that he called Nub
City. After a few unproductive months, he happened to read a headline
San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco Chronicle that read, "450 DEAD PETS GOING TO NAPA
VALLEY". Morris left for Napa Valley and began working on the film
that would become his first feature,
Gates of Heaven
Gates of Heaven . In 1978, when
the film premiered,
Werner Herzog cooked and publicly ate his shoe, an
event later incorporated into a short documentary by
Les Blank .
Herzog had promised to eat his shoe if Morris completed the project,
to challenge and encourage Morris, whom Herzog perceived as incapable
of following up on the projects he conceived. At the public
shoe-eating, Herzog suggested that he hoped the act would serve to
encourage anyone having difficulty bringing a project to fruition.
Gates of Heaven
Gates of Heaven was given a limited release in the spring of 1981.
Roger Ebert was and remained a champion of the film, including
it on his all-time top ten best films list. Morris returned to Vernon
in 1979 and again in 1980, renting a house in town and conducting
interviews with the town's citizens.
Vernon, Florida premiered at the
New York Film Festival
New York Film Festival .
Newsweek called it, "a film as odd and
mysterious as its subjects, and quite unforgettable." The film, like
Gates of Heaven, suffered from poor distribution. It was released on
video in 1987, and DVD in 2005.
After finishing Vernon, Florida, Morris tried unsuccessfully to get
funding for a variety of projects. There was Road, a story about an
interstate highway in Minnesota; a project about Robert Golka, the
creator of laser-induced fireballs in Utah; and the story of
Centralia, Pennsylvania , the coal town in which an inextinguishable
subterranean fire ignited in 1962. He eventually got funding in 1983
to write a script about John and Jim Pardue, a pair of
robbers who had killed their father and grandmother and robbed five
banks. Morris's pitch went, "The great bank-robbery sprees always take
place at a time when something is going wrong in the country. Bonnie
and Clyde were apolitical, but it's impossible to imagine them without
the Depression as a back-drop. The Pardue brothers were apolitical,
but it's impossible to imagine them without
Vietnam ." Morris wanted
Tom Waits and
Mickey Rourke to play the brothers, and he wrote the
script, but the project eventually failed. Morris worked on writing
scripts for various other projects, including a pair of ill-fated
Stephen King adaptations.
In 1984, Morris married Julia Sheehan, whom he had met in Wisconsin
Ed Gein and other serial killers. He would later
recall an early conversation with Julia: "I was talking to a mass
murderer but I was thinking of you," he said, and instantly regretted
it, afraid that it might not have sounded as affectionate as he had
wished. But Julia was actually flattered: "I thought, really, that was
one of the nicest things anyone ever said to me. It was hard to go out
with other guys after that."
THE THIN BLUE LINE
In 1985, Morris became interested in Dr.
James Grigson , a
psychiatrist in Dallas . Under
Texas law, the death penalty can only
be issued if the jury is convinced that the defendant is not only
guilty, but will commit further violent crimes in the future if he is
not put to death. Grigson had spent 15 years testifying for such
cases, and he almost invariably gave the same damning testimony, often
saying that it is "one hundred per cent certain" that the defendant
would kill again. This led to Grigson being nicknamed "Dr. Death".
Through Grigson, Morris would meet the subject of his next film,
Randall Dale Adams .
Adams was serving a life sentence that had been commuted from a death
sentence on a legal technicality for the 1976 murder of Robert Wood, a
Dallas police officer. Adams told Morris that he had been framed, and
that David Harris, who was present at the time of the murder and was
the principal witness for the prosecution, had in fact killed Wood.
Morris began researching the case because it related to Dr. Grigson.
He was at first unconvinced of Adams's innocence. After reading the
transcripts of the trial and meeting David Harris at a bar, however,
Morris was no longer so sure.
At the time, Morris had been making a living as a private
investigator for a well-known private detective agency that
specialized in Wall Street cases. Bringing together his talents as an
investigator and his obsessions with murder, narration, and
epistemology, Morris went to work on the case in earnest. Unedited
interviews in which the prosecution's witnesses systematically
contradicted themselves were used as testimony in Adams's 1986 habeas
corpus hearing to determine if he would receive a new trial. David
Harris famously confessed, in a roundabout manner, to killing Wood.
Although Adams was finally found innocent after years of being
processed by the legal system, the judge in the habeas corpus hearing
officially stated that, "much could be said about those videotape
interviews, but nothing that would have any bearing on the matter
before this court." Regardless, The Thin Blue Line , as Morris's film
would be called, was popularly accepted as the main force behind
getting its subject, Randall Adams, out of prison. As Morris said of
the film, "The Thin Blue Line is two movies grafted together. On one
simple level is the question, Did he do it, or didn't he? And on
another level, The Thin Blue Line, properly considered, is an essay on
false history. A whole group of people, literally everyone, believed a
version of the world that was entirely wrong, and my accidental
investigation of the story provided a different version of what
According to a survey by
The Washington Post
The Washington Post , The Thin Blue Line
made dozens of critics' top ten lists for 1988, more than any other
film that year. It won the documentary of the year award from both the
New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics
. Despite its widespread acclaim, it was not nominated for an Oscar,
which created a small scandal regarding the nomination practices of
the Academy. The Academy cited the film's genre of "non-fiction",
arguing that it was not actually a documentary. To this day, The Thin
Blue Line is one of the most critically acclaimed documentaries ever
Although Morris has achieved fame as a documentary filmmaker, he is
also an accomplished director of television commercials . In 2002,
Morris directed a series of television ads for
Apple Computer as part
of a popular "Switch" campaign. The commercials featured ex-Windows
users discussing their various bad experiences that motivated their
own personal switches to Macintosh. One commercial in the series,
starring Ellen Feiss, a high-schooler friend of his son Hamilton
Morris , became an Internet meme. Morris has directed hundreds of
commercials for various companies and products, including
Adidas , AIG
Cisco Systems ,
Kimberly-Clark 's Depend brand , Levi\'s
Miller High Life , Nike ,
The Quaker Oats Company , Southern
EA Sports ,
Volkswagen . Many of these
commercials are available on his website.
In 2002, Morris was commissioned to make a short film for the 75th
Academy Awards . He was hired based on his advertising resume, not his
career as a director of feature-length documentaries. Those
interviewed ranged from
Laura Bush to
Iggy Pop to
Kenneth Arrow to
Morris's 15-year-old son Hamilton. Morris was nominated for an Emmy
for this short film. He considered editing this footage into a
feature-length film, focusing on
Donald Trump discussing Citizen Kane
(this segment was later released on the second issue of Wholphin ).
Morris went on to make a second short for the
79th Academy Awards in
2007, this time interviewing the various nominees and asking them
about their Oscar experiences.
In 2003, Morris won the Oscar for Best
Documentary for The Fog of War
, a film about the career of
Robert S. McNamara
Robert S. McNamara , the Secretary of
Defense during the
Vietnam War under Presidents
John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy and
Lyndon B. Johnson
Lyndon B. Johnson . In the hauntingly re-enacted opening about
McNamara relationship with U.S. General
Curtis LeMay during World War
II, Morris brings out complexities in the character of McNamara, which
shaped McNamara's positions in the
Cuban missile crisis
Cuban missile crisis and the
Vietnam War. Like his earlier documentary, The Thin Blue Line, The Fog
of War included extensive use of re-enactments, a technique which many
had believed was inappropriate for documentaries.
In July 2004, Morris directed another series of commercials in the
style of the "Switch" ads. This campaign featured Republicans who
voted for Bush in the 2000 election giving their personal reasons for
voting for Kerry in 2004. Upon completing more than 50 commercials,
Morris had difficulty getting them on the air. Eventually, the liberal
MoveOn PAC paid to air a few of the commercials. Morris
also wrote an editorial for
The New York Times
The New York Times discussing the
commercials and Kerry's losing campaign.
In late 2004, Morris directed a series of noteworthy commercials for
Sharp Electronics . The commercials enigmatically depicted various
scenes from what appeared to be a short narrative that climaxed with a
car crashing into a swimming pool. Each commercial showed a slightly
different perspective on the events, and each ended with a cryptic
weblink. The weblink was to a fake webpage advertising a prize offered
to anyone who could discover the secret location of some valuable
urns. It was in fact an alternate reality game . The original
commercials can be found on Morris's website.
Morris directed a series of commercials for
Reebok that featured six
prominent National Football League (NFL) players. The 30-second
promotional videos were aired during the 2006 NFL season.
In 2013, Morris stated that he has made around 1,000 commercials
during his career.
In early 2010, a new Morris documentary was submitted to several film
Toronto International Film Festival
Toronto International Film Festival , Cannes Film
Festival , and
Telluride Film Festival
Telluride Film Festival . The film, titled Tabloid ,
features interviews with
Joyce McKinney , a former
Miss Wyoming , who
was convicted in absentia for the kidnap and indecent assault of a
Mormon missionary in England during 1977.
Morris has also written long-form journalism, exploring different
areas of interest and published on
The New York Times
The New York Times website. A
collection of these essays, entitled Believing is Seeing: Observations
on the Mysteries of Photography, was published by Penguin Press on
September 1, 2011. In November 2011, Morris premiered a documentary
short entitled "The Umbrella Man"—featuring Josiah "Tink" Thompson
—about the Kennedy assassination on
The New York Times
The New York Times website.
In 2012, Morris published his second book, A Wilderness of Error: The
Jeffrey MacDonald , about
Jeffrey MacDonald , the Green
Beret physician convicted of killing his wife and two daughters on
February 17, 1970. Morris first became interested in the case in the
early 1990s and believes that MacDonald is not guilty after
undertaking extensive research. Morris explained in a July 2013
interview, prior to the reopening of the case: "What happened here is
wrong. It's wrong to convict a man under these circumstances. And if I
can help correct that, I will be a happy camper."
To conduct interviews, Morris invented a machine, called the
INTERROTRON, which allows Morris and his subject to talk to each other
through the camera lens itself. He explains the device as follows:
Teleprompters are used to project an image on a two-way mirror.
Politicians and newscasters use them so that they can read text and
look into the lens of the camera at the same time. What interests me
is that nobody thought of using them for anything other than to
display text: read a speech or read the news and look into the lens of
the camera. I changed that. I put my face on the Teleprompter or,
strictly speaking, my live video image. For the first time, I could be
talking to someone, and they could be talking to me and at the same
time looking directly into the lens of the camera. Now, there was no
looking off slightly to the side. No more faux first person. This was
the true first person.
In the "aesthetic context" sense of
Erik Barnouw 's Documentary: A
History of the Non-Fiction Film, Morris is a multiple stylist. His
"Prosecutor"-style Thin Blue Line influenced legal process and led to
Randall Adams 's release. He utilizes the "Chronicler" style for big
events and the "Observer" style for given-moment events. He is best
known for the "Catalyst" style that is seen as direct, natural, and
cinematically truthful, as no directorial voice-over or "voice" is
heard among the voices of others.
Errol Morris is also a large advocate of the reflexive style of
documentary film making. In Bill Nichols's book Introduction to
Documentary he states that reflexive documentary " not only about the
historical world but about the problems and issues of representing it
Errol Morris uses not only his films to portray social
issues and non-fiction events, but also to comment on the reliability
of documentary making itself.
Gates of Heaven
Gates of Heaven (1978)
Vernon, Florida (1981)
* The Thin Blue Line (1988)
* The Dark Wind (1991) fiction movie
* A Brief History of Time (1991)
* Fast, Cheap -webkit-column-count: 2; column-count: 2;">
Gates of Heaven
Gates of Heaven (1978) has long been on Roger Ebert\'s list of the
ten greatest films ever made.
* Golden Horse for Best Foreign Film at the Taiwan International
Film Festival for The Thin Blue Line (1988)
New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film
Documentary for The Thin Blue Line (1988)
* Washington Post Best Film of the Year for The Thin Blue Line
Edgar Award for Best Motion Picture, from the Mystery Writers of
America , for The Thin Blue Line (1989)
Guggenheim Fellowship (1989)
MacArthur Fellowship (1989)
Emmy for Best Commercial for
PBS commercial "Photobooth" (2001)
* In December 2001, the United States' National Film Preservation
Foundation announced that Morris's The Thin Blue Line would be one of
the 25 films selected that year for preservation in the National Film
Registry at the
Library of Congress
Library of Congress , bringing the total at the time
* 2002 International
Documentary Association list of the 20 all-time
best documentaries: The Thin Blue Line (#2), Fast, Cheap you can help
by expanding it .
* Morris, Errol (2011). Believing is seeing : observations on the
mysteries of photography. New York: Penguin Press.
* A Wilderness of Error: The Trials of
Jeffrey MacDonald (Penguin
Press, 4 September 2012)
* The Ashtray (University of Chicago Press, forthcoming)
* Morris, Errol (April 20, 2015). "What photography can't prove".
United States. Crime. Time (South Pacific ed.). 185 (14): 23.
* ^ Shapiro, Laurie Gwen (September 21, 2012). "Into Wilderness of
The Jewish Daily Forward
The Jewish Daily Forward .
* ^ The New York Times
* ^ A B C D E F G H Singer, Mark (February 2, 1989).
The New Yorker
The New Yorker .
* ^ Gillespie, Pat (June 14, 2004). "Expert psychiatric witness was
nicknamed Dr. Death".
The Dallas Morning News
The Dallas Morning News . Retrieved 2009-03-21.
* ^ "Groups Expel Psychiatrist Known for Murder Cases; Witness
nicknamed \'Dr. Death\' says license won\'t be affected by
The Dallas Morning News
The Dallas Morning News . July 26, 1995. Archived from
the original on 2009-03-07. Retrieved 2009-03-21.
* ^ "Study: State relies too much on \'killer shrinks\'". Fort
Worth Star-Telegram . March 31, 2004. Retrieved 2008-03-11.
* ^ "BOMB Magazine —
Errol Morris by Margot Livesey".
* ^ "Errol Morris: Commercials".
* ^ "Errol Morris: Short Films".
* ^ Errolmorris.com
* ^ "Errol Morris: Editorial".
* ^ "Errol Morris: Commercials".
* ^ Jane Levere (24 July 2006). "Football Calls, and Reebok
Responds". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 September 2013.
* ^ A B FastTheLatestNews (12 July 2013). "The controversial case
of Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald" (Video upload). YouTube. Google, Inc.
Retrieved 28 September 2013.
* ^ "TIFF unveils 2010 docs: Bruce Springsteen,
Errol Morris and
Werner Herzog in 3D". National Post. 4 August 2010.
* ^ "New Details on Errol Morris\' Next Documentary, TABLOID".
* ^ The New York Times
Errol Morris (21 November 2011). "The Umbrella Man". The New
York Times. Retrieved 28 September 2013.
* ^ Jesse Kornbluth (4 September 2012). "A Jury Said Jeffrey
MacDonald Killed His Wife and Kids. So Did \'60 Minutes\' and a
Bestseller. 40 Years Later,
Errol Morris Counters With 500 Pages of
Awkward Questions.". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 28 September 2013.
* ^ Rothman, William, ed. (2009). Three
Errol Morris, Ross McElwee, Jean Rouch. Albany: SUNY Press. pp. 3–4.
ISBN 9781438425016 .
* ^ Barnouw, Erik. Documentary: A History of the Non-Fiction Film,
Oxford University Press, London: 1993.
* ^ Nichols, Bill. Introduction to Documentary. Bloomington: IN UP,
* ^ IBM Centennial Film:
They Were There – People who changed the
way the world works Jan 20, 2011
* ^ The Umbrella Man Nov 20, 2011
* ^ "International
Documentary Association Top Twenty Documentaries
of All-Time". Central Washington University – Brooks Library (at
Archive.org). Archived from the original on 13 February 2008.
Retrieved 2 September 2011.
* ^ "40 Best Directors". The Guardian. London. Retrieved May 2,
* ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter B" (PDF). American
Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved June 3, 2011.