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 won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature . 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 Ed Gein * 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 , a boarding
school in Vermont. He began playing the cello, spending a summer in
Morris attended the
University of Wisconsin–Madison
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
Inspired by Hitchcock 's Psycho , Morris visited Plainfield, Wisconsin in 1975. While in Wisconsin, he conducted multiple interviews with Ed Gein , the infamous serial killer who resided at Mendota State Hospital in Madison. He later made plans with German film director 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 completed his 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
Gates of Heaven was given a limited release in the spring of 1981.
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
In 1984, Morris married Julia Sheehan, whom he had met in Wisconsin while researching 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
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 happened."
According to a survey by
The Washington Post
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
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
In 2003, Morris won the Oscar for Best
Documentary for The Fog of War
, a film about the career of
Robert S. McNamara , the Secretary of
Defense during the
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
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
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 festivals, including Toronto International Film Festival , Cannes Film Festival , and 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
In 2012, Morris published his second book, A Wilderness of Error: The Trials of 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:
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.
* 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 (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)
* 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.