Errol MorrisNov 11, 2006
The Chicago Humanities Festival's 2006 theme was Peace and War. When I saw Errol Morris was part of the program I was pleased but semi-surprised. He's my favorite documentary filmmaker, but when I think of Peace and War, I don't think of EM. It was perfect when Mr. Morris began his talk by explaining that his career has been about two kinds of movies: "Politically Concerned" and "Completely Whacked Out." I discovered EM for myself with Fast, Cheap and Out of Control, so it's the Completely Whacked docs that stick out to me.
topic photography, filmmaking | description real-time journaling
group size n/a | image size 8" x 8" | time 1.5 h
Morris introduced us to his latest project about the Abu Ghraib, and the iconic images created from the prisoner torture. It's his hypothesis that it's a handful of those photos from that we'll remember a hundred years from now about the Iraq War. He explained that this project began with the mystery of two photos by Roger Fenton described by Susan Sontag in her book, Regarding the Pain of Others. During the Crimean War, Fenton took photos of the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Two are of the same road, one with cannonballs littering the road, one with the cannonballs in the ravine. The Mystery being which photo was taken first, which was staged?
Morris's presentation mostly talked about that idea of the iconic photograph. What can we learn from them? To what extent are they posed or performance? An interesting aspect about the Abu Ghraib project is that Morris has the opportunity to interview the photographers. We have an opportunity for more context than just the images themselves.
There's an anecdote I enjoyed that didn't make it to the drawing. Like I said, I became aware of Errol Morris with the documentary Fast, Cheap and Out of Control. The movie is about four men: a topiary gardener, a robotic scientist, a naked mole rat specialist and a wild animal tamer. Turns out that there was a fifth man, Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. interviewed for the film. Uh, what's the short story of Leuchter? He began by trying to create more humane capital punishment devices and ended up hired by holocaust deniers to prove the holocaust didn't happen.
Morris felt like FL didn't fit in the mix. His wife summed it up, "Hitler is not a spice. Once you add Hitler to the soup, it becomes Hitler flavored soup."
Morris ended up removing Leuchter from Fast, Cheap and Out of Control and made the movie Mr.Death about him instead. Neatly putting the former into the Completely Whacked Out category of his work, and the latter in the Politically Concerned camp. I can recommend both highly.