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A view on Blu-ray by Gary W. Tooze

Gates of Heaven / Vernon, Florida [Blu-ray]


(Errol Morris, 1978, 1981)



Review by Gary Tooze



Theatrical: Errol Morris Films

Video: Criterion Collection Spine #751, 752



Region: 'A' (as verified by the Oppo Blu-ray player)

Runtimes: 1:22:40.956 / 0:55:46.384

Disc Size: 47,278,764,915 bytes

Gates of Heaven Feature Size: 23,150,247,936 bytes

Vernon, Florida Feature Size: 15,727,620,096 bytes

Video Bitrate: 33.26 Mbps / 33.53 Mbps

Chapters: 14 + 9

Case: Transparent Blu-ray case

Release date: March 24th, 2015



Aspect ratio: 1.33:1 / 1.66:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video



LPCM Audio English 1152 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 1152 kbps / 24-bit



English (SDH), none



• Two new interviews with Morris (19:19, 12:08)
Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe (1980 - 20:17), a twenty-minute film by Les Blank featuring Herzog fulfilling a bet intended to inspire Morris to complete his first feature
Footage of Herzog professing his admiration for Gates of Heaven at the 1980 Telluride Film Festival (1:05)
PLUS: An essay by critic Eric Hynes



Gates of Heaven



Vernon, Florida




Description: With his trademark mixture of empathy and scrutiny, Errol Morris has changed the face of documentary filmmaking in the United States, and his career began with two remarkable tales of American eccentricity: Gates of Heaven and Vernon, Florida. The first uses two Northern California pet cemeteries as the basis for a profound and funny rumination on love, loss, and industry; the second travels to a languorous southern backwater and discovers a handful of fascinating folks there—a determined turkey hunter, a curious minister, a laconic policeman—engaged in individualistic, sometimes absurd pursuits. Morris consistently creates humane portraits of true candor, and these early works remain two of his greatest and most provocative films.




Gates of Heaven:

Errol Morris burst out of the gate with this brilliant debut feature, about two pet cemeteries in Northern California and the people involved with them. Such a description, however, can hardly do justice to the captivating, funny, and enigmatic Gates of Heaven, a film that is about our relationships to our pets, each other, and ourselves. Both sincere and satirical, this is an endlessly surprising study of human nature.


Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris' debut immediately attracted acclaim for its straight-faced treatment of a subject practically begging for ridicule. When the Foothill Memorial Gardens pet cemetery, located north of San Francisco, closed (its land was sold for a housing project), the 450 animals interred there had to be moved to Bubbling Well Memorial Park in nearby Napa. Morris saw the transfer as an opportunity to explore the world of pet owners who are so devoted that they see nothing wrong with giving their animals a full dose of the last rites. His simple technique was to film his subjects, usually seated, talking about their loved ones, alternating with shots of the two cemeteries and the move. Critic Roger Ebert became an early champion of the film, and Morris' struggles to finish it resulted in a very amusing short film, Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe. The German filmmaker had bet Morris that he would never complete the film, and when he did, Herzog publicly boiled and consumed one of his shoes for the camera of director Les Blank.

Vernon, Florida:

Vernon is a town in the Florida panhandle surrounded by swamps. Here, Errol Morris found the quietly fascinating subjects for the follow-up to his galvanizing debut, Gates of Heaven. As ever humane yet sharply focused, Morris lets his camera subjects pontificate and perambulate the environs of this seemingly unremarkable little community. The result is a strangely philosophical work that cemented its director’ standing as an important figure in American film.


Anyone who saw Gates of Heaven will need no inducement to try Errol Morris' second idiosyncratic foray into documentary. While less sharply focused than the pet cemetery film, this is equally delightful in its loving - but detached - portrait of the more eccentric inhabitants of small-town America, in this case the backwater community of the title. The subjects discussed include turkey hunting, sand-growth (a couple have a jarful from Los Alamos, New Mexico, which they insist is growing apace), and people with multiple brains. Morris, thankfully, never patronises his subjects' loony views. Touching and funny, the film is a real-life predecessor to David Byrne's fictional True Stories.

Excerpt from TimeOut Film Guide loacted HERE


Image :    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

Both films looks similar - perhaps Gates of Heaven is slightly more grainy and neither looks dissimilar to Criterion's transfer of The Thin Blue Line. The Blu-ray is advertised as "New 2K digital restorations of both films, supervised by director Errol Morris". The realistic appearance is accentuated by the layered contrast. Colors are deep and rich.  This is dual-layered with a max'ed-out bitrate for both films and we can guess that they are a solid representation of the 1.33:1 and 1.66:1 aspect ratios for the films. There is a consistent texture throughout. This Blu-ray has done its job well, and I doubt either film will ever look better for home theater consumption.




Gates of Heaven










Vernon, Florida










Audio :

Both films have a linear PCM 1.0 channel mono tracks at 1152 kbps. There are no effects in either documentary. On Gates of Heaven, we do hear Dan Harberts' guitar and on Vernon, Florida we get Claude Register's harmonica and humming (both as themselves in the film and those music pieces utilized on the Criterion menus) but otherwise there us no score, per-se, for the films. The audio is not overwhelming or deeply impacting, in any sense but its sounds quite deep via the lossless. There are optional English subtitles and my Oppo has identified it as being a region 'A' disc.


Extras :

No commentaries but we do get two new (October 2014) interviews with Morris - about 20-minutes on the Gates of Heaven section and a dozen minutes with the director talking about Vernon, Florida. Appropriately, we also get Les Blank's 1980, 20-minute Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe short featuring Herzog fulfilling a bet intended to inspire Morris to complete his first feature, plus some brief footage of Herzog professing his admiration for Gates of Heaven at the 1980 Telluride Film Festival. The package also has a liner notes booklet with an essay by critic Eric Hynes.



Great package. Morris is truly one of the most interesting and under-exposed directors - making this a fabulous choice for Criterion to bring to Blu-ray. Gates of Heaven ventures into the 'business ethics' side touching upon the spiritual sales-technique avenue and Vernon, Florida charismatically explores America's eccentric small town characters pacing wonderfully as memorable piece of extremely valuable cinema. We give this Criterion Blu-ray a very strong recommendation! 

Gary Tooze

February 28th, 2015


About the Reviewer: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 9500 DVDs and have reviewed over 5000 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.

Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction.

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Gary W. Tooze






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