USA TODAY - 7.18.2005
By Mike Clark
A week from Tuesday, two of the best non-fiction films ever Gates of Heaven and The Thin Blue Line come to DVD from MGM/Sony. Both are by Errol Morris, renowned for his deadpan, straight-on approach to unusual and even outlandish subject matter. For a primer, here are three more Morrises (including an Oscar winner) that have already been released.
Fast, Cheap & Out of Control
1997, Columbia TriStar, PG, $25
Morris finds connections among four jobs missing from most "help wanted" lists: lion tamer, topiary gardener, mole-rat scholar and robot inventor. Lion tamer Dave Hoover notes that weather affects lions, as it does the animal shapes that George Mendonca snips and clips in Edward Scissorhands fashion. Mole-rat maestro Ray Mendez and M.I.T. scientist Rodney Brooks think their respective fields represent the unknown; Brooks envisions a day when his robots will make humans unnecessary. Rounding it out: a clip from The Deadly Mantis.
Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.
1999, Universal, rated PG-13, $15
An expert in capital punishment devices who sincerely tried making executions as humane as possible, the soft-spoken and very matter-of-fact Leuchter was persuaded to become one of the century's most dubious legal character witnesses. He concluded, at the hate-crime trial of Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel, that the Auschwitz gassings never took place, based on failing to find cyanide residues during a secret and highly botched investigation. The ex-Mrs. Leuchter tells of her disillusionment at spending her honeymoon on a side trip to Auschwitz.
The Fog of War
2003, Columbia TriStar, PG-13, $27
Subtitled Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara, Morris' long-overdue Oscar winner offers fly-on-the-wall recollections by the still-controversial former defense secretary for both JFK and LBJ. You get unfamiliar archival footage; a view into the thought processes of the half-genius/half-maniac Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay; unearthed audiotapes of LBJ and McNamara disagreeing; implied Vietnam-Iraq parallels; and an incredible visual matchup of firebombed Japanese cities with their U.S. equivalents in population. Extras include 38 minutes of interviews that weren't used, including recordings of McNamara with the two presidents he served.