The magic of the films of Errol Morris partly can be found in his ability to truly and honestly interview his subjects; at times it seems that his talents as an interviewer know no bounds – by observing each interview that makes up a film like the filmmaker’s magnum opus, Gates of Heaven, or indeed the extraordinary Thin Blue Line, the intensely real recordings of his subjects are in fact so real and human that they enter the realms of the surreal but without Morris really pushing or shaping the course of his examinations. In his films, the surreal becomes the truth. By knowing exactly when and where and how long to linger, when and when not to probe or interrupt those being interviewed, Morris accomplishes exactly what he set out to do – find some level of truth in chaos.
In The Thin Blue Line, which focuses on a murder case in which a man was wrongly accused and sentenced to death, he introduces those people and elements that were involved in the trial and the events leading up to the trial in such a way that the entire case turns into a kind of ridiculous farce before our eyes – without Morris actually having done anything but fairly interview his subjects with the apparent intention of examining the story of the death of a police officer and the condemnation of the killer. With the exception of a few fairly effective re-enactments (Morris, in defence of using re-enactments has stated that our perception of everything is essentially a re-enactment constructed in our own minds) the film is all interview.
Read at Unsung Films: Gates of Heaven.
Morris digs deep as an advocate of truth and veers away from bias and hidden facts or revelations. All is presented. He pulls us into a world in which the same story is being told by a large handful of individuals with entirely different viewpoints (think Rashomon) from lawyers, police officers, witnesses, family members, friends – all circulating around a kind of back and forth between the two prime suspects, Randall Adams and David Harris, who give their accounts freely and openly. And really, as the filmmaker would have liked and probably intended to do, the viewer is simply given the facts and can interpret them in any way he likes.
But the most important thing that is accomplished in The Thin Blue Line is that, in the strange and twisted narrative of humanity, the truth is inevitably exposed. In any Errol Morris film, the natural outpour of quiet and desolate madness is always jarring. Similar to other true documentarians like his friends Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders, when the focus and editing and cutting is removed from the interviewing, the human subjects appear to us perhaps as they really are and the world is reassembled and redefined as chaotic, comical, and terrifying.
Watch the trailer for The Thin Blue Line here:
Watch The Thin Blue Line – the full documentary film here: