Gates of Heaven

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Gates of Heaven is a 1978 American documentary film about the pet cemetery business. It is American film-maker Errol Morris' first film.

Floyd McClure

  • And this is the part of the inspiration of getting our little tits... into a cemetery. Something that we could be proud of, of saying, 'My little pet did his chore here - that God has sent him to us to do a chore - love and be loved and serve his master.' And, boy, these little pets that did that... Like I said before - death is for the living and not for the dead.

Florence Rasmussen

  • I'm raised on a farm, we had chickens and pigs and cows and sheep and everything. But down here I've been lost. Now they've taken them all away from here up to that - What's the name of that place? Up above here a little ways? That town? Commences with a 'B.' Blue. It's - Blue Hill Cemetery, I think the name of it is. Not too far, I guess, about maybe twenty miles from here. A little town there, a little place. You know where it's at. But I was really surprised when I heard they were getting rid of the cemetery over here. Gonna put in buildings or something over there. Ah well, I know people been very good to me, you know. Well, they see my condition, I guess, must of felt sorry for me. But it's real, my condition is. It's not put on. That's for sure! Boy, if I could only walk. If I could only get out. Drive my car. I'd get another car. Ya... and my son, if he was only better to me. After I bought him that car. He's got a nice car. I bought it myself just a short time ago. I don't know. These kids - the more you do for them... He' s my grandson, but I raised him from two years old... I don't see him very often. And he just got the car. I didn't pay for all of it. I gave him four hundred dollars. Pretty good! His boss knows it. Well, he's not working for that outfit now. He's changed. He's gone back on his old job - hauling sand. No, not hauling sand; he's working in the office. That's right. He took over the office job. His boss told me that on the phone. But, you know, he should help me more. He's all I got. He's the one who brought me up here. And then put me here by myself among strangers. It's terrible, you stop and think of it. I've been without so much, when I first come up here. Ya. It's what half of my trouble is from - him not being home with me. Didn't cost him nothing to stay here. Every time he need money, he'd always come, 'Mom, can I have this? Can I have that?' But he never pays back. Too good, too easy - that's what everybody tells me. I quit now. I quit. Now he's got the office job, I'm going after him. I'm going after him good, too - if I have to go in... in a different way. He's going to pay that money. He's got the office job now. And he makes good money anyway. And he has no kids. He has not married. Never get married, he says. He was married once - they're divorced. Well, she tried to take him for the kid, but she didn't. They went to court. It was somebody else's kid. She was nothing but a tramp in the first place. I told him that. He wouldn't listen to me. I says, 'I know what she is.' I said, 'Richard, please, listen to me.' He wouldn't listen. He knew all, he knew everything. Big shot! But he soon found out. Now that's all over with. I've been through so much I don't know how I'm staying alive. Really, for my age... if you're young, it's different. But I've always said I'm never going to grow old. I've always had that, and the people that I tell how old I am, they don't believe me, because people my age as a rule don't get around like I do.

Phil Harbert

  • I have to say to myself: What does it mean to me? What does this mean to me? What is it going to mean to me? I recognize this and - A couple of things when I was instructing motivation back in Salt Lake City is that if we don't stop and ask ourselves a question once in a while to probe our subconscious or to probe our conscious... I used to teach it. It's a plain, simple formula. We reduced everything to a formula, memorized it, and therefore we were able to repeat it constantly. I used to call it the R2-A2 formula: Recognize, Relate, Assimilate, and put into Action! Like, I could be driving down the freeway and see a 450 SL. I could say, 'Hey, I like that. What does that mean to me? What would I have to do to get it? How can I do it?' And then go to work for it. And strive for it. It kind of makes life easy. I think that's why a lot of people don't - They get frustrated. They have emotional problems, it's that they don't know how to cope with their - mind. There are three things that I've got to do and that if anybody wants to do to be successful, to have the desire, the want-to. Why do you go to work in the morning? Gee, why am I here? Because you want to. But that's obvious. And then the next very important ingredient is something that a lot of people and a lot of businesses fail to delge into. It's the activity knowledge. It would be the equation to a mathematical problem. It would be equal to the chemist's ability to emulsify chemicals - you know, properly, the valences. But the knowledge of it, the whole scope. Everything in detail. And then the third element would be, of course, the know-how or the experience. I have the inspiration to action. I don't have the activity knowledge, but I'm getting the know-how before I'm getting the activity knowledge. As a matter of fact, I'm getting more know-how than I'm getting activity knowledge. But they can be correlated together. They can be overlapped.

Quotes about Gates of Heaven

  • Every time I show this, it plays differently. Some people think it's about animals. Some people think it's about life and death. I've shown it to a group of bankers, who believe it raises all kinds of questions about success, about starting a small business. People think it's funny or sad or deadpan or satirical. They think that Errol Morris loved the people in the film, or that he was being very cruel to them. I've never yet had a person tell me that it's a bad film or a film that doesn't interest them."
  • From the beginning, I would always object when people would say, 'It's the pet-cemetery movie.' No, no, no, no! It's not about pet cemeteries. And the next question is always,'If it's not about pet cemeteries, what is it about?' Well, that's tricky! In essence, it embodies many of the ideas that are in every single film I've made. The obsession with language. Eye contact. An interest in accounts of subjective experience rather than objective reporting. The fundamental belief that if you scratch the surface of any person, you will find a world of the insane, very close to that surface.
  • The first film I made, Gates of Heaven, was very much in reaction to a prevailing idea about how documentaries should be made. Namely, the idea of cinema verite, truth cinema. There was this idea that if you follow certain rules, if you shoot things in a certain way, then out pops the truth. The rules, themselves, are fairly straightforward. Shoot with a hand-held camera. Shoot with available light, become a fly-on-the-wall, observing but not observed in turn. And of course, try to be as unobtrusive as possible. It's one of those meat-grinder ideas. You put in the appropriate ingredients, and magically, truth results. To me, it's utter nonsense. Who could have ever made such a claim? On the basis of what? Does the font you use to print a sentence guarantee its truth or falsity? I think not. All of us get comfort - I can't speak for all of us, but my guess is the preponderant number of people in this room get a certain comfort from reading The New York Times. It's that familiar set of fonts that we're used to seeing every day, fonts which give us a certain level of comfort, a belief that what we're reading is true. I would submit that style doesn't guarantee truth. How could it possibly ever do such a thing? We may feel that the fonts are truth-telling fonts, but it's our uncritical reliance on a whole constellation of beliefs.
  • You don't know where the US is standing after a State of the Union Address, but after seeing that film you will know. It's a film on a family behind all that [the pet cemetaries], with all their failures and all their dreams and all their dramas involved. And it's the only authentic film on love and emotion and late capitalism and maybe it's the only authentic film on loss of emotions and distortion of feelings and degeneration of feelings. It's a very, very sad film.
    • Werner Herzog
    • Source: Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, 1980 (a film)
  • I didn't make Gates of Heaven so that Werner Herzog would have to eat his shoe. It's not as if I decided to realize my potential as a human being in order to get somebody to ingest something distasteful. I specifically asked Werner not to eat his shoe.
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