errol reconsidered


Along with Moore and Ross McElwee, Errol Morris was in the vanguard of directors who challenged the gospel according to verité. While Morris tends to exaggerate his own innovative daring—“from the very first film I made . . . I decided to break all of the rules”—in 1988 he outfitted an otherwise straightforward, interview-based dissection of a Dallas murder case with an assortment of noirish dramatic re-creations, clips from a TV crime series, gigantic close-ups of peripheral objects, bits of symbolic punctuation (such as a swinging pocket watch to evoke the hypnotizing of a witness), and a burbling Philip Glass score to help suture the disparate materials. The Thin Blue Line (1988), a box-office hit by documentary standards, presaged an outpouring of looser, entertainment-oriented doc styles. Paradoxically, its well-earned acclaim proved to be less a product of alluring visuals than of Morris’s having secured the recorded admission of a hardened criminal that the hapless subject of the film, convicted murderer Randall Dale Adams, had been framed, triggering the reopening of the case and Adams’s eventual release from prison.

This startling instance of documentary effectivity, rather than fueling the filmmaker’s investigative juices or honing his self-image as a social crusader, seems to have had the opposite result: a deepening reentrenchment in the realm of personal psychology buttressed by an obsessive concern with so-called moral questions abstracted from their social context and wider consequences.

more from artforum here.