Errol Morrisí first film, Gates of Heaven, comes to Blu-ray from Criterion, who present the film in the aspect ratio of about 1.33:1 with a new 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation. It shares a dual-layer disc with his second documentary, Vernon, Florida.
Though not as impressive as the image we got from Criterionís Blu-ray of Morrisí The Thin Blue Line the image for Gates of Heaven is still a pleasant surprise. A lot of long shots are a bit fuzzy, though this seems to be more a product of filming since film grain looks sharply rendered in these sequences. Close-ups and many of the interview segments on the other ahdn look crisp and highly detailed. Colours look fine enough, distinct and adequately rendered, with decent black levels. The print is also in incredible condition considering the age and nature of the film: other than a few stray hairs, like one in the very first shot, I donít recall anything else popping up. A very nice surprise in the end. 9/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Only a few supplements come with the film. As mentioned before the film does share the disc with Vernon, Florida, which also comes with its own supplements. This portion of the review will only focus on the supplements for Gates of Heaven.
Though Criterion had originally included it as a supplement on their DVD edition of Les Blankís Burden of Dreams, Criterion again presents Les Blankís 22-minute short documentary Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, which does somewhat make more sense as a supplement with Gates of Heaven (though I guess that is debatable). The basis of the story: Herzog had listened to Morris complain about how hard it is to get financing for a film to which Herzog replied that films are made with guts, not money, and if Morris finished his first feature film the director would eat his shoe. Morris then finished Gates of Heaven and Herzog follows through with the bet at the premiere of the film. The documentary follows Herzog around before the premier, with Herzog sharing his thoughts on independent filmmaking, the commercial side of the industry, and whatever other thoughts seem to enter his head. We then get to see the actually preparation and cooking of the shoes, shot with a similar enthusiasm in cooking that shows through in some of Blankís other food-centric films. We then, of course, see Herzog eat his shoe during a Q&A session, intercut with footage from Chaplinís The Gold Rush naturally. Itís a fun little short, aided by Polka music, which seems to aim to show what real passion for filmmaking will do to someone (as Herzog explains it turns you into a ďclownĒ.)
In comparison to the shortís presentation on Criterionís Burden of Dreams DVD it does look far better, appearing to come from a new restoration that I only assume was done around the same time as Blankís other film. The transfer (in 1080p/24hz) is very sharp and quite filmic, and damage, while more noticeable at the beginning, tapers off as the film progresses. It looks exceptional.
Accompanying this is also a brief 1-minute clip of Herzog from the Telluride Film Festival where he talks about Morrisí film and the film industry (to applause).
The supplements then close with a 19-minute interview with director Errol Morris. Morris talks about his first film and how he came across the subject matter, which was born out of his love of the absurd, and recounts the actual production, which involved firing a lot of people, particularly cameramen, because they didnít agree with his vision. He recalls personal stories with the subjects and mentions the Herzog bet, the filmís release, and the cult status it has received over the years thanks in part to Siskel & Ebert. Not as illuminating as his lengthy interview on the Blu-ray of The Thin Blue Line but itís a nice addition to the release and Morris is his usual enthusiastic self.
Eric Hynes then provides an essay in the included insert on Gates of Heaven and Vernon, Florida, going over his two early films (and how they started out), his style of filmmaking, and the subjects that interest him.
Itís a bit disappointing that there isnít much else (and itís disappointing that the Siskel & Ebert clips arenít here, like Criterion did with Hoop Dreams) but the material is at least strong, and I think the inclusion of a high-def version Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe adds some real value to the release as a whole. 6/10