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Gates of Heaven (1978)

Not Rated | | Documentary, Comedy, Drama | October 1978 (USA)
A documentary about a pet cemetery in California, and the people who have pets buried there.



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Credited cast:
Lucille Billingsley ...
Zella Graham ...
Cal Harberts ...
Dan Harberts ...
Phil Harberts ...
Scottie Harberts ...
Mike Koewler ...
Floyd McClure ...
Ed Quye ...
Florence Rasmussen ...


The men who run a pet cemetery, and the men and women who bury their pets, become the subject of this documentary. We first meet Floyd McClure, a paraplegic with a dream to create a pet cemetery. One inspiration is the death of his collie years before; and the other is the local rendering plant, which turns animals into glue. He realizes his dream, only to see it fail. Then we visit a successful pet cemetery, run by a father and his two sons. One is a frustrated musician, nursing a broken heart. The other is joining the family business after selling insurance in Salt Lake City. Throughout, we also meet the people who have buried their pets. Written by J. Spurlin

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Not Rated

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October 1978 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

A mennyország kapui  »

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Did You Know?


German film director Werner Herzog had made a bet with fledgling director (and current film student) Errol Morris that if Morris made a film about pet cemeteries, Herzog would eat his shoe. Morris went on to make this film, so Herzog kept his promise. The meal is documented in the film Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe (1980). See more »


Pet cemetery investor: Death is for the living and not for the dead.
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User Reviews

Pet Peeve Greives
7 October 2006 | by (Palo Alto, CA, USA) – See all my reviews

Early Errol Morris documentary, pitting the true believers versus the salesmen of the world. Both trying to fill a need, I got the vibe that when Floyd McClure talked about that specifically, he was really talking about the emotional hole left in people's lives by a departed pet. Rather than a hole in one's wallet, or just the hole in the ground.

Evidently the first part of this took place darn close to where I live these days: Los Altos, CA! Indeed there is a "Gates of Heaven" cemetery up by Rancho San Antonio, but I think that's just for us two-legged critters.

While this definitely had some clever editing (a couple of times, he turned on a word beautifully from one interviewee to the next), there was a lot of strange miscellany left in the film. I call to the witness stand the lady who loaned her son $400 for a car, but never sees him any more. Additionally the two squabbling ladies of Los Altos. Fascinating to watch, and more of a precursor to Morris' "First Person" show (worth catching if you can!) He just kind of sets the camera down and let's folks go awhile...like a confessional/diary as much as his latter day interregatron.

Somehow, whether by coaxing them with a Coors, or just quietly sitting and filming, Morris gets people to really expound on whatever details of their life seem to really matter to them. A couple of the pet couples are placed before tall images of flora? Not sure of the significance.

The most touching moment is the filming of the little tombstones for a variety of pets, all with some heartfelt little sententia or sweet goodbye. Putting it on film in a way makes these even more immortal.

Not sure how people who don't have any pets at all will react to this. I watched this with our 11-year old Wire Fox Terrier, but he zonked out (tends to prefer Bollywwod?). But I'm sitting there thinking of his mortality and the proposed $3K charge for cataract surgery and being a bit torn between loving my pet deeply, versus calculating the cost of him.

I guess the rendering man is important; he did all he could to wipe the smirk off his face having clearly jumped the shark on the pet v. food debate. And I mean putting food on his table...as much as quasi-food like bonemeal and by-products. For him, it was just a job *clearly* and he seemed perplexed how anybody could see it otherwise.

But bottom line, all of these people were making their living (including Morris as the filmmaker) off the death of pets. We want our lives to be filled with more than making our rent and paying our bills, and one way we try to do that is through our relationships with pets.

This film's alright, not up there with some of Morris' other work. Oddly comic at times. Like jeez, the pet cemetery called "Bubbling Well", that sounds like a code phrase for a rendering plant. Ick. "Gates of Heaven" felt at times like a strange good-guy/bad-guy dramatic film rather than a documentary. By the way, where are the trophy (Caine?) and guitar (Abel?) brothers today?? Looks like they're still in business


Bottom line, I'd say see this, but only *after* taking the dog out for a nice walk or a run along the beach.


PS My dog wants to add

"A cemetery for cats, come on you've got to be kidding!"

8 of 12 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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