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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.

Director:

Errol Morris
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Cast

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

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

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Certificate:

Not Rated

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

October 1978 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

A mennyország kapui See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Gates of Heaven See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono

Color:

Color
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The film was one of the first to be included on Roger Ebert's "Great Movies" list. See more »

Quotes

Mourning pet owner: There's your dog; your dog's dead. But where's the thing that made it move? It had to be something, didn't it?
See more »

Connections

Referenced in At the Movies: Winners That Were Losers (1983) See more »

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User Reviews

A documentary about eccentric people that often seems to cast a condescending eye on its subjects
4 March 2005 | by J. SpurlinSee all my reviews

I picked a bad time to watch this movie. I just finished watching "Napoleon Dynamite," where it's unclear whether we're supposed to relate to the eccentric characters or pity and despise them. That film got me to thinking about other movies that seem to cast a condescending eye on the people involved, specifically "Waiting for Guffman," a fake documentary about small-town folk who want to take their community-theater production to Broadway, and "American Movie," a real documentary about people making a cheap horror film.

And now I watch this documentary, which tells the story of two pet cemeteries in California. And again it's unclear how the filmmaker feels about the people we meet, or how we're supposed to feel about them. Errol Morris, who followed this initial success with several other well-regarded documentaries – like "The Thin Blue Line" and "Fast, Cheap & Out of Control" – has an unobtrusive style here. He simply points the camera at people and let's them talk in long, rambling monologues. We never see or hear him, but of course his attitude is reflected in what material he chooses, how he edits it – and in the subject of the movie in the first place.

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 rages against this hellish factory, not seeing the irony in noting that he couldn't smell the meat on his own table for the stench emanating from the place. 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.

Morris allows a lot of his subjects to cast themselves in a bad or ridiculous light. The man who runs the rendering department admits lying to the public whenever they have a beloved zoo animal. And though he's very defensive about his line of work, he can't suppress himself from calling the people who grieve over their dead pets "moaners." The older son at the successful cemetery is shown in his office, in which trophies line the desk and the shelves behind him. He claims a job applicant was impressed and inspired by the trophies. Throughout, he endlessly spouts clichés from motivational books.

Oddly, I didn't cringe as much at the people who spent thousands of dollars to bury their pets. Somehow they came off as silly, yet ennobled by their love for their animals.

Since this movie we've been treated to an endless stream of reality TV and Christopher Guest mockumentaries and Dave Letterman bits where the average guy on the street is put in the spotlight only to be made a fool of. I know a lot of people see this film as beautiful and full of interesting philosophical questions – Roger Ebert, who puts this on his all-time ten best list, prominently among them. Maybe I was in the wrong frame of mind, but I didn't enjoy it.


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