Essential Documentaries From Executive Producers Errol Morris And Werner Herzog

In honor of THE LOOK OF SILENCE, a primer to the best docs by TLOS producers Morris and Herzog.

Joshua Oppenheimer's The Look of Silence is in theaters now, and it's the second of Oppenheimer's films (along with The Act of Killing) to be executive produced by Errol Morris and Werner Herzog. Below, we have a list of the most essential documentaries by these two important filmmakers. 

THE THIN BLUE LINE (1988), dir. Errol Morris

The documentary genre owes Morris a debt for The Thin Blue Line. The film shined a light on the case of a man wrongfully accused, and sentenced to death, for the death of a police officer. As a direct result of the film, the sentence was overturned. A benchmark for the social responsibility and effectiveness of cinema, and the de facto parent of works such as Serial and The Jinx.

MR. DEATH: THE RISE AND FALL OF FRED A. LEUCHTER, JR. (1999), dir. Errol Morris

Leuchter is an affable enough subject, for an engineer who develops humane devices for capital punishment. In a jaw-dropping twist, Morris observes as the humble Leuchter damns himself with the same qualities that initially make him so endearing: his simple, easy-going forthrightness, passion for his trade and guileless willingness to talk.

GATES OF HEAVEN (1978), dir. Errol Morris

Morris' first film established his enigmatic sense of observation and storytelling. In documenting the goings-on surrounding pet cemeteries, he offers a haunting and elegiac examination of the human soul. One of Roger Ebert's top films of all time, wholly unique and unforgettable, and – bonus -- the film that infamously made Werner Herzog eat his shoe.

FAST, CHEAP AND OUT OF CONTROL (1997), dir. Errol Morris

In one of the strangest, most superficially irreverent documentaries ever made, Morris interviews four subjects with outrageously disparate backgrounds and occupations, juxtaposing them against each other and intercutting them with stock footage. What could a lion tamer and a robotic engineer possibly have in common? An examination of what drives humanity, FC&OOC seems to leave vastly differing effects on every person who sees it.

GRIZZLY MAN (2005), dir. Werner Herzog

In the same year that Morgan Freeman became the world's pre-eminent narrator in March of the Penguins, Herzog also stunned as an enchantingly wry narrator in his own nature doc about obsessive bear maniac Timothy Treadwell. Treadwell spent years observing bears, living with them and "gaining their trust" with a likely, and indeed inevitable, outcome. Equal parts enlightening nature film and gut-wrenching creature horror, Grizzly Man is unmissable.

CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS (2010), dir. Werner Herzog

Herzog's first 3D film is a documentary about primitive, 2D cave paintings found in Chauvet Cave in France, some as much as 32,000 years old. The cameras document not just the image of the artwork, but the curvature and texture of the cavern walls, the stalagmites in the distance, the mist rising from the cave's moisture hitting the powerful expedition lights. An astonishing glimpse into humanity's far distant past, and possible glimpse into its far flung future. Albino crocodiles and all.

MY BEST FIEND (1999), dir. Werner Herzog

Actor Klaus Kinski worked with Herzog on several of cinema's unassailable masterpieces. In his memoirs, he took to eloquently expressing his appreciation for the director: "Huge red ants should piss into his lying eyes and gobble up his balls and his guts!" My Best Fiend tells the story of the enigmatic collaborators'...contentious relationship from Herzog's perspective and spotlights one of history's most brilliant and troubled artists.

This was originally published as a sidebar in the August issue of Birth.Movies.Death. magazine. See The Look of Silence in theaters now.

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