Skip to main content

Filmmaker Errol Morris

His new documentary, The Fog of War, is a profile of the man many considered to be the architect of the Vietnam conflict, Robert McNamara. Taken from a series of interviews Morris conducted with McNamara, it yields new insights into the mind of the former Secretary of Defense. Morris' other films include The Thin Blue Line, Vernon, Florida, Gates of Heaven, and Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control. He's also done a number of commercials. His clients include Apple, Nike, Miller High Life and PBS.

44:11

Other segments from the episode on January 5, 2004

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, January 5, 2004: Interview with Errol Morris; Review of a new series of classical music performances on DVD "Classic Archives."

Transcript

DATE January 5, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Errol Morris discusses his new film, "The Fog of War"
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, Errol Morris, directed the new film "The Fog of War," which has been
appearing on many critics' 10 best lists. This documentary is edited from
over 20 hours of interviews with Robert McNamara, who served as secretary of
Defense under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. He was one of the architects of
the war in Vietnam, but he said that by the time he left the Johnson
administration in 1967, he had become increasingly skeptical about the war and
worried that more and more people were being killed and we weren't
accomplishing our goals.

McNamara has remained an enigmatic figure. For many years, he would not speak
about his role in the war. That silence was broken by his 1995 memoir in
which he discussed what led to his growing skepticism, but he disappointed his
critics by not apologizing for his role in the war.

In Morris' film, McNamara reflects on the lessons he's learned from Vietnam
and World War II, in which he helped plan the fire bombing of Tokyo. McNamara
was the youngest ever secretary of Defense, age 44, and is now 87 years old.

Errol Morris' films investigate the obsessions and motivations of his subjects
through intensive interviews. His films include "Mr. Death," "Fast, Cheap &
Out of Control" and "The Thin Blue Line." Here's a clip from the beginning of
"The Fog of War."

(Soundbite of "The Fog of War")

Former Secretary ROBERT McNAMARA (Department of Defense): It's almost
impossible for our people today to put themselves back into that period. In
my seven years as secretary, we came within a hairsbreadth of war with the
Soviet Union on three different occasions. Twenty-four hours a day, 365 days
a year for seven years as secretary of Defense I lived the Cold War. During
the Kennedy administration, they designed a 100-megaton bomb. It was tested
in the atmosphere. I remember this. Cold War? Hell, it was a hot war.

GROSS: You know, one of the things that really astonished me watching "The
Fog of War" was that McNamara was really lively, anecdotal, interesting. And
I always thought of him, among other things, as cold and kind of inaccessible.
In other words, that you'd never get anything out of him. What surprised you
about actually talking with him?

Mr. ERROL MORRIS (Filmmaker): One of the things I like about
interviews--maybe you feel the same way--to me, interviews are investigative.
I never know what I'm going to hear. In fact, to the extent that I know what
I'm going to hear, I'm not terribly interested. I want to be surprised. I
want something unexpected to happen. And that certainly was the case with my
interviews with Robert McNamara, a picture of a very different kind of man
than I had been familiar with years ago seeing him on television, reading
about him in the papers, a far more interesting, far more complex man.

GROSS: Give me an example of something he said that really surprised you.

Mr. MORRIS: Well, the most surprising thing was discovering that his role in
Vietnam was different than I had thought. Remember, the Vietnam War was known
to many people as McNamara's war. He became not only associated with the war,
people thought of it as his war, as though he was the person primarily
responsible for it. He was the hawk. He was the guy who pushed other people
towards escalation, to bombing, to troops on the ground. You want an
explanation for how we became mired in Vietnam? Look no further than Robert
S. McNamara. And yet, as I got deeper and deeper into the story, my view of
him and his role in history changed.

GROSS: How did it change?

Mr. MORRIS: It changed in so many ways. I had read "In Retrospect" in 1995;
this was his supposed mea culpa for Vietnam.

GROSS: His memoir?

Mr. MORRIS: His memoir. And what surprised me was the book I was reading was
so different than the book I saw described in many, many reviews and
editorials. It didn't seem to be a mea culpa at all; more this anguished
attempt to go back into the past, to try to figure out what happened and why
it happened.

There's this very odd conversation. "The Fog of War" actually has these
recently released presidential recordings. Everybody knows Nixon made
recordings, but it's less well-known that Kennedy and Johnson recorded their
conversations as well. Kennedy recorded Cabinet meetings; Johnson recorded
phone calls. So you can actually hear the president of the United States
talking with McNamara, a front-row seat in history, if you like.

And there's one powerful conversation, October 2nd, 1963. This is less than
two months before Kennedy was assassinated. We hear McNamara and the
president talking, and McNamara is urging Kennedy to set a timetable, a
schedule for getting out of Vietnam. This is the man who we considered to be
the worst hawk of all in the administration, the most bellicose adviser of all
in the administration.

GROSS: It's tempting to kind of go over your whole film point by point and
talk about all the points that Robert McNamara makes, but I think I should let
our listeners see the movie and talk instead about how the movie was made.

But, first, I do want to just get to a couple of the very interesting points
that McNamara makes in the movie. And one of them is in talking about World
War II where he served under General Curtis LeMay and he participated in the
planning of the firebombing of Tokyo in which 100,000 civilians were killed.
And he says something very interesting about war criminals. Why don't we hear
this excerpt of your movie? This is an excerpt of Robert McNamara speaking in
Errol Morris' documentary "The Fog of War."

(Soundbite of "The Fog of War")

Mr. McNAMARA: I don't fault Truman for dropping that nuclear bomb. The
US/Japanese war was one of the most brutal wars in all of human history:
kamikaze pilots, suicide. Unbelievable. What one could criticize is that the
human race, prior to that time and today, has not really grappled with what
are I'll call it the rules of war. Was there a rule then that said you
shouldn't bomb, shouldn't kill, shouldn't burn to death 100,000 civilians in a
night? LeMay said if we'd lost the war, we'd all have been prosecuted as war
criminals. And I think he's right. He and I'd say I were behaving as war
criminals.

GROSS: Robert McNamara speaking in the documentary "The Fog of War."

Errol Morris, when he said that to you, were you surprised to hear his
thoughts about what makes a war crime a war crime?

Mr. MORRIS: Yes, particularly because this part of the interview happened
very early on, probably within the first half-hour of my first interview with
Robert McNamara.

The movie doesn't tell you--there's no flashing light that goes on and says,
`This is really something new, this is really something extraordinary.' So
much has been written about the dropping of the two atomic bombs on Japan in
1945. Comparatively little has been written about the firebombing of 67
cities in Japan before we bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And here we have
McNamara, who was involved in these firebombings, speak of them as a war
crime. Very powerful, because aren't we all used to thinking of World War II
as a just war? After all, good and evil were well-defined. We were on the
side of good; they were on the side of evil. And, yet, here is Robert
McNamara telling us, `Yes, that was true, but there is conduct within a just
war which is criminal.' Very, very powerful and very interesting.

GROSS: Now in talking about his role in Vietnam, he certainly gives the
impression that he tried to talk President Johnson out of the war, tried to
start decreasing our presence in Vietnam. Do you believe that that was
consistently his point of view with Johnson?

Mr. MORRIS: It's a tortured story. I believe that, if Kennedy had lived, in
all likelihood, there would not have been extensive bombing and half a million
ground troops in Vietnam. It's one of those great mysteries that can't be
really answered for certain, but the story leans in that direction. There is
considerable amount of evidence that suggests that's the case.

One thing that's really interesting--I sometimes say, well, this revised story
about Vietnam that emerges in "The Fog of War," it's not necessarily a better
story. It's just a different story because it raises a whole set of different
questions. If McNamara was opposed to the war, why did he become a part of
its escalation? Why did he continue to serve Johnson if he disagreed with his
policies? Why did he stay on until 1968? And why, when he left the
administration, did he remain silent? War went on '69, '70, '71, '72, '73,
'74, '75. Between two and three million Vietnamese died and 58,000 Americans.

GROSS: Now aren't these the questions that he still refuses to answer? The
questions that you just raised?

Mr. MORRIS: Yes and no. The movie has an epilogue where I return to some of
the central mysteries of this story. I feel that there are partial answers,
but this is not a movie where every T can be crossed and every I dotted.
There are mysteries that remain for me, having made the movie.

GROSS: My guest is film director Errol Morris. His new documentary about
Robert McNamara is called "The Fog of War." We'll talk more after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: My guest is director Errol Morris. His new film, "The Fog of War," is
an extensive interview with former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara,
reflecting on the lessons he learned from his role in Vietnam and World War
II.

He reaches several conclusions and has several lessons that he feels like he's
learned from his involvement in World War II and the Vietnam War. And one of
his conclusions is you need to empathize with your enemy, but he says about
Vietnam, `We didn't know the Vietnamese well enough to emphasize and put
ourselves in their shoes. We saw the war in Vietnam as a cold war; they saw
it as a civil war.' And when I heard him say that, I thought, you know, what
a true and interesting lesson to have learned and to impart to us. But then I
thought for a second, `Isn't that what the anti-war movement was saying all
along? That, you know, this isn't just the cold war, this is a civil war?
Why are we involved there?' I mean, isn't that something that people were
shouting at him for years?

Mr. MORRIS: Yes. This is a movie with one interview, but sometimes I think
there are actually two characters: the 85-year-old McNamara speaking to the
45-year-old McNamara. And one of the questions...

GROSS: Yeah, I know exactly what you mean. I mean, as a viewer, that was my
impression, too, yeah.

Mr. MORRIS: And one question that keeps coming up again and again: Is this
the same man? Are these two different men? Well, in one sense, of course
they're not. But are they the same? And in what way are they different, if
they are different?

You're absolutely right. Many of the things that McNamara says could've come
out of anti-war demonstrators. It could've been things that they said
verbatim in 1965. People who really hate McNamara--and there are many--when
they hear about the lessons, they say, `Why do we want to hear anything this
man says? Shouldn't he remain silent?' My answer is an emphatic no. He has
been so much a part of history, and the stories that he tells about history
are really interesting and important stories. And they're stories by a man
who knows.

GROSS: You know, you were talking about him being like the 85-year-old
McNamara talking to the 45-year-old McNamara. And I felt, as a viewer, that
there were two versions of me watching the movie, just as there were...

Mr. MORRIS: Well, that's really interesting.

GROSS: Yeah, and I'll explain what I mean 'cause, like, when he talks
about...

Mr. MORRIS: By the way, it's also true in my case...

GROSS: Oh, really?

Mr. MORRIS: ...I might add.

GROSS: Really? Yeah.

Mr. MORRIS: Yes.

GROSS: So--well, let me give you my example. When I was watching the movie
and he says things like during the war in Vietnam, his family was so stressed
out, his family got ulcers. I can't remember if he got ulcers, too. And--and
that, you know, his family was just, like, sickened by all of the stress. And
one part of me thought, `Wow, that's really interesting that, you know, it was
so stressful on your family,' and that elicited a very sympathetic response
from me. But then the other part of me was saying, `Well, I should think so.
The whole country was divided by this war. The country was at war with
itself. Americans were dying, Vietnamese were dying. So many lives of
Americans were totally changed by the war and...

Mr. MORRIS: America was totally changed by the war.

GROSS: Right. So, in that sense, I was thinking, `Well, you know, sure,
you'd have ulcers. I mean, jeez.' So I just felt myself having this constant
dialogue with myself about my reactions to him and what he was saying. Tell
me about the dialogue you had with yourself making the movie.

Mr. MORRIS: Well, my feelings about Vietnam haven't changed over the years.
I demonstrated against the war as a young student because I found the war
appalling. And now many, many years later, I still find it appalling.

Sometimes I think: `Am I being too easy on McNamara?' Other times I think:
`Am I being too hard on him?' One undeniable aspect of the man is that he
produces these very, very strong feelings, and yet I feel privileged to have
been able to talk to him and to make this movie. It's interesting. I started
these interviews before 9/11. The first interview with McNamara was in May of
2001. I never thought that this would be a movie about now, that this would
be a movie about today. And yet, as I continued to work on the film, the
themes, the stories, the history that McNamara describes became more and more
and more relevant to what is going on in the world today.

GROSS: There are some people who have seen the movie who think that in the
movie, McNamara is still doing a bit of, you know, lying, deceiving,
exaggerating to suit his case. And I'm wondering if you think that he's doing
some of that and if you--in between your interviews with him over the
two-year-or-so period, if you went to, you know, historians and asked them for
their take on things that he said to see if it jibed with their understanding
of recent history.

Mr. MORRIS: I sometimes think of people like a deck of cards. And we think
that people have to be one thing when, in fact, they're many things. You said
that people look at the movie and they say, `Well, McNamara is not being
forthcoming here. McNamara is being evasive. McNamara is lying. McNamara is
making remark after remark which is self-serving in some way.' My answer is,
`Of course, he's human.' It is all there. But what is also there is what I
would call an honest attempt to grapple with the past, to grapple with his own
history and the history that he was part of.

You asked me have I talked to historians, and the answer is endlessly. And
it's not as though there's an unanimity of opinion...

GROSS: Absolutely.

Mr. MORRIS: ...on many...

GROSS: Absolutely. Yeah.

Mr. MORRIS: Also, what's so interesting is that in history, you work with the
information you have at hand. You know, I believe that there's a real history
back there, but often important pieces are missing. These presidential
recordings from the Kennedy and Johnson libraries have only recently been
released. And, yes, they provide important pieces of evidence that change our
understanding of history.

GROSS: Errol Morris' new film is called "The Fog of War." He'll back in the
second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music from "The Fog of War")

(Announcements)

GROSS: Coming up, more with director Errol Morris about his latest film, "The
Fog of War." We're listening to music from the film composed by Philip Glass.
And Lloyd Schwartz reviews "Classic Archive," a new series of historic
classical music performances collected on DVD.

(Soundbite of music from "The Fog of War")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with film director Errol
Morris. His new film, "The Fog of War," is edited from over 20 hours of
interviews with Robert McNamara, who served as secretary of Defense under
Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. McNamara was one of the architects of the war
in Vietnam, but by the time he left the Johnson administration in '67 he had
grown skeptical of the war. After refusing to discuss the war in public, he
broke his silence with his 1995 memoir, which explained his anxieties about
the war but offered no apology for his role in it.

You know, I interviewed McNamara in '95 after his memoir was published. And,
you know, as I've said, I've never seen him be as interesting and lively and
anecdotal as in your movie. And when I interviewed him, I guess, you know,
all my instincts were, `Ask him why he hasn't apologized if he knew all this
in advance. Ask him if he thinks he owes America an apology or an
explanation.' And, you know, I haven't listened back to the interview, but I
think that's where I kept heading. And I'm wondering if your instinct was
ever to do that yourself because the movie isn't that. You're not saying,
`Well, then apologize,' you know. You're letting him speak, you're letting
him tell his story, and a lot of interesting things emerge, and those things
are very lively and attention-getting. I mean, you want to hear it. And
whether you end up completely believing it or not, you want to hear it. But
was there ever an instinct in you saying, `Get him to apologize,' you know?

Mr. MORRIS: Sure. Absolutely. But...

GROSS: But did you kind of suppress that and just, like, let him talk, or did
you keep kind of getting back to that?

Mr. MORRIS: Did I kind of suppress it? I like the idea of suppressing it.
Maybe. It's interesting because when you say there's something missing--if
people say, `Well, McNamara didn't go as far as I would like,' or, `McNamara
really didn't apologize,' or, `McNamara didn't really confess,' I would ask
myself: `What is it that they want to hear? What exactly are they looking
for?' And I ask myself: `Do I want to hear McNamara apologize for the war?'
And here's my answer: Not really.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Why not?

Mr. MORRIS: Because I don't think there is any apology for the war in this
sense: How do you apologize for the death of 58,000 Americans and two to
three million Vietnamese? I think he's done something far more interesting.
He has gone back over the history of the war--don't forget, this is the man
who ordered the Pentagon Papers to be created. If you like, it's that same
instinct to go back over the past, to look at it, to try to understand it.

For the totally unsympathetic, the people who will hate McNamara no matter
what, they will look at this attempt to go back over the past as
excuse-making: `Oh, yeah, sure, he's going back over the past, but he's going
over the past just to provide a gloss on the past, to make himself look
better.' My answer is no. When he suggests that he and LeMay were war
criminals in World War II, and he tells a story that is so different from any
other story I've heard about that period, I don't look at it as an attempt to
whitewash the past but as a sincere attempt to go back over the past, to think
about the past.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. When you interviewed McNamara--and this was about 24 hours'
worth of interviews we're talking about--do you think he ever expected that
you were warming him up and just laying the trap and, in the end, there would
be an ambush?

Mr. MORRIS: Well, I mean, certainly...

GROSS: Because, you know, that is an interview technique.

Mr. MORRIS: It's not my technique.

GROSS: But he wouldn't necessarily know that, I mean, 'cause you never know
till it's over.

Mr. MORRIS: I mean, I'm always surprised. You know, I said that for me,
interviews are investigative. When I was making "The Thin Blue Line" years
ago, a movie credited with getting an innocent man out of prison in Texas, I
was surprised how if I left people alone, if I allowed them to talk without
interrupting them, I could learn so much more than in an adversarial
interview. Maybe it's a difference in philosophy because when you're playing
the Mike Wallace game, a well-known game in interviewing, when you back the
subject against the wall, try to get him to contradict himself, it's kind of
the police idea of interviewing. You have a subject. Break him down, make
him fess up. I'm interested in something different. I'm not really
interested in backing my subjects into a corner. I'm interested in learning
something about how they see the world.

GROSS: Your interview with McNamara, as it is in the movie "The Fog of War,"
starts with him having to pick up where he left off, I guess, because, like,
the tape or the film had run out, and he has to, like, pick up in the middle
of the sentence. In fact, let me just play this little excerpt.

(Soundbite of "The Fog of War")

Mr. McNAMARA: Now I remember exactly the sentence I left off on. I remember
how it started, and I was cut off in the middle, but you can fix it up
someway. I don't want to go back and introduce the sentence because I know
exactly what I want to say.

Unidentified Man: Go ahead!

Mr. McNAMARA: OK. Any military commander who is honest with himself or with
those he's speaking to will admit that he has made mistakes in the application
of military power; he's killed people unnecessarily, his own troops or other
troops, through mistakes, through errors of judgment, a hundred or thousands
or tens of thousand, maybe even 100,000. But he hasn't destroyed nations.
And the conventional wisdom is, `Don't make the same mistake twice. Learn
from your mistakes,' and we all do. Maybe we make the same mistake three
times but hopefully not four or five. There'll be no learning period with
nuclear weapons. You make one mistake and you're going to destroy nations.

GROSS: That's Robert McNamara in the very opening of "The Fog of War." And
my guest is the filmmaker Errol Morris.

You know how I was talking about how I had two reactions to a lot of the
movie? I had two reactions to seeing this part of the interview, especially
at the very beginning. Part of me said, `Wow, he's being kind of manipulative
here. He knows exactly what he's going to say. He's saying it. You know,
he's so kind of conscious of himself as an interviewee.' But then the other
part of me said, `Yes, he should be. He has something really important to say
here about, you know, lessons about nuclear weapons and being, you know, in a
position of power in the nuclear era. This is really important. I'm glad he
remembered what he wanted to say.' Tell me why you wanted to lead with this,
in a way, very self-conscious moment of him saying, `I'm going to pick up
exactly where I left off. I know what I want to say'?

Mr. MORRIS: Well, among other things, he's a control freak.

GROSS: Right (laughs).

Mr. MORRIS: And it's interesting to be reminded of that fact at the very
beginning of the movie.

GROSS: At the very beginning, yeah. Uh-huh.

Mr. MORRIS: In fact, at the very beginning of the movie, we see him in 1964
doing pretty much the same thing that he's doing in 2001.

GROSS: Now at one point he says to you that he learned early on, `Never
answer the question that is asked of you. Answer the question that you wish
had been asked of you.' And he says, `And, quite frankly, I follow that rule.
It's a very good rule.' Did he follow that rule with you? Did he, like,
consistently answer what you wanted him--you know, what you had asked, or did
he just answer the questions he wished you had asked? Do you know what I
mean? How much did he kind of control what the answers and what the message
was going to be?

Mr. MORRIS: I had an argument with my editor, Karen Schmeer, because in the
dailies, in the actual interview itself, after he says this, I ask him, `Are
you doing this to me?' And he smiles and laughs. She wanted to put it in; I
didn't because I felt it was already implied.

GROSS: Right. Right.

Mr. MORRIS: But, of course, there's always an element of that. There's an
element of that here and now talking to you. Everybody wants to answer the
questions they wished they had been asked. McNamara is not alone in that
respect.

GROSS: My guest is film director Errol Morris. His new documentary about
Robert McNamara is called "The Fog of War." We'll talk more after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Errol Morris. And his new
documentary, "The Fog of War," is an interview with Robert McNamara.

Now one of the things that you are really able to do in your movies is take
what some people might think `Oh, oh, that's just going to be a talking head
movie,' and you make it very cinematic. The person who's speaking is shot in
a simple but visually interesting way, not because there's, like, a lot of
crazy things going on in the background. It's just framed well. And then it
is intercut occasionally, you know, in McNamara's case, with footage of the
Vietnam War, footage of World War II, with I think a very little bit of
re-enactment, a little bit of kind of visual images that evoke the era. Can
you talk a little bit about how you see the job of making what is basically an
interview into a movie, into something that will be cinematic, that we will
actually want to look at, you know, for a couple of hours, or nearly a couple
of hours?

Mr. MORRIS: You're absolutely right in describing these stories as anecdotal,
amazing anecdotes, anecdotes about central historical events. Whenever I hear
a story, particularly if it's a good story, images immediately come to mind,
and it becomes very hard to resist the temptation to shoot those images. In
fact, usually I am unable to resist the temptation, and I go ahead and do it.
Part of "The Fog of War" is a story of dropping things from the sky--bombing,
if you like. And we have many instances of it in the story, from the
firebombing of Tokyo to bombing in Vietnam.

There's another curious story among the many jobs that Robert McNamara has had
over the years. He was also president of the Ford Motor Company. Not so well
known, he pushed for safety at a time where afety was never really thought
about. He argued for padded dashes, collapsible steering wheels and, first
and foremost, seat belts. And he tells this remarkable story--this is the
kind of thing you can't possibly make up--about how they dropped skulls down a
stairwell at one of the dormitories at Cornell in order to determine the
effect that automobile crashes had on the human body, an instance where
dropping things actually produces good rather than evil. And, yes, I
illustrated it.

I sometimes think of my movies like a dream, a dream about 20th century
history, a series of questions, of puzzles, of mysteries. And the hope is
that the visuals take you deeper and deeper into those mysteries, that is if
I've done my job well.

GROSS: Before you made movies, you were a private investigator. Now you've
said that as a movie documentarian, when you interview somebody, your goal
isn't to do the police interrogation method, where, you know, you're throwing
them against the wall, and you're, you know, throwing those questions at them
until you wear them down and they're forced to tell you the truth. You want
to know how they see the world and how they see their place in the world, so
you don't have that kind of interrogation technique. But what about when you
were a private investigator and you had to, kind of surreptitiously, get to
the bottom of the story? I don't know if you actually talked to any of the
people you were investigating or people who were related to the investigation,
but did you have to use, and to perfect, a very different kind of way of
verbally getting to the truth?

Mr. MORRIS: No. I started interviewing people long before I became a
filmmaker. I used to do interviews with a tape recorder. This should be
something familiar: no picture, just audio. And I had this--call it a
perverse enthusiasm for doing interviews where I hardly talked at all. It's
something that carried over to my filmmaking and to my work as a private
investigator. The big surprise: There was hardly any difference between
working as a private investigator and working as an interviewer making a film.
After all, what is the job at its heart? It's listening to people, creating a
situation where people want to talk to you, want to tell you things and
putting yourself in a position where you can listen.

I once thought--I was in the middle of this murder investigation in "The Thin
Blue Line"--`Could I make this movie with actors?' And the answer is
absolutely no, it couldn't be done, because when you have the real people on
the screen, you're put in this strange relationship, maybe the same
relationship that I have with them talking to them in a room or a studio.
`Who are these people? Can I believe them? Why are they saying what they're
saying? What are they thinking?' And if I've done my job correctly, that
same kind of mystery should emerge in the film as well. You and the audience
should be put in that same position that I found myself.

GROSS: I know you've made some TV commercials for...

Mr. MORRIS: Oh, not some.

GROSS: Lots?

Mr. MORRIS: Many, many, many, many, many TV commercials.

GROSS: Do you want to name some of the people you've made them for,
companies?

Mr. MORRIS: A fairly long list. Well, I like this idea. This gives me an
opportunity to do a commercial for my commercials.

GROSS: (Laughs)

Mr. MORRIS: I've done them for Cisco, Intel, Apple, IBM, Ford, Honda, Miller
High Life. Someone fairly recently came up to me and said, `I really, really,
really admire your work.' And I said, `Thank you very much.' And then they
said, `Those Miller High Life commercials are fantastic.'

GROSS: (Laughs) Well, I'm sure you have a pretty nice budget for those
commercials. Are there techniques that you've learned making commercials that
you've been able to adapt to making your movies?

Mr. MORRIS: Absolutely. It goes both ways, stuff that I've learned making
movies that applies to making commercials and visa versa. I've been lucky. I
get to do interesting work. I get to do interesting work on my own and in
commercials as well.

GROSS: Well, Errol Morris, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. MORRIS: Thank you for having me.

GROSS: Errol Morris' new documentary is called "The Fog of War." It's now
playing in New York, Los Angeles and Washington, DC, and will open nationwide
on January 23rd.

Coming up, classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz reviews a new series of
historical classic music performances on DVD.

This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: "Classic Archives"
TERRY GROSS, host:

A new series of historic classical music performances on DVD features some of
the 20th century's most famous musicians. Classical music critic Lloyd
Schwartz has a review.

(Soundbite of music)

LLOYD SCHWARTZ reporting:

Classical music lovers fall more or less into two categories: the ones who
think that recent performances of classical music have never been better and
those who believe that the performances of the past will never be equaled.
Now the new technology has been making the old technology more available. EMI
has a new series on DVD, "Classic Archives," in which major 20th-century
musicians, filmed mostly in the 1960s and '70s, are represented by complete
performances of substantial works. The impressive list includes cellist
Mstislav Rostropovic playing the five Beethoven cello sonatas with pianist
Sviatoslav Richter; Russian violinist David Oistrakh playing the Prokofiev
Sonata for Two Violins with his son, Igor; conductors Leopold Stokowski,
Herbert von Karajan and Carlo Maria Giulini; French mezzo-soprano Regine
Crespin and the delightful Spanish soprano Teresa Berganza.

There are legendary figures, like violinist Jascha Heifetz and pianist Arthur
Rubinstein. But some lesser-known artists are at least as interesting, like
the elegant Russian conductor Igor Markevitch. Here he is in 1963 conducting
the scherzo of Shostakovich's cheeky 1st Symphony.

(Soundbite of music)

SCHWARTZ: Each DVD also includes a bonus feature of even-rarer historic
material. On the Markevitch disc, for example, there's a precious film of the
83-year-old Igor Stravinsky conducting his "Firebird" Suite with The New
Philharmonia Orchestra. Many musicians believe that Stravinsky was not a
technically proficient conductor, but watching him makes visible why listening
to his recordings is so mesmerizing.

The bonus on the Giulini disc is an electrifying rehearsal of Rossini's
"Semiramide" overture conducted by Toscanini's brilliant young disciple Guido
Cantelli, who might have surpassed even his master if he had not been killed
in a plane crash at the age of 36.

On the Glenn Gould disc, the bonus material is a haunting, short, silent film
showing the young pianist's hands in slow motion. The main part of the DVD is
a documentary called "Glenn Gould the Alchemist" filmed in Toronto by the
distinguished filmmaker Bruno Monsaingeor in 1974 after Gould had stopped
performing in public. We hear him spouting some of his fascinating, sometimes
off-the-wall musical opinions. But the film also proves that at a time when
his commercial recordings didn't seem inspired, he could still play with
thrilling concentration and profound expression, as in Bach's Sixth Partita,
which he performs complete on the DVD.

(Soundbite of music from "Glenn Gould the Alchemist")

SCHWARTZ: Glenn Gould's other selections range from heartbreaking short
pieces by 17th century English composers William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons,
whom Gould calls his favorite composer, to such 20th century masterpieces as
Berg's Piano Sonata and Webern's "Variations" for piano. It's startling to
see the close-ups of Gould's hands in 1974. They look as soft and pink and
childlike as they did 20 years earlier in the silent film.

GROSS: Lloyd Schwartz is classical music editor of The Boston Phoenix. He
reviewed the new "Classic Archive" DVD series on EMI.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?

Advertisement

Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR

43:07

Has Tucker Carlson created the most racist show in the history of cable news?

The NY Times did an exhaustive survey of the Fox News hosts' broadcasts. Reporter Nicholas Confessore says Carlson's show is based on ideas that were once "caged in a dark corner of American life."

08:23

You can't 'Trust' this novel. And that's a very good thing

Hernan Diaz’s new novel, Trust, is about the power of money in the stock market, and its potential, as a character says, "to bend and align reality" to its own purposes.

42:05

British 'Office' co-creator Stephen Merchant isn't afraid to fuse comedy with tragedy

Merchant co-created the British Office and Extras with Ricky Gervais. His new show, The Outlaws, is about people court-ordered to do community service for low-level crimes. He spoke with producer Sam Briger about what inspired the new series, his best writing advice, and how being very tall (6'7") has informed his personality.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.
Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue