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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Heaven
Heaven
Lightyear Entertainment // PG-13 // July 1, 2008
List Price: $14.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Jeffrey Kauffman | posted July 2, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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P R I N T
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The Movie:
It's probably a testament to Diane Keaton's skill as an actress that I tend to think of her as the scattered and stuttering Annie Hall, even in "real life." This despite having seen her many different characterizations in films as diverse as The Godfather II and First Wives' Club, not to mention her many live appearances on talk shows, where she always comes across as a very articulate and witty woman. And yet I was still pleasantly surprised by the depth and care exhibited in this feature documentary (if you can call it that) that she conceived and directed, Heaven, which intercuts scores of vintage film clips with sometimes touching, often bizarre, and always quirky interview segments with a cross-section of people both young and old coming from different traditions and with different beliefs about the universe, an afterlife, and the meaning of it all.

The film opens with a great stock shot of disembodied heads floating through space and then quickly segues to a man who could be Annie Hall's brother, an addled young man who can't get past a few fumfering "um's" and "uh's" before he throws in the towel in trying to describe his view of heaven. Luckily Keaton has more luck with a plethora of other interview subjects, some of them adamant in their belief that heaven is a physical place with actual homes ("Mansions," one interview subject repeats almost lasciviously, "mansions"), others taking a more philosophical pose and simply stating that heaven is a state of mind. There are fundamentalists here, including some men of the cloth, as well as atheists, and Keaton elicits one of her funniest moments by having them debate each other. They are so intent on talking over each other that nothing clear comes from their "discussion," such as it is, brilliantly elucidating the pointlessness of such dogmatic interchanges. There are a host of other patently bizarre interview segments, such as the gold-toothed man who suddenly veers off on a tangent telling Keaton (who's evidently off-camera interviewing him) that the press is reporting that Mel Gibson is dating her, when "everyone" knows he has a thing for Sissy Spacek. Another highlight for me personally, as an Oregonian who weathered the onslaught of the Rajneeshies a couple of decades ago, is the segment with two ardent followers of the infamous Bhagwan playing a tape of his pronouncements on love and death, none of which make an ounce of sense.

The other highlight of the piece is the copious use of sometimes hilarious stock footage. While there is one classic film after another represented here, everything from Powell and Pressburger's Stairway to Heaven to Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast to Dreyer's Passion of Joan of Arc, it's some of the lesser known pieces (none of which are explicitly identified, unfortunately) that have the most traction. My favorite in this regard was a just flat out bizarre piece that looks like it came from television of the late 1950s or early 1960s, with three elderly evangelists sitting around (with a pre-recorded applause track greeting them), supposedly engaging in spontaneous conversation about the Almighty's promises of an afterlife, in what was only too obviously an over-rehearsed mini-play. The bizarre cuts to one or other of the men listening and smiling while nodding his head in absolute agreement were just hilarious.

Keaton divides the film into little sections headed by such provocative titles as "Is there sex in heaven?" ("Yes," states one emphatic woman, "but it's automatic, no ramming needed") or "Are you afraid to die?," which recurs several times throughout the feature. About ¾ of the way through there's an extended series of clips (including some great stuff from Cabin in the Sky), followed by the final section "Goodbye," which despite all the odds, considering the strangeness that has gone before it, has quite a bit of emotional heft as many of the interview subjects, many of them elderly couples, are revisited one final time to give their last views on what they hope will occur after their deaths.

Whether the final product is due more to Keaton's directorial hand or editor Paul Barnes, who so brilliantly weaves together the film clips and interview subjects, I guess is a moot point. My one question running throughout the film must certainly be lain at Keaton's feet however: what's up with the bizarre lighting effects on the interview subjects, which sees their faces covered with shadows that can alternately look like a chain-linked fence or gigantic dinosaur teeth? If there's some subtext there, it certainly eluded me. But that's a very minor qualm in an otherwise sterling presentation that may end up surprising you with how much it provokes thought even as it consistently makes you laugh.

The DVD

Video:
This Academy ratio (1.33:1) presentation is nothing to write home about, with softness and grain to spare. Colors are generally decent if a bit on the red side (perhaps due to the lighting effects). The vintage film material is in pretty bad shape, strange since it seems to be officially licensed. Some of the contrast and scratching issues on these vintage film clips are fairly major.

Sound:
The standard stereo soundtrack is fine, though there's virtually no separation to speak of. Interview subjects' voices are placed front and center and all of the film clips sported mono soundtracks anyway. Fidelity is fine, with little or any hiss, even in the vintage material.

Extras:
Only the theatrical trailer is offered.

Final Thoughts:
Heaven, perhaps like Keaton herself, is an extremely quirky, though unusually intelligent, examination of one of the most mysterious, and at times hilariously contradictory, of human beliefs. Keaton manages to capture all the bombast and controversy while maintaining a great sense of humor throughout. Heaven, Lord be praised, is highly recommended.

____________________________________________
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet

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