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Image Entertainment presents
Heaven (1987)

"The idea that man created Heaven because he's afraid to die is a Satanic idea."
- an unidentified fire-and-brimstone evangelical minister

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: June 04, 2002

Stars: Michael Agabian, James Allport, Swami Prem Amitabh, Lazaro Aruizu, Steven Augustine, Tracy Bauer, Nancy Block, Candice Clark, Abram Christ, Jacob Christ, Moses Christ, Don King
Other Stars: Bernard Kaye, Tim Kelly, Michael Darwin, Curt Morton, Olive Mott, Rosie Vasquez
Director: Diane Keaton

Manufacturer: Ritek Global Media
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for adult subject matter, some profanity
Run Time: 01h:18m:56s
Release Date: June 04, 2002
UPC: 014381148220
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B B-C-C+ D

DVD Review

Everybody wants to go to Heaven, but nobody wants to die. So what's it like once we shuffle off this mortal coil? That deeply human question is posed to the interviewees in this documentary, directed by Diane Keaton; you'll probably come away from this movie no more enlightened about the afterlife than before, and you may even want to reach for the Tylenol, but there are some fun and funny bits to it.

Title cards announce the Big Questions being asked: Are You Afraid To Die? Does Heaven Exist? Keaton has assembled a curious mix of interview subjects—the only familiar face is Don King's, not necessarily the first choice for spiritual guidance—but she gets what I'd guess she was after: meditations on the eternal that can be loopy or devout but that are always deeply felt. Unfortunately, she seems to have been working with an overly caffeinated editor, or perhaps it was that the movie was released as MTV was cresting for the first time, but the interviews are brutally overcut, and we never get to spend more than a handful of seconds with any one interviewee. (None of them are identified, either.) Nobody on hand here seems especially articulate, but then, the editing is so rapid that they're hardly given a chance. Also, they're all shot on some groovy New Wave white set with bizarre slashes of light across their faces; this must have been au courant in 1986, but now just seems distracting, and adds to the frequently headache-inducing aspects of the movie.

There are many versions of Heaven—Hollywood Heaven, the Heaven of the Baghwan, Christian Heaven. The evangelicals, of course, are the most upbeat: "I don't know where I'll be tomorrow, but I know where I'll be in ten thousand years." Some of them even start to sound like travel agents to the afterlife: "Have you made your plans as to where you'll spend eternity?" And we hear about many versions of God: God as Groucho Marx, God as a Pakistani immigrant in London, God as a "massive babe," God as the "Almighty Entertainer." "He has a beard, you know. That's the Lord." There's plenty of people being hoisted on their own petards, with what comes out of their mouths—I particularly was enamored of the woman who promises that "you could spend a year communicating with a tree, and never be bored."

And any movie called Heaven also must consider Hell—one woman helpfully offers this description: "It's a hell of fire, that's what it is." The interviews with the older folks can be particularly moving, those who are closer to death than the younger ones, and some of their observations can be downright Beckettian: "When I lost Sadie, I thought I lost everything. Which I did. But I figured, I have to go on." There's no shortage of euphemisms for death, either, the best of which comes from a couple of officers in the Salvation Army, who tell us that one doesn't die; one is "promoted to glory."

Intercut with the talking heads is lots of footage from old movies, usually more for stylistic purposes than anything else. For no particular reason, for instance, close-ups of Renée Falconetti in the title role in The Passion of Joan of Arc appear with the lyrics to Peggy Lee's Is That All There Is? being intoned on the soundtrack. (Also, there are clips from A Guy Named Joe and A Matter of Life and Death, giving some screen time to Spencer Tracy and David Niven.) The bulk of the footage is less familiar, though, and the most peculiar and offensive one is of a blackface Heaven, in which a tapdancing performer in blackface emerges from celestial slices of watermelon. It's so unbelievably offensive, and becomes even more so when you think that this is some person's version of the eternal paradise.

There's some hilarious use of music, too, but as with much else here, the lily is gilded. For instance, during a sequence when the interviewees are answering the question, Is There Love In Heaven?, the soundtrack features Lionel Richie and Diana Ross singing Endless Love. It's very funny the first time, less so the second, and becomes more than a little overdone by the third. It's too much of a good thing, and you can't help but think that Keaton has gone to the well one time too often. She briefly becomes the subject of conversation, too, with one out-there interviewee informing her about her own personal life: "They think you're married to Mel Gibson. I don't believe this. He's married to Sissy Spacek."

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - P&S
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: The picture is frequently grainy and scratched, and the colors have faded badly. I'm sure this was a relatively low-budget project to begin with, but it looks as if it was just dumped haphazardly onto DVD.

Image Transfer Grade: C-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The mono track is adequate for its purposes, and there's only a small amount of hiss that rears its ugly head.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 17 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Seventeen chapter stops and a pretty decent original trailer are the only extras on the disc.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

This may not be a little slice of heaven, but it's not without its small pleasures. It's a pretty shallow meditation on the deepest of all possible mysteries; thinking about what the future holds for you on this earth and after is enough to make you dizzy, and if that's what's in your thoughts, the frenetic cutting in this movie is likely only to make your head hurt a little bit more.


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