Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

Errol Morris' 'The Pigeon Tunnel'

 October 21, 2023 at 9:12 AM PDT

EPISODE 234: Errol Morris’ “The Pigeon Tunnel”

TRT 40:29


John Le Carré captivated audiences for six decades with more than two dozen novels about the most intricate workings of the espionage community.


DAVID CORNWELL I really don't think any artist, whether he's a writer, a painter or anybody else, I don't think he has to explain his work beyond a certain point.  

But shortly before his death in 2020, David Cornwell, better known to the world by his pen name of John Le Carré, decided to explain something about his work and life to filmmaker Errol Morris for a documentary called The Pigeon Tunnel.


Cinema Junkie The Theme bump 1 (drums)


BETH ACCOMANDO Welcome back to listener supported KPBS Cinema Junkie, I'm Beth Accomando.


Cinema Junkie The Theme bump 1 (Horns)


BETH ACCOMANDO Errol Morris is a veteran documentary filmmaker who has tackled topics as diverse as the pet burial industry, capitol punishment, hedge-trimming, and the horrors of Abu Ghraib. He has interviewed lion tamers and a naked mole rat expert as well as Stephen Hawking, Donald Rumsfeld, and Robert McNamara. I love that you not only never know what he might tackle next but also that you never know exactly what approach he might take. For The Pigeon Tunnel he takes on a former spy turned award-winning novelist and the result is spectacular. (:38)


Music theme bump out.


BETH ACCOMANDO Not since My Dinner with Andre have I enjoyed a cinematic conversation as much as I did listening to Morris and Cornwell talk. I had the opportunity to speak with Morris about interviewing the famous author. Plus I got to speak with Cornwell’s sons Simon and Stephen who produced the film. I need to take a quick break and then I’ll be back to to explore The Pigeon Tunnel.


CLIP Music


MIDROLL 1 [currently at 2:11]


BETH ACCOMANDO Welcome back to Cinema Junkie. David Cornwell’s son Simon recalled his dad’s mood heading into the making The Pigeon Tunnel.


SIMON CORNWELL Our dad, I think, prepared in some ways, meticulously for combat.

Maybe that was because Cornwell was a former spy and knew what an interrogation could entail. But Morris quickly disarmed his subject and put him at ease.


[00:16:59.20] - ERROL MORRIS I was going to ask you how you do feel now, but that seems silly.


[00:17:14.24] - DAVID CORNWELL I feel very comfortable. I enjoy very much talking about things I haven't talked about before. I saw this prospect at my great age as something definitive. I knew that I was not going to lie. I wasn't going to fabricate. I'm not even interested in self defense because I really don't know what the accusation is in the air.


Morris met Cornwell through mutual friends who thought the two would get along. And they did. So well in fact that when Morris suggested making the documentary, Cornwell agreed. I had read that Morris described Cornwell as a kindred spirit. So I asked him what was it about Cornwell that he connected so well with.


[00:03:42.21] - ERROL MORRIS So many, many things. His interest in the relationship between literature and history. It surprised me all through the course of making this movie, not just the interview, but the course of making the entire movie. How we had so many things in common and so many interests in common. And this connection, it's at the very heart of my film between history, personal biography and literature is something that fascinates me still. I can't say that everything is resolved in my mind, but I make movies so that I can think about things. And this enabled me to think about a lot of things that really interest me.


[00:04:23.26] - BETH ACCOMANDO And he hasn't given a lot of interviews.


[00:04:26.12] - ERROL MORRIS I think that's not really, strictly speaking, true. Look, he was 89 years old when he died. He's given hundreds of interviews. He had written autobiographical fragments. He wrote autobiographical novels. Maybe he didn't do an interview quite like this one. I'm not the first person to ever interview David Cornwall. That just would, strictly speaking, not be true.


[00:04:54.11] - BETH ACCOMANDO But I was going to say, what do you think made him open up to you and be willing to do an interview of this kind? Did Fog of War help in some way in terms of him seeing the kind of film you could craft?


[00:05:09.13] - ERROL MORRIS He knew my movies. He liked my movies. I think that that helped. I think he liked talking to me. I know I liked talking to him. I think it surprised him. There was this sort of idea that there were two interrogators in a room. But I wasn't interrogating him. I never interrogate anybody. I was interested in having a conversation and exploring various themes with him. But that's the extent of it. And that question that he asked at the very beginning who are you? I don't know who I am. I tell him, I don't think I can answer the question. I don't think I could answer the question now either. I think we're always trying to figure out who we are and we never know.


[00:05:51.16] - BETH ACCOMANDO Well, you make a differentiation between interrogation and conversation here. But why do you think you weren't interrogating him?


[00:06:00.04] - ERROL MORRIS When I think of an interrogation, I think of a spy interrogating someone who they're in search of very specific information or a cop interrogating someone suspected of a crime hoping for some kind of confession or some kind of leading information that will help secure a conviction in a court of law. Whatever interviews from when I first started doing them I always called it the shut the fuck up school of interviewing. Not about answering questions, about not even having questions, but being there in a position willing to listen and to engage on some level with the person you're talking to. And that in itself surprised me because, again, he's operating from a completely different set of premises than I have.


[00:06:54.12] - BETH ACCOMANDO Well, it seems like your films have had this kind of evolution in the sense that the early films I'm not sure how to put this exactly, but your early films there seemed to be kind of this disparity between you and the people you were interviewing. And with McNamara and Cornwell, it feels like you're on more kind of level ground with them and maybe more engaged with them. I don't know. You seem like you could be friends with them in a way that's different from some of your earlier films and some of the interviews in those films.


[00:07:29.12] - ERROL MORRIS Probably so. I mean, I really liked him and I liked talking to him. I'm very, very sorry he died. I wish he was around. I wish he could see this movie because I think I don't know for sure, but I think he would like it. There are people that I remain friendly with after I made movies about them. I mean, friendly with Robert McNamara, who I really came to love. My favorite war criminal, as I describe him. He had come over our house several times for dinner and the last time he fell, he hit his head. He was bleeding. And when I was at university, the University of Wisconsin in 1968, 69, I demonstrated against the war in Vietnam. So Magna Mara hits his head, he's bleeding, we're hysterical. We want to take him to the hospital immediately. He refuses. He puts a cold compress on his head. And my wife know years ago, if we had killed Robert s back to Bara, we'd all be heroes. And now we're all horrified because we've come to really like and indeed, he turns out to be a really thoughtful and decent human being and it was a privilege to know him. The privilege. I remained friends with Stephen Hawking and the loss of Stephen Hawking was a terrible thing. One of my very, very favorite interview subjects and a guy who is really, really smart, really funny, really perverse. I'm really sorry he's no longer with us.


[00:09:10.00] - BETH ACCOMANDO How many hours of interview you did you end up doing with Cornwell to create this film?


[00:09:15.15] - ERROL MORRIS Only four days. Four days? Probably 16, 17 hours, something like that. Could have been a long war.


[00:09:21.28] - BETH ACCOMANDO And was there anything during the course of those interviews that really surprised you or that lots of stuff you just weren't expecting?


[00:09:29.28] - ERROL MORRIS The fact that he's so much less cynical than I am. He really actually is a truly ethical, moral human being. Believes passionately and right and wrong. Some of the best stories in The Pigeon Tunnel is about his refusal, for example, to meet with Kim Philby in Moscow. Kim Philby, who is really one of the centers of his work, one of the most notorious British traders, david said, I won't meet with him. I'm not going to meet with the Queen's representative one night and with the Queen's trader the following night. So he's a really interesting and passionate man with really, truly interesting and passionate beliefs. I made movies so I could learn something and I learned a lot from this man. It's a great experience. I'm lucky.


[00:10:22.12] - BETH ACCOMANDO Would you cite anything specifically that you learned or a favorite lesson?


[00:10:27.10] - ERROL MORRIS I would say that in The Pigeon Tunnel originally it was going to be much longer. It was going to be a series. When he came to Bonn as a young spy and civil servant. He found out that there were a lot of high ranking Nazis in the German government. And he said to himself, Wait a second. Didn't we fight a war to get rid of these people, and now they're in the government? The whole second chapter of the Pigeon Tunnel is about Hans Globke, who originated the Nuremberg Laws. Many of people credit the Nuremberg Laws with having opened the door to the Holocaust. So here's a guy who promulgated this anti Semitic stuff, and now he's at the top of the government pyramid. And David in the movie talks about forced forgetting. And there's a kind of deep moral ambiguity, I would even say quagmire, that is at the center of much of his fiction. And what made it a pleasure to make the movie is here he is making these connections between his art history, his personal life. It's a rich kind of mind of all kinds of interesting related material. It's a great opportunity. I'm glad he gave it to me.


[00:11:53.15] - BETH ACCOMANDO And how did you decide to structure it? At what point did you decide that you wanted to use the interviews like dramatization archival footage? I mean, did you always kind of know it would be that mix?


[00:12:05.19] - ERROL MORRIS I did. It's always been the kitchen sink approach, and I always felt that to bring to life these parables like Rudolph Hess's Journey to Scotland or The Pigeon Tunnel, you had to create visual material around it. There's just no other way.


[00:12:25.18] - BETH ACCOMANDO And did he ever see any of the film put together?


[00:12:29.07] - ERROL MORRIS No, not really. No.


[00:12:31.17] - BETH ACCOMANDO I'm just wondering what he would have thought.


[00:12:33.06] - ERROL MORRIS So am I wondering the very same thing?


[00:12:37.03] - BETH ACCOMANDO Was there ever a question you asked him that he didn't answer or refuse to answer?


[00:12:41.26] - ERROL MORRIS No, he was pretty forthcoming. I did not ask him questions about his sex life. I was interested in other stuff. My apologies.


[00:12:51.15] - BETH ACCOMANDO What I find interesting is that he seems very forthcoming and very open about what he's talking about, and yet there's still a level of it where he seems to be spinning a tale on a certain level about his own life. And it's always that thing about facts and truth. My mom would get the facts wrong, but she would say she always got the truth right.


[00:13:17.24] - ERROL MORRIS I got the feeling that it's what made him so interesting as a subject that he himself was aware of. How much of his stories was fabricated, confabulated, if you like, person who has an ironic connection to his own material. And I love that he'll tell you he's looking at his father as a Monopoly man looking out of a window in the prison. He'll tell you he learns subsequently there is no such window looking out on the road. He's a storyteller who delights in undermining his own stories as he's telling them.


[00:13:53.09] - BETH ACCOMANDO And it seems like we get more of you in this film, or I get more of a sense of who you are in this film, really, than any other. Yeah, it feels like it. It feels more I don't know, more conversational. I mean, your films are very conversational, but I felt like this one I don't know, it felt like there were some moments that you were less on guard, maybe, or maybe so open, maybe. I don't know.


[00:14:21.29] - ERROL MORRIS I'm glad. It's nice to hear because it feels.


[00:14:24.28] - BETH ACCOMANDO Like he's not interrogating you, but he does seem to question you more than some other of your subjects have.


[00:14:31.28] - ERROL MORRIS He does indeed.


[00:14:33.04] - BETH ACCOMANDO Do you have any particular favorite moments in it? Just something that really, for you all came together or clicked particularly.


[00:14:40.26] - ERROL MORRIS Well, I loved when I tell him his own story about how the dog slept on the mat is not a story, but the cat slept on the dog's mat is a story. And I say, well, I have the Lucari version. The cat betrayed the dog by sleeping on his mat. And Lecari, without missing a beat, says, yeah, the cat was probably a double and extraordinarily fast on his feet. Extraordinarily articulate, extraordinarily knowledgeable and well read. I think another thing that bonded us is we like the same literature. He loves Thomas Mon. We talked about Thomas Mon quite a bit. We never talked about Conrad. We should have, because Conrad, to me, unlike he probably would say, Graham Green, I would say Conrad is the closest thing to John LeCarre. Not because he wrote spy novels. He didn't just write spy novels. Although he did write a spy novel because they traveled the world and their journeys became the grist for this monumental literary enterprise. It's great to be able to have this conversation with someone like him. I'm lucky.


[00:16:01.22] - BETH ACCOMANDO I wanted it to go on far longer.


[00:16:04.03] - ERROL MORRIS Oh, well, thank you.


[00:16:05.11] - BETH ACCOMANDO I was going like, no, it can't be over yet.


[00:16:08.19] - ERROL MORRIS Thank you.


[00:16:09.16] - BETH ACCOMANDO And one thing I really appreciate in all your films is the way you will hold on a shot kind of past the point where you think it's over. Like a lot of documentaries, when they're interviewing someone, once the sentence is done, there's a cut away and you hold and you always get this extra little moment of a smile or a contemplative moment, and it just adds so much kind of like richness to what's there just in the dialog.


[00:16:42.28] - ERROL MORRIS I like hearing this. I have endless arguments with my editor about holding shots.


[00:16:48.16] - BETH ACCOMANDO Well, you are correct in holding them.


[00:16:51.09] - ERROL MORRIS Thank you.


[00:16:53.03] - BETH ACCOMANDO All right. Well, I want to thank you very much for your time and wonderful film. And again, I wish it was longer.


[00:16:59.20] - ERROL MORRIS Thank you so much.


BETH ACCOMANDO: That was filmmaker Errol Morris. His new documentary The Pigeon Tunnel is currently streaming on Apple TV Plus. I need to take one last quick break and then I will return with David Cornwell’s sons Simon and Stephen.


MIDROLL 1 [currently at 20:46]

BETH ACCOMANDO Welcome back to KPBS listener supporter Cinema Junkie I’m Beth Accomando. In The Pigeon Tunnel, David Cornwell recalls growing up with a con man father and sometimes having his toys repossessed along with the furniture.


[00:00:00.12] - DAVID CORNWELL Now, these are not hard luck stories. Graham Green said, and I quote him often, childhood is the credit balance of the writer. It's not a lament, it's just a self examination. I have seen the house where I was born, but the house of my birth that I prefer is different, one built in my imagination.


Since memory is a part of the documentary I asked Cornwell’s sons if they had a favorite memory of their father. Simon answered first, followed by Stephen.


[00:17:45.24] - SIMON CORNWELL I think for me that the memories that are in some ways closest are right at the end of his life, because that was when we spent a lot of time with him. Yes, I remember during the pandemic, so not long after we shot the interview, and a few months before, as it turned out, eventually he died. He and our stepmother Jane were kind of isolating and Jane was not very well. She had cancer, was in and out of hospital, and we could only really see my dad in the garden. I remember long conversations at opposite ends of the garden table, safely distanced from each other, where he was reflecting on this interview, worrying about his wife. It was oddly beautiful time, but I should have happy memories from when we were growing up. Maybe you've got some of those.


[00:18:54.27] - STEPHEN CORNWELL I know. Again, the interesting thing about dad was that he was very present. And so I think you have recent memory of him because he lived so much in the now and the relationship went on in very close ways through his life. I remember in the last ten years or so of his life, we were working very closely together, the three of us. I remember he loved to go on walks and talk long walks with him on Hampstead Heath or down in Cornwall, walking and talking and just of all subjects, always in the present. Again, like what's going on in the world, what he's up to, what we're up to, what family is up to, what's happening politically were always hugely live conversations. What do you think about elections? What do you think about that? I used to stay with him a lot in London when we were working together. He had a big house and we would cohabit and I remember him as if I was a teenager, calling in the evenings to ask when I would be home and what I'd like for dinner. And I remember also staying with him a memory that I loved and was very charming.


[00:20:05.14] - STEPHEN CORNWELL And part of the day is he'd always make tea in the morning. And the sound of him bringing a tea tray upstairs and knocking on my door and bringing me a cup of tea and then wanting to talk about the day were very things. I hold very fondly of him.


[00:20:23.16] - SIMON CORNWELL Yes. Just as it said, he was a wonderful dad when we were growing up, and he loved to tell stories. He would often draw pictures as he told stories. He was a great artist as well as a writer. In fact, I think before he began writing, he was illustrating books and so on. So he made a very real and actually very successful effort to be a good father with a capital G. So it was great. But I think it sounds like for both of us, in some ways, the most precious memories are some of the closer ones.


[00:21:01.15] - BETH ACCOMANDO And unlike a lot of children, you actually had an opportunity to work with your father, adapting some of his work. And what was that process like in the sense of was he very open to having his work adapted to a different medium? Was he very kind of closely watching and concerned with how it came across?


[00:21:25.24] - STEPHEN CORNWELL I mean, what's interesting about working together, I think both Simon and know it was, in a way, for us, we waited to the moment in our lives when we could work together with him, having had careers and having the confidence and the history ourselves to be able to work together in a very value added way. Right? Let's put yada there. So it was very organic and very again, it's something we all wanted to do and on that level was very positive. He's a very exacting person. Right. I don't mean that about being difficult to work with in any kind of ego way, but as you know from his novels, his standards and his expectations and his pressure on himself and others to do their best was constant. And above all, on himself to work with him on adaptation. I think within that and something that I think he'd really discovered, certainly by the time we were working with him was that adaptation is also for an author process of empowerment, right? That he is handing on something he created in one medium to creators in another medium and empowering that and in a sense, enabling and letting things go into that space.


[00:22:44.29] - STEPHEN CORNWELL He recognized that new level of authorship was essential to great adaptation.


[00:22:50.11] - SIMON CORNWELL Yes, I think that's right. But at the same time, he loved to interrogate and by that I mean interrogate the work. And I think he loved the idea of his work being the starting point for somebody else's creative process. I think he found that thrilling. I think he was also constantly are we thinking about it the right way? Is there a different angle here? I see where you're going, but have you thought of this and that? So it's a very live dialog and by the way, very one that's very reflective of his own process. I mean, if you look at his manuscripts, you'll see he's constantly, constantly revising. I mean, he worked by hand, so you have the paper trail through his books and he's constantly, constantly interrogating his own work, asking whether the most precise nuance is what he wanted to achieve or not. And I think in the best of ways, he was empowering people, he was letting go. But that didn't stop him asking the question. So it was a very live process, surely.


[00:23:57.10] - STEPHEN CORNWELL And for him and I think it's I'm sure it's true of many authors and certainly creative people in any area. The book we read is definitive for us because it's a published book. But for him, it was where he happened. It was the last draft he happened to write. Right. And he would have caused that's, where he stopped and felt it was ready for consumption and reading. But story was always fluid for him. So, again, the idea of exploring things in adaptation, of saying, I can see that that would work, I can see this would work. I might have tried that myself, or I did that and it didn't work, were all things that were very fluid to him. They weren't threatening at all.


[00:24:39.26] - BETH ACCOMANDO Well, also, it seems interesting that his books are both very set in a specific time, but also have these kind of timeless themes and when you are adapting them decades after they were written, it seems like it's an opportunity to play with those elements.


[00:24:56.24] - SIMON CORNWELL I think that's very much right. A very sort of current example in our lives is we're doing an adaptation, an adaptation at the moment for television of his book A Most Wanted Man, which was written and indeed, the movie was set in a very specific point in time, in the aftermath of 911 and of American government behavior around that time in Guantanamo and everything else. And the extraordinary thing is that shifting that story into the present day, setting it in the world we're living now after the invasion of the Ukraine and so on, is, you find in an eerie way, the story is actually more relevant today and more resonant today than it even was when he wrote it. So it is an eerie process and.


[00:25:48.18] - STEPHEN CORNWELL An easy thing to forget about him because he was a best selling author for 60 years, is that he always, almost always wrote in the present, right? So that when he wrote The Spy Curing From the Cold, he was a 31 or two year old angry young man, so to speak, and he was.


[00:26:12.04] - SIMON CORNWELL Writing about the world around him, but he wasn't writing a period novel about the Cold War, which is what we tend to think of it being today.


[00:26:20.06] - STEPHEN CORNWELL So sometimes letting things live in period and sometimes bringing them into the present when it looks at a patient, has its own merits. But what you find is that the themes and the characters, they live absolutely in the present, even if they're period pieces.


[00:26:37.18] - BETH ACCOMANDO Now, how do you feel the pigeon tunnel seeing? You have seen the finished film, I'm.


[00:26:43.16] - SIMON CORNWELL Assuming probably 100 times. Yes.


[00:26:47.04] - BETH ACCOMANDO In watching it, how do you feel it captured your father? Are you seeing him as you remember him? Are you seeing a different side of him? How do you feel it captures who he was?


[00:26:58.01] - STEPHEN CORNWELL I think it absolutely captures a lot of him and it captures things or reflects things that I haven't seen reflected in interview or in conversation with him before. That is in any sense been public. I think that it captures someone exploring their own or speaking to their own creativity in ways that are really unique and I think reflect a relationship with Errol Morris that was very profound in the context of the conversation and the journey that Errol went on and in their respective stories. In a way, within that conversation, I think it reflects a study of self and where his creative voice came from, both in his own childhood and his youth, and also, in more immediate sense, from the world around him. And there's an honesty of emotional exposure, which is very unique, I think, and very profound. He wanted a great conversation. He had huge respect for Errol. The way it came together was very organic, and there is something deeply reflective of him in the way that he is found in the film.


[00:28:08.28] - SIMON CORNWELL I think that's right. I think you see an awful lot of aspects to him. I think the wit of the humanity and the way that he grew out of he makes light of it. He always expresses gratitude for it. But the way that he grew out of what actually is a pretty horrendous childhood into something where he could express himself properly and where he could unleash this extraordinary creativity, I think you see a lot of that. You see many, many aspects of him in the interview. On the one hand, is often trying to control the narrative, maybe to shape what Errol perceives of him. And at the same time, I think he's also prepared to let go and actually wants to explore with Errol things he hasn't talked about with other people. And I think it's an extraordinary portrait.


[00:29:14.19] - BETH ACCOMANDO And I'm just curious, were you present while Errol was interviewing your father, or was that done kind of in private?


[00:29:22.12] - SIMON CORNWELL No, it was certainly not done in private. There was probably 100 person crew and five cameras, so there was a distinct lack of privacy. But we were there, yes, throughout the four or five days of the shoot. So it was important to our dad that we were there as well, precisely because he does expose quite a lot of himself and he put himself in some quite vulnerable positions, and he did it deliberately, but having the support around him. Our stepmother, Jane, was also there throughout. So I think when we took breaks in the interview, he could go for a walk in the gardens of the beautiful house where we shot and decompressed a little. I think that was important for him.


[00:30:12.04] - BETH ACCOMANDO And I was just curious what that interview process looked like, watching it. I mean, what kind of an interviewer was Errol Morris? And did you see how he was kind? It's interesting because they both I mean, he opens the film with your dad talking about interrogation.


[00:30:30.11] - SIMON CORNWELL Exactly. Our dad, I think, prepared in some ways, meticulously for combat. And that's what you saw at the start of the know. I think he'd watched pretty much everything that Errol had ever made. He'd read a lot of what Errol had written. He was there, ready to do battle. Then Errol begins the interview. And what Errol wants is a conversation. He wants to open things up. And I think it was rather wonderful, actually, the premise on which our dad had kind of gone into the interview was almost instantly undermined. And then the beauty of it was that then the real conversation began. And I think it very much isn't an interrogation. It's two hugely gifted, intelligent men who've lived through the same great beats of history, reflecting, exploring, going on a journey together. And I think it's wonderful in that respect. So it would be lovely to talk about Errol, the inquisitor, the investigator, unmasking the spy would be the easy way through it. But what we have is so much more than that, and it's fun.


[00:31:52.08] - STEPHEN CORNWELL What's interesting, particularly watching the movie with an audience and different audiences, is that every time I watch the film, you realize that there's something new about our dad that I discover, but there's also something new I discover about Errol and also the skill, if you want to call it skill. And I think that Errol has, in terms of just following the lines of that conversation and, as Simon said, not making an interrogation, but making an exploration. And in a sense of both of them, of each other. Right. And that it is really a sharing and that Errol gives a lot of himself in exchange for a lot of David. And it's a very natural and symbiotic connection they have.


[00:32:37.06] - SIMON CORNWELL I think that's right. And I think from Errol's point of view, as I perceive it, of Errol, it's a very personal film for Errol. I mean, it's also a journey through his own past and his own childhood. And Errol lost his father at a very early age. So I think in some ways was on his own search for family, for childhood, and grappling with many of the same questions about history and objective truth and the accessibility of objective truth. I mean, these are things that have obsessed Errol throughout his career. And so I think it's a coming together of two great minds and two.


[00:33:32.06] - STEPHEN CORNWELL People that find, in different ways, find fable in the kind of chaos of the world around them. Right? And our dad ultimately found those stories in a landscape of his imagination born of that world. And Errol finds his stories within the context of the reality of that world. There's a lot of intersection of they find form within the chaos to tell the story.


[00:33:59.06] - BETH ACCOMANDO Well, I want to thank you both very much for talking about your father and about the film.


[00:34:04.02] - STEPHEN CORNWELL Well, thank you so much.


[00:34:05.20] - SIMON CORNWELL Lovely to talk to you. Bye.


That was Simon and Stephen Cornwell talking about their father David who is better known to the world by his pen name John Le Carré. Simon and Stephen produced the Errol Morris documentary on their father, The Pigeon Tunnel, which is currently streaming on Apple TV Plus.


That wraps up another edition of KPBS listener supported Cinema Junkie. If you enjoy the podcast then please share it with a friend because your recommendation is the best way to build an addicted audience. You can also help by leaving a review.


Till our next film fix, I’m Beth Accomando your resident Cinema Junkie.





David Cornwell, better known by his pen name John Le Carré, is the subject of Errol Morris' new documentary "The Pigeon Tunnel."
Apple TV+
David Cornwell, better known by his pen name John Le Carré, is the subject of Errol Morris' new documentary "The Pigeon Tunnel."

John Le Carré captivated audiences for six decades with more than two dozen novels about the most intricate workings of the espionage community.

He said, "I really don't think any artist, whether he's a writer, a painter or anybody else, I don't think he has to explain his work beyond a certain point. "

But shortly before his death in 2020, David Cornwell, better known to the world by his pen name of John Le Carré, decided to explain something about his work and life to filmmaker Errol Morris for a documentary called "The Pigeon Tunnel."

Morris has interviewed a diverse array of people from a lion tamer and naked mole rat expert to Stephen Hawking, Donald Rumsfeld, and Robert McNamara. I love that you not only never know what Morris might tackle next but also that you never know exactly what approach he might take. For "The Pigeon Tunnel" he takes on a former spy turned award-winning novelist and the result is spectacular.

Morris met Cornwell through mutual friends who thought the two would get along. And they did. So well in fact that when Morris suggested making the documentary, Cornwell agreed.

For the podcast, I spoke with Morris about interviewing the famous author. Plus I spoke with Cornwell’s sons Simon and Stephen who produced the film.

You can read my film review: Film Wrap: from the ridiculous to the sublime.

Two veteran directors have new films