Directed by Errol Morris, Fast, Cheap, & Out of Control is the story of four different men whose lives are extraordinary. In this documentary about four men who have nothing in common, Morris explores these different lives and the jobs they do as Morris wonders what makes their lives so fascinating. The result is a very stylish, unconventional, and fascinating film about four different men with four different jobs.
The film is a profile on four men with not much in common due to their professions yet each do carry lives that are truly interesting to see. The first is a wild animal trainer named George Hoover who works for a circus taming lions and tigers where he reveals his inspiration to do the job as well as the dangers of that job. The second is a topiaries gardener named George Mendonca who specialize in creating dazzling plant sculptures for the Green Animals Topiary Garden in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. The third a hairless mole-rat expert named Ray Mendoza who reveals a lot about the mole-rats environment and their lifestyle. The fourth and final guy is a M.I.T. scientist named Rodney Brooks who has created bug-like robots.
While there’s definitely similarities to these professions in the fact that these four men do care about the jobs and really nurture the creatures or things they study or work on. Errol Morris’ approach to the narrative is to find more of these similarities as he interviews each individual alone where they talk about what they do. In some parts of the film, he allows their voices to talk over scenes that doesn’t involve their work to find the similarities in the work of that other person. Hoover and Mendonca are elderly men who have a lot of experience in their different fields while emphasizing on the craft that they do. Notably as they’re aware that their in the latter part of their lives as Hoover is already watching over the new protégé he has.
Younger guys like Mendoza and Brooks, along with Hoover, have an understanding about the way animals behave and adapt to the environment. Though Brooks may not work with animals, the robots he create do have the sensibilities of how an insect would probably react or move in their surroundings. That is also what Mendoza does in his study of mole-rats where he tries to recreate a natural environment where he comments on how they adapt where it would also involve things that are quite disgusting. Hoover reveals a lot about how to deal with lions and tigers where he admits that every day is a new day because their behavior is unpredictable. Though Mendonca’s story doesn’t have as much coverage as the other subjects, his story is still interesting since he does treat his topiaries with great care as if they are live creatures.
Since it’s a film about these four different men, the easy idea would’ve been to interview one subject at a time and move on to a different subject for the next part of the film. That is not what Morris does as his approach is to treat all four subjects as one whole piece where he would cross-cut their voice and stories into one entire film where he would follow a subject for a few minutes and then smoothly goes into another one to see what common things they have said to the previous subject. With help from editors Shondra Merrill and Karen Schmeer, Morris maintains a tight and stylized approach to the editing and pacing so that there wouldn’t be an abrupt transition from one subject to the other.
Since Morris is also known for re-creating scenes, shooting them on actual locations, or utilize some stock footage from a movie or newsreel clip. Morris and cinematographer Robert Richardson do go head on to see what these men do where there would also delve into different film stocks ranging from Super 8 to 35mm. Richardson’s photography for the scenes in the circus, the garden, and inside these little cave the mole-rats walk into are very exquisite. Even as Richardson’s camera is inside the lion cage where there is a sense of danger that occurs in the film. For the stuff involving the robots, different film stock is required while Morris puts in some stock footage for Brooks to explain the robots behavior.
Another important part of Morris’ unconventional and stylized approach to the film is the sound editing by Magdaline Volaitis. Volaitis’ work allows the dialogue to overlap against a different scenery while creating a sense of drama to emphasize in what Morris wants to do. With the music of Caleb Sampson providing a bit of humor and drama through its haunting score that features some very upbeat pieces to more ethereal cuts to play up some of the drama.
Fast, Cheap, & Out of Control is a marvelous film from Errol Morris that showcases the lives of four different men who each share enticing professions that makes these men a whole lot more interesting. While it’s a film that isn’t easy to watch at first due to its unconventional approach to the narrative. It is a film that allows the audience to be engaged by these four men who may or may not have anything in common other than the fact that they have very fulfilling lives. In the end, Fast, Cheap, & Out of Control is an engrossing and entertaining film from Errol Morris.
Errol Morris Films: (Gates of Heaven) - (Vernon, Florida) - The Thin Blue Line - A Brief History of Time - (The Dark Wind) - (Mr. Death) - (The Fog of War) - (Standard Operating Procedure) - Tabloid - (The Unknown Known)
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