January 9, 1998 in Seven

Errol Morris Applies His Style In Look At Unusual Careers

By The Spokesman-Review
 

An Errol Morris film is like a Philip Glass symphony. You don’t watch one, or listen to the other, expecting crescendoes.

Instead, as his previous films (“The Thin Blue Line,” “A Brief History of Time”) demonstrate, Morris’ filmmaking style more closely resembles a meditation.

Which means that if you’re in the right frame of mind, you stand to learn a lot. If not, you may fall asleep.

Simply put, Morris’ style doesn’t appeal to everyone. It obviously doesn’t impress the committee that nominates documentaries for Oscar contention, which has never so honored him despite immense critical acclaim.

It’s pretty easy to see why. Unlike most standard documentaries, Morris’ way of putting together a film is as much a feature of his work as are the subjects that he chooses to study. Morris strays about as far from the traditional style of two-time Oscar winner Barbara Kopple (“Harlan County,” “American Dream”) as it is possible to go.

In “Fast, Cheap & Out of Control,” his subjects seem, at first glance, to have little in common. They are four men with unusual careers whose stories Morris weaves together.

Rodney Brooks, for example, is a robotics specialist. Dave Hoover trains wild animals. George Mendonca is a topiary gardener. And scientist Ray Mendez studies the elusive and rare mole-rat.

But Morris is interested in more than just four disparate looks at men with interesting jobs. He sees themes where others see mere coincidence.

For instance, Brooks’ specialty involves designing and constructing robots that boast animal-like qualities. Hoover is a Clyde Beatty type whose work necessitates the psychological study of big cats. Mendez is fascinated with understanding the way evolution has shaped the African vermin. And Mendonca cuts his bushes in the shape of - what else? - animals.

Morris cuts from one man to another, providing enough biographical material to give a good portrait of each, then he concentrates on the job specifics. Throughout, he provides amusing anecdotes, typically softened with a light touch - an amusing camera angle, a voiceover paired with a particular man’s curious expression - that in itself is a Morris trademark style.

There’s only one real problem, which basically is that a compelling theme never really emerges. Certainly one doesn’t appear in the way one does with “The Thin Blue Line,” where Morris proved an accused murderer’s innocence. Or in “A Brief History of Time,” where he visually represented Steven Hawking’s theories of time and space.

But that may prove to be only a minor problem for most viewers. If nothing else, Morris is a good practitioner of cinematic sleight-ofhand.

Besides, those robots are almost as cute as the mole-rats.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story:

“Fast, Cheap & Out of Control”

***

Locations: Lincoln Heights Cinemas

Credits: Directed by Errol Morris, starring Rodney Brooks, Dave Hoover, George Mendonca, Ray Mendez

Running time: 1:22

Rating: PG

This sidebar appeared with the story: “Fast, Cheap & Out of Control” *** Locations: Lincoln Heights Cinemas Credits: Directed by Errol Morris, starring Rodney Brooks, Dave Hoover, George Mendonca, Ray Mendez Running time: 1:22 Rating: PG

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