Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control (1996)
"If you analyze it too much, life becomes almost meaningless."- Rodney Brooks
Stars: Dave Hoover, George Mendonca
Other Stars: Ray Mendez, Rodney Brooks
Director: Errol Morris
MPAA Rating: PG for mild thematic elements
Run Time: 01h:22m:40s
Release Date: 2002-09-24
DVD ReviewIn Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control, documentarian Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line) examines four men that live their lives right on the border of eccentricity and insanity, four people who have devoted their lives to jobs that can conservatively be called a little odd. Dave Hoover is a trainer of wild animals who has worked with the circus for years, continuing to tame the big cats despite several serious injuries over the course of his career. George Mendonca is a topiary gardener who has devoted half his life to maintaining one elaborate garden full of giant, intricately trimmed animal bushes. Rey Mendez is the world's foremost expert on the mole rat, hideous hairless creatures that are born blind and which spend their entire lives underground. And Rodney Brooks spends his days building and studying the functions and possibilities of robots, imagining a day when they become a part of everyday life.
Why Morris has chosen these four seemingly unrelated subject isn't immediately clear. All four are certainly eccentric, and not just because of the work they do. They also show an inordinate amount of dedication to said professions. Mendonca sees the preservation of his bushy creations as his life's work, and Mendez says that he'd been dreaming of studying a mammal like the mole rat, one that lived in a hive community like a termite, since he was a child. For better or worse, the four don't just have jobs, they define themselves by their interests. Morris interweaves their stories effortlessly, concentrating most on footage of circus performers and of the mole rats stumbling blindly around their subterranean lairs; often he'll play the comments of one interviewee over footage relevant to another subject, subtly drawing connections between the two.
What, exactly, those connections are, and what Morris is trying to say—it's not exactly clear. At times, it seems he's painting these guys as kooks, wandering through their lives with as little purpose as rats in a maze or robots bumping into one another in preprogrammed patterns. But it's impossible to ignore the fact that the four are happy in their work. That, unlike so many of us who slave away at jobs we hate simply so we can say we are making a living, these people have devoted their lives to doing what they love, even if it's something that the world at large would view are entirely irrelevant (I mean, do we really need an expert on mole rats, or people who stick their heads into the mouth's of giant feline predators?).
Even if his message is a little muddled (and I'm saying this after only one viewing; doubtlessly the layered structure reveals more upon each viewing), Morris proves himself a true artist at crafting a compelling documentary that exists also as a visual wonder. So many nonfiction films are content to string together archive photos and "talking head" interviews; Morris takes said interviews and gorgeously composed photography of his subjects at work, and mixes in seemingly random clips from old movies, cartoons, and stock footage; as such, his film requires a bit more effort from the audience member to discover the purpose of his stylistic eccentricities, or to, perhaps, make their own inferences. Either way, Morris has crafted a picture that is more a piece of modern art than a straightforward documentary.
Even if you can't find meaning in the odd jumble of material, as a series of moments, the film remains enormously entertaining, due in large part to the skewed worldview of the four subjects. Brooks, for example, is able to make absurd predictions about the future with a totally straight face, imagining a day when a hundred tiny robots living in the corner of your TV would be "a cost effective way to keep your screen clean" (yes, that, or you could, you know, dust it with a sock). By the end, the four no longer seem all that strange, and the sadness with which two of them—Mendonca and Hoover—speak about the extinction of their craft is actually quite moving. Even Brooks predicts that someday, intelligent robots will replace humanity on the evolutionary ladder. For now, I guess, it's best to just live, love life, and do what makes you happy.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+
|Aspect Ratio||1.85:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Like most documentaries, Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control employs a variety of film stocks, and thus, the image transfer is a bit difficult to review. The newly recorded interviews, at least, look quite nice, with saturated colors and good detail. The older footage, taken from black & white movies and nature footage, is fairly grainy and worn-looking, as was likely the intent, but grain is also frequently visible in the new segments as well, which appear to have been filmed as such for maximum visual effect. A nice preservation of troublesome material.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: This disc features a fairly front-heavy 2.0 mix, one that spreads to the surrounds only during a few scenes. Otherwise, though, the mix is good, if a bit basic. Voiceover is nice and clear, and well balanced with the score, which takes full advantage of the entire front soundstage. There is some limited directionality, but, for the most part, the film doesn't require a flashy mix, and it hasn't received one.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring 32 Short Films About Glen Gould, The Spanish Prisoner, Stan Lee's Mutants, Monsters, and Marvels
Extras Review: This disc is a bare bones as they come, with no subtitles, only trailers for Thirty-Two Short Films About Glen Gould, The Spanish Prisoner, and Stan Lee's Mutants, Monsters, and Marvels.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsFast, Cheap, and Out of Control is a fascinating documentary about some oddball characters, dressed up with stylistic flourish by visual artist Errol Morris. Even if his ultimate point isn't always obvious, the subject material remains strangely mesmerizing. Columbia TriStar's DVD is barebones, but at least the video and audio are up to snuff.
Joel Cunningham 2003-01-02