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"Fast, Cheap & Out of Control"

By Ray Pride

NOVEMBER 17, 1997:  The pleasure of knowledge for its own sake seems to be at the core of Errol Morris' enigmatic, elegant contraption of a movie, "Fast, Cheap & Out of Control." Yet his concatenation of four subjects that seem impossibly disparate suggests a quirky universe, the meanings of which can be found only in unsettling juxtapositions such as Morris creates in these four men's work: a lion tamer; a robot designer who believes silicon-based life will succeed carbon-based; a topiary sculptor whose work will likely not outlive him; a man fixated on a strange, blind, subterranean mammal, the mole rat, which resembles a penis with fierce teeth. Morris (above) took over five years to pull his new movie together, searching for the balance of sense to mystery. The always-garrulous director says he just lets his "characters" talk, hoping they'll dart in some direction he would never be able to plan. "When I was six years old, I had to take a psychological test and be interviewed," Morris says. "The psychologist asked me, 'Do you ever have unwanted thoughts?' I said, 'Wait a second, are there any other kind? Unwanted thoughts! I've thought about that idea for years!" As Morris listens to a questioner, his gaze goes slack and wide-eyed, almost doglike. He says that he "tries not to listen" during interviews, which he describes as "being open to the possibility of something completely unexpected. It's not to say that you don't have expectations of what someone might say, it's not to say you don't have an agenda, but agenda notwithstanding, you let the person talking to you go on and on, and anything could happen. Certainly by doing just that in 'The Thin Blue Line,' evidence was uncovered that wouldn't have been if I had gone in, Mike Wallace-style, forcing the subject into contradictions and revealing evasions of one kind or another. But by simply allowing people to go on they tell you things you can never imagine them doing. In this movie, the mole-rat guy started talking about 'the other.' I didn't ask him to. I loved it. I loved that these characters really embody in some way a private obsession of my own, about how discovering the world through your obsessions, you discover yourself. I mean, it's really, really crazy at heart, following that route. In one of the crazy speeches of the movie, he tells us, it didn't' have to be mole rats. It could have been a pig, something completely different. Then he says something even more surprising -- 'It's a form of self knowledge.' And I think, 'Huh! Wha? I dunno. Maybe!'"

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