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Fast, Cheap and Out of Control
Directed by Errol Morris
Produced by André Paulvé
Fred Orain
Starring Dave Hoover
George Mendonça
Ray Mendez
Rodney Brooks
Release date(s) September 30, 1997
Running time 80 min.
Language English

Fast, Cheap and Out of Control is a 1997 film by documentary filmmaker Errol Morris. It profiles four subjects with extraordinary careers: a lion trainer, a topiary sculptor, a mole rat specialist, and a robot scientist.

It features Dave Hoover, who is a lion tamer; George Mendonça, who created topiaries at Green Animals Topiary Garden in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, including giraffes made out of boxwood; Ray Mendez, a hairless mole-rats expert; and Rodney Brooks, an M.I.T. scientist who has designed bug-like robots.

The film's musical score is by composer Caleb Sampson, and is performed by the Alloy Orchestra. It is characterized as circus-like, sometimes frenzied or haunting, and features percussion (particularly mallets and xylophones) to give it a metallic, technological or futuristic flavor.

In Fast, Cheap and Out of Control, Morris uses a camera technique he invented which allows the interview subject to face the interviewer directly while also looking directly into the camera, seemingly making eye contact with the audience. The invention is called the Interrotron. His four subjects narrate the film in their own words. The cinematographer, Robert Richardson, uses many of the same camera techniques he used in his other films, JFK and Natural Born Killers. In addition to 35 mm cameras, he also uses Super 8 mm film. The film is extensively cut with scenes from older films and television shows.

The film also uses footage from other sources, such as movie clips, documentary footage, and cartoons. Hoover's idol Clyde Beatty appears from portions of his film Darkest Africa and a malicious robot appears in scenes from Zombies of the Stratosphere After using the first moments in the film to establish his characters one by one, with film clips that correspond to each subject, Morris then begins to mix footage relating to one subject with the narration of another, in order to correlate the themes which the four subjects have in common.

The title of the film is a play on the old engineer's saying that out of "fast," "cheap," and "reliable," you can only produce an end consumer product that is two of those three (the classic example is a car). Rodney Brooks, the robot scientist from MIT, wrote a paper in which he speculates that it might be more effective to send one hundred one-kilogram robots into space, instead of a single hundred-kilogram robot, replacing the need for reliability with chance and sheer numbers, as systems in nature have learned to do. The advantage would be that if a single robot malfunctioned or got destroyed, there would still be plenty of other working robots to do the exploring. The paper was fully titled "Fast, Cheap and Out of Control: A Robot Invasion of the Solar System", and published in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society in 1989.

The film is available on VHS and DVD and the soundtrack by Caleb Sampson is available on CD.

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Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote


In Fast, Cheap & Out of Control, a 1997 film, Errol Morris brings together four seemingly disparate subjects: a lion tamer, a naked mole rat researcher, an aging topiary artist and an artificial intelligence researcher at MIT.

Contents

Ray Mendez

  • People just come and look....They're looking to see if there's a common ground. They're constantly trying to find themselves in another social animal."

Quotes about Fast, Cheap & Out of Control

  • "For me, it's about what a lot of my work is about, creating a character in their specific situation and also revealing their mental landscape, a model of their universe. At the heart of it, this was made when my parents were dying and I was fascinated with the way mortality interferes with our plans whether we like it or not." ~Errol Morris "Sand that Grows and Other Stories" by Liam Lacey, April 29, 2005
  • "Then I got interested in the mole rats. What's the connection between the lion tamer and the mole rats? I don't know if there even is one. Mole rats spend their entire lives digging tunnels. They have a rigid social system. They're like wasps or bees - there's a queen and workers. Mole rats dig at random, looking for tubers. Maybe they find a tuber, or maybe they don't. They just dig away. At one point I had thought the mole rats addressed the Utopian ideal of what it would be like if there were no crime or criminals, if you could say hello to your neighbor and your neighbor would say hello in return and we'd all be assured that no one would attack us with an axe. Is aggression innate in mammals? Well, supposedly not in mole rats. The mole rat was thought to be the only mammal that lives in harmony with its fellow-mammals, its fellow mole rats. The only. But it turns out that mole rats are nonviolent only under certain circumstances - that, in fact, they can be really nasty critters after all, who at times really do seem to hate one another. When one colony of mole rats meets another, they can be extremely vicious. Anyway, that was my original idea - Dr. Grigson, lion tamers, mole rats. I then decided to add to this compote 'Electrocuting an Elephant' - which was, if anything, a miscarriage-of-justice story." ~Errol Morris, discussing his planned project Dr. Death. Source: Predilections by Mark Singer, 1989

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