Fast, Cheap and Out of Control

From Academic Kids

Fast, Cheap and Out of Control is a 1997 "non-fiction" 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.

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 35mm cameras, he also uses Super 8mm film.

The title of the film comes from a paper co-authored by Rodney Brooks, the robot scientist from MIT, in which he speculates that it might be more effective to send a thousand one-pound robots into space, instead of a single thousand-pound vehicle. 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 titled, "Fast, Cheap and Out of Control: A Robot Invasion of the Solar System," and it was published by the Journal of The British Interplanetary Society in 1989.

The film also uses footage from other sources, such as movie clips, documentary footage, and cartoons. 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 term "non-fiction", rather than documentary, is used to describe this film because it does not follow the conventional format of a documentary. Rather, it employs camera, editing and visual narrative techniques most often associated with fiction films. The decision to categorize the film as "non-fiction" resulted in the controversial decision by the nominating committee of the Academy Awards to overlook it when reviewing films for nomination.

One of the closing credits reads, "Mole Photography Sewercam by Roto Rooter". The film is available on VHS and DVD and the soundtrack by Caleb Sampson is available on CD.

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