As much as I can enjoy just about any film that comes along (though it may be for entirely different reasons), I’ll admit it takes a lot from me to sit down and enjoy a documentary. I haven’t done too many of them on the list for that reason, and the ones I have done have generally been a bit of a bore, with very few exceptions. One documentary filmmaker that seems to know how to circumvent this stigma of the genre is Errol Morris. His documentaries have a unique construction that makes them more engaging to the audience, and it is largely thanks to the editing that this is so. It is to the point that he could take just about any topic and make an entertaining documentary out of it, which I assume is largely the pitch made to him that spawned Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control, a documentary about random people and their random occupations. You can get an additional amount of amusement by imagining Morris picking contestants out of a hat for this film (I don’t really think that’s what he did, it’s just a funny mental image).
The film is actually about four different people; a wild animal trainer, a topiary gardener, a naked mole rat scientist, and a robotics engineer. What these men have in common isn’t really touched upon (aside from their shared dedication to their varied fields), so my first questions was, why have a single documentary with four essentially separate topics? The only answer I could come up with was that Morris found each of these men and their topics so interesting, but was unable to get enough material on each of them, so he was forced to combine them all into one film just to get it out there. That may be a little hard to believe, that he couldn’t find more than twenty minutes of material on each man (the film is eighty minutes long), so the film reverts back to enigma status for me. The film is constantly switching between these four men’s topics, often in the same “scene” or section of the film, which I assumed was to keep things variably interesting, rather than just have them stoically blocky by focusing on one man fully, then switching to the next, then the next, etc. Whatever the reason, it worked; the film is so much more engaging than it otherwise would be, and as I pointed out in the opener, it is largely thanks to the editing. Morris’ use of his own invention, the Interrotron, to have the interviewees looking directly into the camera, at the audience, makes for a much more personal conversational dialogue between the film and the viewer.
Normal disclaimer applies here, with a bit of a twist: if documentaries aren’t your thing, if Errol Morris’ work can’t entertain you, nothing will. That being said, this is (yet) another one that I struggle to come up with how it made the list to begin with; The Thin Blue Line is all that was needed to represent him. It is different, in a weird sort of way, but it’s still a documentary; there’s only so much different it can be without falling fully into avant-garde territory. Even if The Thin Blue Line wasn’t your cup of tea, give this a shot; it’s oddly entertaining in a way that even that film didn’t quite reach. Still, though, there really isn’t any reason to start it, but when you think about it, that can apply to just about any documentary, if you’re not interested in whatever the subject matter is. It’s pretty difficult to get interested in the subject matter of this one, but the entertainment value of it makes up for that deficit, so you can give this a try without worrying too much, even if you don’t think you’d be interested at first glance. It’s really a wizardry of a documentary, so maybe it did deserve an initial spot on the list after all.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10