Fast, Cheap and Out of Control | documentary 24 of 100

New York-based documentary film editor Karen Schmeer was tragically killed this weekend by a hit and run driver. In honor of the Academy Award-winning editor, a frequent collaborator with Errol Morris, I’m going to screen her recent films, beginning with the 1997 documentary Fast Cheap and Out of Control. IndieWire blogger Matt Dentler calls that film “one of the best jobs of editing a documentary, I’ve ever seen.” Hmmm. Here’s how I see it…

Synopsis: What happens when Error Morris puts a mole-rat specialist, a topiary gardener, a lion-tamer, and an MIT robot scientist under the lights of his Interrotron? You get a mashup called Fast, Cheap and Out of Control. You get to try and make sense of deep philosophical statements like “You’re either prey, an enemy, or ignored,” never sure whether this is a joke, reality, academia, or the circus. Mostly, it’s the latter.

Story Structure: It’s difficult to say that this film actually has a structure, but I think it’s in there somewhere. Let me try to make sense of it: you’ve got four main characters, who are the rocks of the film to which the barnacles of story cling. Desperately.

Cinematography: There are a lot of solid individual shots in this film. For example, the Hollywood lighting on the giraffe topiary, complete with smoke machine and fake rain at night. Ohhhhhhhh. Ok so that’s pretty. Pretty chaotic. Cut to the middle of a B&W chase scene from a 1950s sci-fi film in which the preying mantis is about to own your ass. Lots of slow-motion, color suddenly changing to black and white, camera angles titled diagonally, as if to scream: the world is not as it appears. YOU’RE DREAMING. Or Crazy. Or the filmmakers know a LOT more about what they’re doing than you do. Or something like that.

Editing: There’s no doubt that this film was a bitch to edit. If I can’t make sense of it as a viewer, imagine how the editor must have felt having to try and make sense of it? But the reality is: it’s a watchable film. It’s just difficult if you try to understand it. So don’t. I really liked the occasional flashbulb transition. Those were really cool looking.

Sound and Music: The music works. I found myself wondering whether it was composed AFTER the editing, or BEFORE. The music was composed specifically for the film, according to the credit roll, so maybe it was a collaboration. Music is a very big part of this film, providing a pulse for the journey. There are moments, such as when animated characters appear onscreen, that appear almost Disney-like with the matching of music to character’s tumbles.

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