Descent of Man

With his long-delayed film Fast, Cheap & Out of Control, director Errol Morris maintains a controlling interest in our evolutionary decline.

What initially seems most unsettling about Morris's (anti)social skills is the way he drags his characters into this scheme. Morris neglects to depict the shared space among his subjects: His carefully composed, static frames will only accommodate one person at a time. In a word, he monopolizes. Unless, that is, you consider Morris to be a tireless, unseen actor in every scene of every movie--and his films a ceaseless string of reaction shots. "I think about that all the time," he says of this hypothesis. "That I'm there in some odd sense. I'm the ghost in the machine."

On top of the new, democratizing powers of the Interrotron, where interviewer and interviewee meet eye to eye, Morris has inserted his own voice in a scene near the end of this latest film. His question--does Hoover miss the late Clyde Beatty?--prompts an almost anguished response. Not only has Beatty gone away, but the possibility of another Beatty has vanished too.

"He was a great performer and a great trainer," Hoover says, fingers pressed together, tip to tip, "and I don't think there'll ever be another one. Certainly not me." And his eyes--how to say it?--his eyes twinkle as if they belonged to goddamn Santa Claus, and then flutter shut. Cut to: Beatty, smiling in slow motion, turning to the camera, performing a half-nod for his adoring crowd.

Morris's question--compare it to the uncovering of the wizard, pulling the levers behind the curtain--initiates the closing sequence of the film: a threnody of solemn elephant marches and Jungleland catastrophes. Fires. Volcanoes. The end of the world. A clown dashes beneath the big top, screaming, fleeing from a skeleton attached to his back. By finally delivering Fast, Cheap & Out of Control, perhaps Errol Morris has temporarily shed his own pursuer: all the great stories that he has yet to tell, some now over 20 years old.

"Somehow it's a magical realm, a realm outside time," Morris says of these closing scenes. The magic in this case apparently originated from four rainmakers, three cranes, massive light banks, and a fog machine--all put into service to manufacture Mendonça's imagined dream state. "It's those two images at the end of the movie. The gardener outside of time, up on the high ladder, clipping the camel in heavenly light. And the gardener in time: vulnerable, mortal, in a garden that, too, will come to an end--in the rain and the fog with the umbrella."

"But you've given him the fog," I interrupt. "And the umbrella and the heavenly lighting, too."

"Well, why not?"

"Do you feel like you're telling part of the story for him there? Kind of giving him a little push?

"Of course!" Morris declares, hands rising in a kind of pointed shrug. "That's my job!"

Fast, Cheap & Out of Control starts Friday at Lagoon Cinema.

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