Picks and Pans Review: Spotlight On...

updated 10/27/1997 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 10/27/1997 AT 01:00 AM EST

>Filmmaker Errol Morris


FOURTH FLOOR PRODUCTIONS, ON THE fifth floor of an office building in Cambridge, Mass., is home to a freeze-dried rat perched on a Macintosh, a spider monkey skeleton posed among sepia portraits of its owner's relatives, and an infrared photo of a giant elephant topiary from Fast, Cheap and Out of Control, the new documentary from filmmaker Errol Morris, 49. The decor in the director's office, which has never been on the fourth floor, reflects his work philosophy: "If you just keep your eyes open, you can find the most extraordinary stories in the most ordinary places."

In Fast, Cheap, Morris gives voice to four men obsessed with their work: a lion tamer, a topiary gardener, a mole rat expert and an MIT robotics scientist. But the film is not your typical news-style documentary—Morris describes his style as "an excursion into a dreamscape, a private world."

The director, who lives with wife Julia Sheehan, 47, an art historian turned film producer, and son Hamilton, 10, may be more obsessive than his subjects. In 20 years he has eked out only five of his trademark truth-is-stranger-than-fiction films, including A Brief History of Time (1992), about physicist Stephen Hawking, and The Thin Blue Line (1988), which helped free a man wrongly convicted of murder. His output seems slow by Hollywood standards, but he raises the $1.5 to $2 million budgets from his own funds and from investors. His next subject is a Maiden, Mass., man who repairs electric chairs. Expect the unexpected: "I don't make movies according to anyone else's idea of what a movie should be," Morris says.

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