This week we had Joey Broussard’s first showing, but before the feature (which I knew was kind of brief) I fixed us up with a good old MST3K short: The Days of Our Years.
The Days of Our Years is a creepy little safety film put out by Union Pacific sometime right after the world invented color. It seems kind of weird, but apparently Union Pacific had a habit of producing this sort of thing (see “Last Clear Chance”, in which a new driver watches his brother’s car get mauled by a train). Here we start with three seemingly carefree Union Pacific employees…then what they call an industrial accident crushed those it couldn’t forgive. Speeding from the worksite to get back to your fiancée, Joe? Enjoy a painful life in a neckbrace! Refuse to take sick leave, George? Suffer a coronary on the job and crush your best friend to death with a locomotive! Passing out cigars celebrating the birth of your son, Lenny? Here, take a welding torch to both your eyes! And to top it off, the whole thing is narrated by a holier-than-thou reverend, who would never dare to fall victim to accident. Yet, for a coherent message…well, let’s just say it managed to outdo the feature presentation.
The feature, of course, was a documentary called Fast, Cheap and Out of Control. This film was one of Errol Morris‘s follow-ups to his landmark The Thin Blue Line, which was acclaimed for releasing an innocent man from prison. No such impact here, unfortunately.
This documentary interviews four subjects:
This man is a lion tamer.
This man is a topiary gardener.
This man is an expert on naked mole rats.
This man makes ambulatory robots.
What do they all have in common?
Good question. I’m not entirely sure they have anything in common.
They talk about their respective professions, how they got into them, the day-to-day drudgery of sticking your head in a lion’s mouth, stuff like that. The mole rat guy tells us how mole rats roll in their communal filth in order to establish a colony scent, so they can attack other colonies. The robot guy talks about sending arthropod-like robot invaders to other planets. The topiary guy talks a lot about the woman who owned the garden. The lion tamer guy talks about lions.
After a while the director starts to mix up the footage and the voiceovers, using scenes from the circus when the mole rat guy is talking about social constructs, things like that.
Then, with a lot of talk from the robot guy about how machines may replace organic life, the film kind of ends.
I didn’t get it.
I mean, there was nothing fundamentally wrong with the film outside of the fact that there was no coherent structure that tied it all together. If I wanted to watch a 20-minute documentary on topiary gardening, I imagine that this would have fit the bill but wouldn’t have knocked my socks off – and the same goes for the other three. But intertwining the four interviews just because you can does not in and of itself make art. It makes hodgepodge.
Maybe I just missed the really deep structure to the film. Or maybe my impression was right – the film wanted you to think there was some deep structure, to gasp and ooh and aah and fawn all over the director’s accomplishment when really all he did was slap a couple of things together. You know, I like Happiness Is A Warm Gun as much as anybody, but it’s not profound (and I don’t think it was meant to be). On the other hand, it is catchy, and that’s what Fast, Cheap and Out of Control is missing. If it’s not particularly profound and it’s not particularly catchy, what exactly does it have to offer?