Four singular men, four oblivious but intrepid sentries at the lonely outposts of their chosen field: Topiary gardener, wild animal trainer, robot scientist, mole-rat specialist. What similarities bind them together? Not much, it seems. We might even be reminded of the story involving the elephant and the blind men: the stories waiting to be told are bound to be as wildly distinct and different as chalk and cheese. But take away the outer trappings and boil it down to human experience and something unexpected emerges.
Montage, ingenious intercutting and careful juxtaposition are the tools of choice for Morris here, weaving together words and manners of these four human souls in a very lighthearted, comical tone, interspersed joyously with archival footage of films and other supplemental clips that augment what is already a riveting account of four colorful characters. When Morris allows each of these personalities to expound on themselves while simultaneously overlapping visuals pertaining to another of this motley group, the viewer begins to understand and discern their commonalities and the intersections of experience.
In sociopolitical terms however, Morris stops short of asserting parity and advocating the egalitarianism of human occupations in a society that tends to keep castes and hierarchies, preferring to keep the proceedings in a light, but fascinating and entertaining tone. What’s clear is how this film might encourage diversity, uplifting our perspective of what are heretofore dismissed as unglamorous jobs.
Their dreams, their pride in their work, their single-mindedness in performing their tasks, their sense of wonder towards their chosen vocations, the source of their longevity, their natural gravitation to their jobs, their humility and their urgency to pass down their professions, the unknowable dimensions of their daily calling: Morris documents all of this, paradoxically, with both reverence and comicality. The steady stream of visuals and the infusion of carnival-like and playful music on the soundtrack make sure that the mind is engaged even as the narration comes in a forthright, relaxed and insightful fashion from the subjects themselves.
Did Morris ask the same set of questions in getting a seemingly uniform set of answers, or did the shock of serendipity in discovering their kinship only come to the documentarist during the editing process? A unique individual himself pursuing a unique job, Morris must have known all along and intuited the answers beforehand. Perhaps he could have chosen his subjects at random, and the results would have been the same. Morris, after all, is one of them – a kindred, quixotic spirit.
Remember how Herzog made a bet with Morris to eat his shoe if the fledgling aspirant ever managed to make a film? Well, suffice to say Herzog lived, happily, to regret it. Morris has been proving everyone wrong all his life in his usual maverick way – fast, cheap and out of control.
reviewed: January 5, 2007