Monday, August 22, 2016

A Power Alien to Gods

How does one make a documentary about the Internet in under two hours? Werner Herzog made his 2016 film, Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World, as though he were making a movie about another planet. He mentions falling in love more often than most filmmakers probably would in making such a documentary. His heart pervades the film along with his sense of wonder at something peculiarly both frightening and beautiful.

He begins at the beginning, with the birth of the Internet and one of its pioneers describing the first computer to computer communication in the late 1960s. For music, the scene is accompanied by the vorspiel from Wagner's Das Rheingold, the same music Herzog used in his 1979 version of Nosferatu, which may tell you something about his perspective right there. But of course, Das Rheingold is the first opera of Wagner's four part Der Ring des Nibelungen, a story about the world of gods being replaced by the world of humanity, and Das Rheingold's opening music captures the sense of something weird and vast slowly and beautifully coming to life.

He mentions a mysterious "druid dwarf" he imagines when an MMORPG addict in rehab declines describing to him her alteregos for fear of experiencing again her withdrawal symptoms. Video games are alien to Herzog and he's fascinated by the South Korean couple who let their baby die because they were busy caring for a virtual baby and, one thinks, yes, this is exactly the kind of thing that would interest Herzog.

He talks to neuroscientists who discuss the very real possibility of people's brains being connected and conversing in a universal language of pure thought. He visits a man who builds little robots who play soccer and gently encourages the man to express his affection for one of the robots. Herzog's clearly fascinated by the opportunities for connectivity and is charmed by the hapless pioneers who created this simple thing which, in the 70s, had only a few hundred users and no need for any kind of security.

In an eerie, striking scene, he interviews the family of a teenage girl who died in a car accident, pictures of her decapitated corpse proliferated by internet trolls and sent directly to the family. Herzog has the parents standing while their other three daughters sit in complete silence in sombre clothes, trays of muffins incongruous in the foreground, everyone looking directly at the camera with the lines from the ceiling in the background converging symmetrically to the centre like a shot from a Stanley Kubrick movie. The scene starkly demonstrates how horrible anonymous people on the internet can be while at the some time showing how very strange this new kind of horrible experience is. The mother comments that she thinks the internet is the Antichrist and it's very easy to see her point of view.

He talks to people who discuss the decreased level of human interaction that comes with the internet. He talks to Elon Musk about his plans to colonise Mars and enthusiastically volunteers to go along. He also talks to some genetic scientists who enlisted internet gamers to volunteer to participate in a game to create new molecules to assist cancer research. There's a meandering quality to the documentary that feels very much like Herzog probing the edges of strange new forest.

Twitter Sonnet #904

Canines retreat to touch the burning brain.
Flamingoes commandeered will play croquet.
Appropriation boosts transmission's gain.
Reflected lightning melted each parfait.
The drones embellish cords and gears for charm.
Resetting vacuum cleaners may avert the dust.
No storm could break beyond the floating farm.
Campaigns we launched for heads were now a bust.
The walking bed encouraged rest by force.
A game of loans'll wager chance for fate.
A starless trek returns on dusty course.
The telephones escaped Adama's pate.
A stepping stone declares for sitting down.
The river runs so long as there's a clown.

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