Werner Herzog’s Lo And Behold: Reveries Of The Connected World — Previewed

Werner Herzog's Lo And Behold: Reveries Of The Connected World

Admitting that he uses the Internet “with hesitation”, Werner Herzog is the perfect, deadpan inquisitor of information technology, argues Mike Pinnington…

In Paul Cronin’s seminal book about Werner Herzog, A Guide for the Perplexed, Cronin asks Herzog: “Do you still not own a cellphone?” The director replies – in all fairness – that he doesn’t want to be available at all times. In fact, he notes: “It is my firm belief that solitude will increase in proportion to the new tools at our disposal, the explosive evolution of electronic and digital communication.” It’s a pretty utopian perspective on the Internet and, some may say, progress in general. The usual response about the future is that it will likely be dystopian, perhaps even apocalyptic.

But when Cronin puts it to him that: “You use the Internet”, Herzog replies in deliciously contrarian fashion: “Of course. Who can avoid it? But I do so with hesitation.” For this reason perhaps, it is with even more fascination than usual that I look forward to the German Oscar-nominated director’s latest film. Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World explores the Internet; from its origins at Stanford to how it has changed things, to what might happen next. It also looks, more broadly, at the accompanying technological advances that have led some – many – to suggest we could be on the brink of a new era for humanity, in touching distance of AI and the so far un-explored further reaches of our solar system.

“Herzog retains that sense of wonder that means he is still eager for whatever is around the corner”

Of course, every generation thinks they are on the very bleeding edge of what has been, and what could be achieved by science, and ours is no different. In the past, serious technological advances have been driven largely by governments and necessity, but we live in strange times and, arguably, it is individuals rather than institutions pushing the envelope. The film’s trailer features Elon Musk, the tech pioneer and founder of SpaceX (who, FYI, earlier this year declared: “There’s a billion-to-one chance we’re living in base reality.” Yep, he’s talking The Matrix). While Musk is speaking of his company’s goal to reach Mars, Herzog, cutting him off mid-sentence, declares: “I would come along, I wouldn’t have a problem.”

Werner Herzog's Lo And Behold: Reveries Of The Connected World

You believe him, too. 74 years old last month, Herzog retains that sense of wonder that means he is still eager for whatever is around the corner, or the next big story; and it is this yearning to know that makes him a perfect inquisitor of this subject matter. He wants to see where “the explosion of information technology” founded on the shoulders of the Internet will lead us.

“The Internet has, after all, opened up a gigantic field of indiscretion”

Of course, as one would expect from Herzog, the picture isn’t all rose-tinted and nor should we pretend it is. The film therefore also seeks to explore the web’s darker corners, and how, enabled by human nature it can lead to abject misery. Later in the aforementioned passage of Cronin’s book, Herzog qualifies his misgivings about the online world, saying: “It has, after all, opened up a gigantic field of indiscretion”. For the family of a car crash victim, interviewed in Lo and Behold, whose crash footage was leaked and became viral, the web is “the manifestation of the Antichrist”.

And that’s the thing about the Internet: for something that started life as a tool so that a handful of academics could speak to each other instantaneously across the world, few could have guessed it would impact so many people so heavily in a plethora of ways. It has become an area of ongoing, serious research; artists – post-internet and otherwise – explore it in their work, like filmmaker and writer Hito Steyerl; and it is of course subject to lazy speculation by the rest of us – it has made Google-search experts of us all. The author Douglas Coupland, who misses what he calls his pre-Internet brain, perhaps sums it up most disturbingly: “The Internet has burrowed inside my head and laid eggs, and it feels as though they’re all hatching.”

Into what, I wonder? Maybe Herzog can tell us.

Mike Pinnington

See Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World at cinemas across the UK and on demand now

Attend a special Satellite Q&A with Werner Herzog and filmmaker and comedian Richard Ayoade at 6pm, Thursday 13 October 2016 at FACT Liverpool — £11/10/9

Read our profile on the director, Man & Myth, here

Posted on 12/10/2016 by thedoublenegative