Thursday, January 11, 2018

Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World

I’m a fan of Werner Herzog’s documentaries.  His skeptical voice and his fondness for striking and eccentric characters and interesting subjects have made such films as Grizzly Man, Encounters at the End of the World, and Cave of Forgotten Dreams memorable experiences.  Although documentaries are supposed to provide at least the illusion of objectivity, Herzog inserts himself forcefully into the films, mainly as the voiceover narrator who not only asks questions but who occasionally renders judgment (there’s a cruel and shocking moment of his judgment in Grizzly Man that becomes, really, the center of the film).
I didn’t find Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World (2016) to be one of his best efforts.  It is a series of ten commentaries on the Internet, its history, its applications, and future possibilities.  Not surprisingly, much of the interest comes from the people he interviews—scientists and engineers and others involved in various aspects of the Internet.  One interesting and chilling commentary comes from the cosmologist Lawrence Krauss, who suggests that when a solar flare or some other cataclysmic event brings down the Internet, civilization will fall with it—too much of the world’s infrastructure inherently depends on it. Overall, the ten “reveries” are interesting but they don’t fit together into a more coherent picture.  Perhaps they’re not supposed to. They’re just reveries, small commentaries, and they leave the viewer somewhat puzzled and wanting more than they provide.
One segment focuses on a small town in West Virginia where the Internet and other electronic devices are banned within a ten-square mile area so that electronic signals won’t interfere with radio telescopes in the area.  Herzog shows scientists and others bonding together as they play Appalachian music.  He returns to this scene at the end of the film, his way of commenting on the changes the Internet has wrought, and also what we might return to when all is said and done.

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