I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
I love Werner Herzog. I love his unique perspective on the world. I love how, in the opening moments of Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World — his stream-of-consciousness documentary look at the Internet, what it hath wrought, and what it may yet bring — he chooses to describe as “repulsive” the university corridor that leads to the room where the very first computer on the Internet still stands today. (That’s the machine pictured above, with Internet pioneer Leonard Kleinrock. That node of the Net is no longer active. Kleinrock is still a prof at UCLA.) That he chooses to focus on the corridor at all is hilarious; that he chooses to characterize it the way he does is a ball of pure delightful scowling Herzog.
There are other tastes of that throughout Lo and Behold, and they are equally scrumptious. But every time the film seems like it’s about to delve deeply — and, more importantly, sideways — into those repulsive corridors in the way that only Herzog can, it skips off the surface to land elsewhere. That is the point of the film: this is meant to be an overview of the history of the Internet and a buffet of tidbits about how interconnected life has changed us as individuals and humanity as a civilization. But I’m not sure that was the right angle, not when there’s so much good stuff here and too little time spent on most of it. This feels like a selection of teases from a slew of other films that I desperately want Herzog (Into the Abyss, Cave of Forgotten Dreams) to make. The questions he asks — like, Can the Internet dream? — and the oddball people he introduces us to — such as those who cannot tolerate any electromagnetic energy, like what cell-phone towers emit — are absolutely begging for Herzog-esque portraits devoted to them alone.
The robotics researcher who has fallen in love with his football-playing robot? That’s a movie all by itself. Internet pioneer Ted Nelson, who insists that the idea of “copy and paste” has gotten dramatically altered from his original conception? I want to know what that means. The grieving mother who thinks the Internet is an embodiment of the Antichrist because of the horrendous online abuse her family received in the wake of a tragedy? There’s an entire world of cultural criticism to be found in that. But Herzog doesn’t even try to find it here.
I blame Herzog himself — for being so damned contrary, so damned crankily enchanting — for why I feel so unsatisfied by Lo and Behold. This is not a movie aimed at technologists or computer nerds or engineers (though I’m sure they will find it fascinating and frustrating as well). This is a film about the human side of technology, about the philosophical implications raised by this strange and alluring new digital world we live in. And I crave more of the Herzog spin that is offered here as only tantalizing morsels.