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   Apr 13

Werner Herzog hilariously probes ‘glories of the internet, also the dangers’

Werner Herzog’s documentary Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World looks at the history, the present, the future and the ubiquity of the internet. Photo: Madman Werner Herzog at the Sundance Film Festival last year. Photo: Matt Sayles
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Buddhist monks with their smart phones, in a scene from Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World. Photo: Madman

The subject is everyone’s – the internet – but it takes less than a minute for Werner Herzog to make it entirely his own.

The LA-based German filmmaker’s fascinating documentary Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World opens in the grounds of the University of California, Los Angeles – all gothic towers and leafy avenues beneath a cloudless blue sky – before heading inside to the room where the internet was born one day in 1969 when a message was sent between two computers 640 kilometres apart.

“The corridors here look repulsive,” he says in voice over, “and this one leads to a sort of a shrine.” It’s classic Herzog, deadly earnest and utterly comical at the same time.

Who else would describe a corridor as “repulsive”? Who else would say, as he does later in the film of a woman recovering from addiction to computer games, “I wanted very much to discuss fictional characters with Chloe, like the malevolent druid dwarf, but I had to desist”?

It’s impossible in these moments not to think of the Herzog of Burden of Dreams, Les Blank’s majestic documentary about the making of Fitzcarraldo (both 1982). Talking about the South American jungle with which he was doing battle, the director says in Blank’s film “nature here is vile and base”. Seeing only “fornication and asphyxiation and choking” where others saw abundant life, he says “the birds are in misery. I don’t think they sing, they just screech in pain”.

Like I said, deadly earnest and utterly comical.

Little wonder Herzog has become a cult figure, spawning internet parodies in which imitators read children’s books such as Winnie the Pooh and Madeline in approximations of his wonderfully accented voice. There are faux Herzog cooking shows, too, even a Werner Herzblog.

“There are at least three dozen doppelgangers, impostors,” he says, pronouncing it im-posters, “out there. You’ll find me on Facebook but it’s not me, it’s fake. You’ll find me on Twitter but it’s a fraud, it’s fake.

“It’s OK, let them be out there, let them do battles. I consider them my unpaid bodyguards.”

In his study of the digital age – which is not so much a history of the internet as a series of ruminations on its past, present and future – Herzog roams across what he calls “this huge event”, a technological shift that may also signal an evolutionary one. He finds people who are allergic to the low-level radiation emitted by the connected world and so have dropped out entirely; he asks whether the internet has begun to “dream of itself” – in other words, develop consciousness (quite possibly, says one of his experts, but we can’t know); he revisits a dreadful case of internet harassment, in which photos of a girl who had been decapitated in an automobile accident were sent to her family, who did not know she had suffered that indignity.

It all amounts, he says with no hint of false modesty, to “the only competent film about the internet so far”.

He explores the way the world has changed for the better as a result of the internet, but also the way we have exposed ourselves to catastrophe by placing so much trust in it, by connecting everything – our utilities, our security systems, our memories, our finances – to it.

“I explore the glories of the internet, and also the dangers,” he says.

All of which prompts people to ask him if the internet is good or bad. “And that’s the wrong question. I would ask you, ‘Is electricity good or bad?’

“When you think it’s good, you’d better reconsider when you’re on death row and you are sitting on an electric chair,” he says. “That’s the time to recalibrate your opinion on electricity.”

The parodists couldn’t have said it better.

Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World is at ACMI February 15-23. Details: acmi成都夜场招聘.au

Karl Quinn is on facebook at karlquinnjournalist and on twitter @karlkwin

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