Werner Herzog is nothing if not an interesting personality so how you take to his latest documentary, Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World, will probably depend on how well you take the man himself. A documentary in ten nominal chapters, charting the internet from its early days as a small defence network with an even smaller phonebook containing all the users, through to the world dominating force it is today.
The key with Herzog’s success here is the personalities he has managed to unearth in a world that you would suspect holds mostly programmers with very little to say. For the most part, you’d be wrong. They have a whole lot to say and for the most part, they’re pretty adept at saying it. Freewheeling is probably the kindest way to describe the movie, the ten chapters give it some kind of structure but barring a vague chronology, this may as well be Herzog wandering around the globe chatting to people he finds interesting.
Which is good for us. We get a fulsome description of the original computer that housed the whole internet when it was originally created, a frustrated genius whose ideas got sidelined completely (though in keeping with the style of documentary, I’m not entirely clear what those ideas are even now), a family who have suffered at the hands of the internet, various people who have to shelter from cellular waves, and so on all the way through to Elon Musk and his incredibly awkward interview style.
By the close, Herzog is wondering aloud ‘Does the internet dream of itself’ which sounds like a godawful A-Level philosophy question but in the hands of such inspired thinkers, you’ll soon be actively pondering what it means. Especially when we arrive at the scientists who can map what different thoughts look like in your brain - the obvious connotation being that eventually a form of computer assisted telepathy will be infinitely possible.
Lo and Behold is a choppy old movie. Not everything encountered is strictly related to the internet, or even connected technology (there is a chapter on the dangers of gaming) and in taking so broad a look, inevitably some issues are left barely examined (and that's not to mention some truly odd interview framing and random things like monks tweeting). But, even something half examined by Herzog is easily as interesting as something thoroughly examined by somebody less confident and less irascible. There was an interesting live streamed Q&A after the screening I attended which added greatly to the experience. I can’t find this currently on Youtube but there is an equally fascinating career interview to be found here. Both this and the movie are well worth your time.