The familiar cadence, tone and wit of director Werner Herzog underpins his latest production Lo and Behold Reveries of the Connected World embarks to examine the story of the internet from its first transmission to the present and into the future. The film is commissioned by NetScout a cyber security firm and the director leans to much on interviews from employees of Carnegie Melon but Herzog's playful style dominates the film.
The narrative proceeds step by step divided into distinct chapters. The first chapter features a series of interviews with internet pioneers opening with a shot of the UCLA campus that is identified as the birthplace of the internet. The camera leads the viewer down a hallway and into a room guided by Leonard Kleinrock who describes the events of October 29th 1969 when the occupants sent a transmission host to host to Stanford but the intended message of Logon cut out at Lo which gives some background of the films title. Pioneer Bob Kahn tell tales of the early days including the original idea that the internet would be used by a small group. The initial user group was so small that a thin phonebook housed the phone numbers and e-mail addresses of every Internet user. The pioneers did not think about security, bullying or cyber attacks because anyone who was acting offside could be look up and called. It was not meant to be anonymous.
Another highlight was the discussion surrounding the dark side of the modern Internet. Stemming from the fact that people can find just about any information and post it online. The Catsouras family is interviewed about the tragic death of their daughter Nikki who wandered away from home and wrapped a sports car around a pole. Pictures of the dead girl began to appear online leading to harassment of the family that based on their all black attire for the interview is still affecting them all today.
Another chapter looks at Internet addiction focusing on two residence of a treehouse based rehab centre. The story is the same as with another addition exempt with this one the addict is much more comfortable in the world of the internet as opposed to the real one and slowly and progressively begins to spend more time in the latter than the former. Related is a community in Green Bank West Virginia that has developed in the shadow of a massive telescope that due to its need to be clear of electromagnetic signals on earth is a tech free zone. The residence all share an allergy to tech devices and electronic waves that are so extreme they are highly emotional and haunted when Herzog asks them to describe their life before coming to the Appalachian Mountains.
Finally the narrative turns to the future. The possibility with robotics, the linking of the human brain to the internet. The future of artificial intelligence and the question of whether or not the internet or machines dream.
Lo and Behold is a multiple chapter expansive study of all parts of the Internet. Colourful characters from the early days, scientists from the present hackers and net cops give their input. A narrower focus would have served the production better but there is sufficient material and antidotes in the documentary to make it worth the watch.
*** Out of 4.
Lo and Behold | Werner Herzog | USA | 2016 | 98 Minutes.
Tags: Internet, Pioneer, UCLA, Host-to-Host, Protocols, Addiction, Cyber Attack, Green Bank West Virginia.
Hot Docs Film Festival - screens Thursday April 28 9:45 PM TIFF Bell Lightbox 1.
Friday April 29 1:00 PM Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.