Caught short in the web

Werner Her­zog’s lat­est doc is full in­ter­est­ing turns and provoca­tive ques­tions, but not nearly enough Her­zog, writes

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM -

LO AND BE­HOLD: REV­ER­IES OF THE CON­NECTED WORLD Di­rected by Werner Her­zog. Fea­tur­ing Werner Her­zog, Kevin Mit­nick, Elon Musk, Joy­deep Biswas, Shawn Car­pen­ter, Hi­larie Cash, Christina Cat­souras. Club, lim­ited re­lease, 98 min A line from Griz­zly Man stands as the defin­ing text for Werner Her­zog’s re­cent, tri­umphant ca­reer in doc­u­men­tary film-mak­ing. “I be­lieve the com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor of the uni­verse is not har­mony, but chaos, hos­til­ity, and mur­der,” he says in that dis­con­cert­ingly warm burr.

Within the first few mo- ments of this med­i­ta­tion on the in­ter­net, Werner of­fers sug­ges­tions that we’ll be trav­el­ling down a sim­i­lar road. “The cor­ri­dors look re­pul­sive, but this one leads to a shrine,” he says. Do they? The pas­sage­ways of UCLA’s Boel­ter Hall are no more “re­pul­sive” than those in any other aca­demic satel­lite. There’s a sense that Her­zog is work­ing hard to set us up for an­other evening of apoc­a­lyp­tic de­spair.

That’s not how Lo and Be­hold works out. Di­vided into 10 dis­tinct chap­ters, the pic­ture ap­proaches the sub­ject in a spirit of in­quis­i­tive good hu­mour. Her­zog’s com­ments from be­hind the cam­era sug­gest an en­thu­si­as­tic stu­dent ea­ger to demon­strate his at­ten­tive­ness.

The trade­mark pes­simism does still ap­pear. In one dizzy­ingly gloomy episode, ex­perts spec­u­late on how a mas­sive so­lar flare might wipe out the in­ter­net. Else­where, we meet first-world peo­ple who, ap­par­ently made sick by wire­less sig­nals, have re­tired to a ru­ral re­treat for re­lief.

The most pow­er­ful sec­tion fo­cuses on the aw­ful tri­als of the Cas­touras fam­ily. In­ter­viewed in his home, Mr Cas­touras ex­plains how his daugh­ter died af­ter driv­ing the fam­ily Porsche into a toll­booth. The fam­ily were still pro­cess­ing the news when an anony­mous email ar­rived con­tain­ing pho­to­graphs of the dead wo­man’s de­cap­i­tated body. Mrs Cas­touras’s chill­ing as­ser­tion that the in­ter­net is a “man­i­fes­ta­tion of the an­tichrist” looks to be ges­tur­ing to­wards fur­ther horrors, but Her­zog pulls back to con­sider the medium’s more savoury pos­si­bil­i­ties.

Lo and Be­hold plays like a jour­ney with no cer­tain des­ti­na­tion. It be­gins in Boel­ter Hall with a prim­i­tive dial-up con­nec­tion. At the other end of the project – the bit that juts into the fu­ture – we dis­cuss life on Mars, self-driv­ing cars and ro­bots that can play foot­ball.

Se­bas­tian Thrun, an ex­pert in robotics, claims that we will even­tu­ally have an ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence that is able to make movies. “Will they be as good as yours? No one can come close,” he adds. That shows due re­spect.

Lo and Be­hold is, how­ever, not the best work by this par­tic­u­lar hu­man. The film is packed with in­ter­est­ing turns and provoca­tive ques­tions, but it lacks co­he­sive shape and it fails to find sat­is­fy­ing di­rec­tion. Lo and Be­hold plays like a se­ries of di­vert­ing es­says on a sub­ject about which al­most ev­ery­body is now some sort of ex­pert. There’s just not enough Her­zog here.

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