Werner Herzog Eats His Sandwich

“I never dream. Or very rarely; once a year, perhaps. And then it is always EXTREMELY BANAL. For instance, I am eating a sandwich.”

“That’s a good dream.”

The first speaker is Werner Herzog, the second is his interviewer, the filmmaker Richard Ayoade. Their conversation in London was being beamed around by satellite so I was able to see it in Glasgow at the building site formerly known as the Glasgow Film Theatre. A vivid illustration of connectivity, the subject of Herzog’s new documentary, LO AND BEHOLD: REVERIES OF THE CONNECTED WORLD.

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This one’s about the internet. We get a little history, engagingly told, and we get some speculation (what if solar flares caused the web to go down? what will the internet’s contribution be to life on Mars?) and we get to meet some people who have had interesting, tragic problems. One family was attacked by strangers who posted accident scene photographs of their dead daughter/sister. “I think the internet is evil. I think it’s the Antichrist,” says the mother. Werner doesn’t question her judgement.

Nor does he question the people who have moved into the shade of a radar telescope to find relief from their supposed wi-fi allergy. All internet and mobile phone signals are blocked in this area. I’m very sympathetic to these people, though I believe their symptoms are psychosomatic: their suffering is certainly real. So I wasn’t too bothered by the fact that Herzog doesn’t explore the validity of their claims and just lets them state their beliefs.

The one Herzog doc I didn’t like was WILD BLUE YONDER, which used NASA footage within a fictional framework. Herzog’s vision of sci-fi turned out to be pure pulp, and his grasp of science seemingly pathetic. There was a lack of curiosity about his making-shit-up approach which really annoyed me. And yet, he’s wonderfully curious and open in most of his films. Science is probably not his subject — we get to see a very complicated equation being sketched on a blackboard, but we are given no clue as to its significance. Herzog prefers mystery to explanation. But by focussing mainly on human consequences of science, he makes something very compelling and credible.

I don’t believe the internet is the Antichrist. My experiences on it have been mainly very nice, but I acknowledge the existence of what the movie terms “The Dark Side.” The internet, like Soylent Green, is made of people. It’s an environment where your virtual actions can seem to be consequence-free, so to some extent it encourages people to unleash their worst possible traits. There’s some good discussion in the film about what kind of oversight we would ideally want on the internet — not too much, not too little. But short of pursuing a North Korean policy, control of any kind seems hard to achieve.

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Good discussion after the film, led by Ayoade — refreshingly, there were plenty of questions not just about the issues raised, but about Herzog’s filmi-making choices — staging, framing, interaction with subjects. When Elon Musk talks about trips to Mars, Herzog breaks in with “I volunteer. I will go. One way.” To Ayoade, he explained why this interjection was necessary: Musk is very shy. After Herzog’s expostulation, he opened up.

Werner Herzog: a people person.

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