No. 1: Stupidity is rampant on the Internet
To me -- and I'm sure to many others -- Werner Herzog is one of our most fascinating thinkers.
There are few cinematic pleasures to equal his observations, delivered through German-accented voiceover, in documentaries exploring culture, human frailty and technology. Cave of Forgotten Dreams took us below the depths to the origins of artistic expression. Grizzly Man took us inside the mind of Timothy Treadwell, who lost his life to the fearsome bears he loved.
What does it mean, a hundred thousand Tweets? I’ve never seen a single Tweet that I found interesting at all.
Herzog turns his formidable intelligence toward the Internet in his latest documentary, LO AND BEHOLD: Reveries of the Connected World, which just premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. It's a deeply absorbing and sometimes frightening examination of the past, present and possible future of the worldwide web.
"I do believe [the advent of the Internet] is of the same significance of, let’s say, abandoning nomadic life in exchange for sedentary life or like inventing writing or like introducing electricity into our lives," Herzog said at a press conference at Sundance. "This is one of those events of that magnitude and we’d better pay attention what’s going on."
Nonfictionfilm.com covered the press conference in Park City, Utah where Herzog appeared with the executive producer of the film, Jim McNiel, Chief Marketing Officer of the cyber security firm Netscout. We later spoke with the filmmaker privately.
These are the top seven Werner takeaways:
No. 1: The web is home to a "massive, naked onslaught" of stupidity
Herzog is less than impressed with the phenomenon of social media, which occupies the time and attention of countless people across the globe.
"I’m not on any social media. I’m not on Facebook or Twitter or anything," he said at the press conference. "What scares me the most? Stupidity. It manifests itself very, very clearly [on the internet]. You just go into chatrooms or you look into the comments that are coming out in the social media. So it’s this massive, naked onslaught of stupidity. But stupidity is not a phenomenon of the Internet. It’s all pervasive anyway. It only becomes more visible."
No. 2: Beware of asking Werner about viral Tweets
A journalist who described herself as a "Portlander" noted that one of her colleagues had sent out a photo from Sundance that promptly got a hundred thousand clicks online.
"What does impress you about 100,000 Tweets? A hundred thousand times stupidity, 140 characters, what’s so phenomenal about it?" he said. "If you just are into quantities you better have a look at, for example — I don’t know — 'Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.' And if Honey Boo Boo -- if the girl sends a Tweet out it probably has 800,000 followers or clicks on it. So what’s the value of it? Why does it impress you? It’s just a manifestation of something vile and debased and stupid... I’ve never seen a single Tweet that I found interesting at all."
No. 3: Herzog's cell phone is angry with him
The filmmaker allowed that he does not enjoy a close relationship with his mobile phone.
"I still do not use a cell phone. In fact, truth be said, I own a cell phone, only for emergencies and I switched it on and it keeps flashing angrily at me because it downloads whatever improved versions of whatever and it flashes at me, 'THIS DEVICE HAS NOT BEEN ACTIVATED FOR 52 WEEKS.' So you know how deeply I’m into cell phones."
No. 4: The German-born filmmaker was raised without modern conveniences
Asked about his upbringing, Herzog related, "I grew up in a very remote mountain valley in Bavaria and we had no running water, no electricity and no radio or whatever."
No. 5: Herzog takes a non-standard approach to conducting interviews
In LO AND BEHOLD the director interviews some brilliant computer science theorists and technology experts, including Elon Musk of Tesla Motors and SpaceX. Or perhaps 'interview' is the wrong word...
"I do not do interviews. I have no catalogue of questions. I’m just very curious and okay, let’s say, I’m kind of unprepared," Herzog said at the press conference. "I didn’t do any research into the Internet. Absolutely none. But I come up spontaneously with the right way to plow into it. That’s my way to make films and how can I say? The process itself is as fascinating for me as the result."
Herzog expanded on that when he spoke privately with Nonfictionfilm.com.
"What you see in the film is almost like a rich tapestry of individuals, of scientists, of ideas, or fascinations and for me it’s a very, very interesting thing. After this film I have the feeling that yes, I have become rich. It’s like wealth. I’ve talked to these people and we have exchanged ideas and life has been good to me during the filming of this movie."
No. 6: Sex clubs and lunatic asylums: Werner's career advice to up-and-comers
In response to a question about what advice he would offer to aspiring filmmakers, Herzog recommended taking bold action -- make some cash, then go out and start creating movies.
"Work in a lunatic asylum for a few months, earn enough money. To the strong men I say, work as a bouncer in a sex club. Or do something really solid where you’re exposed to the real world. And you’ll get the money together and make your film."
Herzog said he wanted so badly to make films when he was young that he took bold steps himself.
"I worked in a steel factory as a welder. I did the night shift and during the day I was in high school. And I did that for two and a half years. And then I had enough money to make my first films as my own producer. So I would advise don’t waste your life waiting for a production company or a Hollywood major to sign you up. You better make your own films first. You make your impact… You will kick up some dust."
No. 7: The promise of Virtual Reality has been oversold
Festival director John Cooper, at the opening day news conference, declared this year's Sundance is "all about virtual reality." But Herzog told Nonfictionfilm.com he's not sold on VR yet.
"It’s not a filmmaking opportunity because virtual reality, as we see it now, the tool is not going to be an extension of 3D cinema. And it’s not going to be an extension of video games. It is something completely different that we cannot fill properly with content yet," he told NFF. "Normally there is content and the tools are invented to perform it, like a vision in architecture about an opera house in Sydney and technology and materials follow suit and they have to be invented. This time the tool is invented but what the tool is gonna do we not know. And so of course a lot of it is hype. You just have to settle down, take a good look at it and take a good look at the content.
"I’ve talked to people from Oculus and young filmmakers who are into creating content. I’m in close contact [with them]… We should not overdo it and we should not over-hype it."
Bonus Herzog takeaway: Dinner with Werner
Herzog has what some might consider an old-fashioned notion of social interaction.
"My social media is my kitchen table. My wife and I cook. And we have four guests maximum because the table doesn’t hold more than six. And the conversation across the table -- that’s my social media."
Now, if only we could get an invite...
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.