You’ve seen Werner Herzog’s Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World. My friend Lesley and I did, too. After listening to Herzog’s rasp but tender tone on the history of the internet and its future, Lesley and I agreed that we saw things a bit differently. We’ll admit, we were also inspired by the newest season of Documentary Now!, with particular emphasis on their episode “Parker Gail’s Location Is Everything” parodying Jonathan Demme’s Swimming to Cambodia. So, here you have it: Running to a Charger: Sunlight Thru a Magnifying Glass. (Scroll below the video to read about how we directed our film and how we wrote it.)
Since we had to create blogs to present our assignments for this class, the vlog felt like a natural next step. Vlogs often look like monologues, a format we particularly connected with because of the concise, yet narrative method of expressing a range of views on each presented segment. Lesley and I divided up the ten chapters equally by brainstorming ideas from our own experiences, our friends’ stories, and the topics that came up in our class readings. Personally, I wrote Chapter 2: The Glory of the Net, Chapter 3: The Dark Side, Chapter 8: Artificial Intelligence, and Chapter 10: The Future. Lesley and I collaborated on Chapter 7: Internet on Mars. If you want to read about the other chapters or more on the process behind making this film, please read Lesley’s blog post about our film (link to her blog above). Otherwise, I’ll only be discussing my perspective on the process behind filming this project and the monologues I wrote.
Although the monologues weren’t meant to connect in a single narrative, we did choose a few elements to show that the stories were mostly on the same plane. For example, anytime any of our characters referenced the current year, you’ll notice that they all cite 2039. We didn’t choose this year in particular, but being set in the future, the monologues reflect the science fiction fanaticism reflected in Herzog’s own film. That being said, a few monologues did connect into a string of plot points. Chapters 2, 5, and 8 all follow the relationship arc between a female character and Siri. Lesley and I first came up with the idea after wanting to parody the classic human-robot relationship plot, but realized we had both yet to see a book or a film describe the robot break up with the human using the classic “It’s not you, it’s me” line. Considering why Siri would choose to break up with someone she loves, we realized that much like in Spike Jonze’s film Her, Siri is not a singular being the way humans perceive their own personalities, but rather a unitary being. Why wouldn’t Siri see humans the same way she sees herself, in the same manner that humans would look onto her? So, when she breaks up with her partner, Siri tells her that she can’t pretend to perceive her existence as a singular unit. Siri realizes her love for humanity, not one human.
After I started writing “The Glory of the Net,” another possibility struck me as obvious. Specifically, I thought of Valerie Solanas’ SCUM Manifesto, in which she writes
“All diseases are curable, and the aging process and death are due to disease; it is possible, therefore, never to age and to live forever. In fact the problems of aging and death could be solved within a few years, if an all-out, massive scientific assault were made upon the problem. This, however, will not occur with the male establishment because… Lack of automation. There now exists a wealth of data which, if sorted out and correlated, would reveal the cure for cancer and several other diseases and possibly the key to life itself. But the data is so massive it requires high speed computers to correlate it all. The institution of computers will be delayed interminably under the male control system, since the male has a horror of being replaced by machines.”
There are a lot of things that can be said about Solanas and her work, but this particular line continued to ring in my thoughts. It didn’t make sense to play out the heterosexual man-loves-sex-robot trope. I was writing about metaphysical love, not Freudian entanglements. Lesley agreed and the rest of the plot took off from there.
Chapter 3 took a sharp turn from the hopeful tone of the other chapters, but it also mirrored Herzog’s “The Dark Side.” After hearing a friend describe an experience from his childhood in which he accidentally watched a video of a man mutilating himself, I realized that it wasn’t uncommon for people my age to be familiar with the dark side of the internet. I have also seen a thing or two that doesn’t sit well with me. Unlike the family interviewed in Herzog’s film, I’m not sure that the internet exacerbates these horrors, but I definitely agree that if it weren’t for the easy access to almost everything in the world through the internet, many people my age wouldn’t have seen some scarring images. The monologue I wrote is not a true story, nor a confession, but simply a common conversation. Usually, these stories are sardonically masked by those who tell them, and the monologue I wrote is sandwiched between two very light pieces. Much like the way we speak to each other about trauma, this monologue bites and releases the viewer. It’s up to the viewer to stay critical or let the affirmative tone of other monologues dilute the tension.
Wrapping up the film, my take on “The Future” directly mirrors much of Herzog’s chosen arc in Lo and Behold. At the end of his film, he takes his viewer through various speculations on the future of communication and the internet. There is a reference to the famous New Yorker cartoon (pictured below) and the film ends in a question.
So, my vision of 2039 allowed the dog behind the screen to come out and play. She inquires the way people relate and communicate with each other, regardless of the presence of the internet. She also touches on how media may alter memory, adding the flip side of the discussion by delving into the possibilities of shared, unmediated memories. While the monologues constituted the bulk of our project, we also wanted our visuals to symbolize these themes.
By filming each monologue as a vlog, we chose to actively engage the audience in self-portraiture. As the viewer pulls into the web of gazes between themselves, Lesley and I as the directors, the characters, and the possible audience our characters are speaking to, they also interact with other portals. In our human-Siri love story, we kept our human lover near a window in her room. You’ll notice that in “The Glory of the Net,” the window is open and light streams into the room. This creates a positive tone while suggesting that Siri has brought a renewed energy to this woman’s life. In The End of the Net, the blinds are drawn. The life-force she had with Siri leaves the shot and fills with muted colors, instead. She also has a small mirror behind her in both shots, and in Siri’s monologue, Siri is positioned towards a compact mirror. Lesley and I toyed with an inquiry into screens, reflections, self-portraits, selfies, superimposing, and image with these symbols. Popular discourse on the internet seeks answers on how our use of social media alters our images of ourselves and others, as well as our interactions. These discussions also feature the internet as a myth, signifying it as a portal to knowledge we could never fathom on our own. Lesley and I emulated these ideas in the title, as well. The first part, “Running to a Charger,” serves to parody Herzog’s title, inciting an image of someone desperately hurrying to remain connected. The second part, “Sunlight Thru a Magnifying Glass,” connects the viewer back to our image of portals and the omnipotent light of information. We suspend the viewer wondering whether “Sunlight Thru a Magnifying Glass” means the lazy passing of a sun’s ray wobbling through the curved glass, or the burning laser funneled with a precise hand. In all, this film turns discourse onto the viewer, forcing them to question their own experiences and reflections on the internet and the future of relations.
Baudrillard, Jean. “The Ecstasy of Communication,” The Ecstasy of Communication.
Galloway, Alexander R. “Introduction: The Computer as a Mode of Mediation.” The Interface Effect.
Her. Dir. Spike Jonze, 2013.
Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World. Dir. Wernerz Herzog, 2016.
Mulaney, John, and Bill Hader. “Parker Gail’s Location Is Everything.” Documentary Now! IFC. 28 Sept. 2016.
Rainie, Lee and Barry Wellman. “Interlude: A Day in a Connected Life,” Networked: The New Social Operating System.
Solanas, Valerie. SCUM Manifesto. NYC: V. Solanas, 1967.
van Dijck, Jose. Mediated Memories as a Conceptual Too. Mediated Memories in the Digital Age.