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The Net 

Thursday, May 11 2006
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In the 1960s, The Whole Earth Catalogue was the mail-order bible for those looking to drop out, wherein one could find seminal articles on how to use a computer alongside practical information on building a log cabin. In The Net, German documentary filmmaker Lutz Dammbeck pursues the divergent paths of these two distinct editorial trends to trace a fascinating, far-flung chronicle of high technology and its discontents in the second half of the 20th century. On one side are a dozen scientists, artists and entrepreneurs — including John Brockman, David Gelernter, Heinz von Foerster and Whole Earth publisher Stewart Brand — who, whether from the hallowed halls of MIT or the back of Ken Kesey’s bus, championed the computer as a vehicle for personal and social revolution. On the other side stands the enigma of Ted Kaczynski, a Thoreau gone mad who haunts contemporary cybernetic culture the way Manson shadows the Summer of Love. In between, Dammbeck weaves a delirious, sometimes paranoid, web of sinister science, secret government projects and corporate mind control — a heady brew of conspiracy and kitsch served up as a dreamy alternate history to the narratives put forth by the PC’s more utopian boosters. More than one of Dammbeck’s interviews come to an abrupt end when Dammbeck suggests that maybe Kaczynski’s “manifesto” shouldn’t be entirely dismissed as the ravings of a madman. The Net is also something of a travelogue as Dammbeck segues from Manhattan skyscrapers to the San Francisco Bay to the woods of Montana, moving along a hidden network of power in pursuit of the ghost in the machine. Released by Other Cinema on DVD, The Net includes commentary from several of Dammbeck’s subjects, including Brockman and Brand.

—Paul Malcolm

Other recommended new releases: The 400 Blows (DVD), Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist: Season One (DVD), Munich (VHS-DVD). Also released this week: VHS-DVD: Nanny McPhee, The New World.

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