Traceroute is the most fun I’ve ever had watching a documentary. If you’re a nerd (and you are) this is the road trip you’ve always wanted to take with your smartest, geekiest friend. You’re not going to want to come home. It’s Cosmos. It’s DragonCon on wheels. It’s your favorite sex fantasy. It’s alcohol soaked nonviolent subversive protest mobile and WiFi linked. It’s On The Road updated with tech, science, pseudoscience, sex, and fandom. This is Sheldon Cooper, Stan Lee, and your favorite Suicide Girls showing up at your door with an electric supercar, a bag of legal weed, and a cooler full of jello shots. No, this is Doc Brown showing up in the DeLorean saying “Where we’re going we don’t need roads.” This is Buckaroo Banzai texting to ask you if everything is ok with the alien spacecraft from Planet 10 or should we just go ahead and destroy Russia?
You say yes.
If you’re not a nerd (reading FT, riiiiight…) much of this will sail right over your monitor but enough of it won’t that you can still enjoy the existential thrill ride (and possible dust storm) that is Austrian artist and über-geek Johannes Grenzfurthner. Connect your brain to your genitals and fly down the roller coaster.
Johannes’s brilliant madness seems completely normal to a nerd. He’s an unselfconscious goofball who revels in obscure details and is steeped in knowledge that he gleefully explores and dispenses with abandon. He isn’t boundary challenged as he seems to recognize few boundaries that don’t have something to do with the known laws of physics. He’s comfortably gregarious, avoiding the socially unskilled nerd stereotype even though he paints himself that way as a younger person.
The film and Johannes himself are in English, he says because ”Everything in German sounds like a war crime. And everything in Austrian German sounds like a war crime served with whipped cream.”
Traceroute is jam-packed with love post-it notes to nerd culture from the name of the film (a TCP/IP command line utility which shows you the path from your computer to another one) to the 8 bit game font title cards.
In most stories, counterintuitively, the more specifically someone shares their experience the more universally it applies. Johannes takes an autobiographical approach to his specificity: he’s as self referential as Harvey Pekar but more fun loving, and as manic as PewDiePie. His introspection is public as he questions himself (and us) relentlessly while still relishing his geekhood. He doesn’t take it all very seriously but he’s very serious about that. Or rather, he takes it seriously but it’s clear it’s ok if we don’t. He’s extraordinary while insisting he’s not. He’s unpretentious traveling through the land of the precious.
All this bleeding in pixels and we don’t know what the film is about yet: It’s a road trip from the U.S. West Coast to the East Coast with stops to explore geeky ground sacred to nerds in general and Johannes in particular with side trips to visit UFO lore and conspiracy theorists and tech savvy sex workers and dinosaurs and art and to take unauthorized quadcopter radiation measurements at old atomic test sites. All done in an autobiographical vision quest. If he has kids all they will need to know about his life up to this point is here.
Home base for Johannes is monochrom: “an art-technology-philosophy group having its seat in Vienna, Durango (Colorado) and Zeta Draconis (aka ‘Left Wall of Purple Forbidden Enclosure’). monochrom is an unpeculiar mixture of proto-aesthetic fringe work, pop attitude, subcultural science, context hacking and political activism since 1993.“ (from their website)
He sounds just like Werner Herzog when pointing out that he doesn’t mean to come off like Werner Herzog.
He’s casually ADHD, all over the map talking about disconnected irresistible trivia. He manages to namecheck everything from Silent Running, Buckaroo Banzai, Steve Jackson Games, D&D, Cyberpunk, and the War of the Worlds to Lovecraft and so much more. He holds forth about the Peace of Westphalia and Judeo Christian society as a mythopoeic speculation model. He hangs with the “real atheists” not those pansy agnostics unwilling to commit. The sheer volume of minutia that floats atop this adventure is stupefying.
The great experimental quest nears its end in a boozy wrap party you’ll wish you’d been invited to where friends ponder on camera whether the movie counts as Nerdsploitation (The Big Bang Theory) was the number one rated tv show for years and is still holding at number three as of this writing in Feb 2017. Nerds are still hot for the moment). I think it does but intentionally so by it’s own subjects. The struggle is real (but not terribly important).
The finale, I believe it’s safe to say, has never before been seen in a documentary.
This is Innovative breathtaking rapid-fire filmmaking raw guerrilla style with nerd friendly blandishments in titles and music and computer graphic margin notes for good measure.
Do not miss this movie.
Traceroute (2016) Written and directed by: Johannes Grenzfurthner.
10 out of 10