The cleverest image in helmer Tiffany Shlain’s “Connected” is also the most concise: the classic “Ascent of Man” illustration, in which ape evolves, stage by stage, to become an erect homo sapiens — and then, in this case, descends into a human sitting at a laptop. “What does it mean to be connected in the 21st century?” Shlain asks in narrating her film, which is reportedly making use of all manner of new-media distribution avenues, but is too self-indulgent and rife with banal observations to make many inroads among auds not being held hostage in a classroom.
Shlain talks a lot about the film she was going to make before her father was diagnosed with cancer, and she talks a lot about the one she’s making, but she never owns up to the one she really wants to make, which is about herself and her family. Half of “Connected” (which has been subtitled in press materials as “An Autoblogography About Love, Death & Technology”) is a virtual celebration of her father, the late brain surgeon and author Leonard Shlain. He’s a warm presence, and because he dominated his daughter’s intellectual life, he also dominates the film.
Alternating with the Shlain family story is the voice of Peter Coyote, atop a parade of archival footage and platitudes, delivering the equivalent of a sixth-grade lesson in human history, from primordial ooze to the Internet — the latter of which Shlain says is affecting right-left brain function in the same ways that the development of language, trade and mass media have affected it before.
Be that as it may, “Connected” is a movie made out of whole cloth — there is no action apart from a couple of interviews with the elder Shlain, a few onscreen appearances by his daughter and some homemovie sequences. Everything else has been concocted by animator/art director Stefan Nadelman, who makes consistently creative and clever choices of art and archives, the result being a highly attractive visual work.
But Shlain has less of a grip on her material. Her perception of what constitutes new ideas of “connectedness” seems tortured into being. For instance, a beehive suggests Marxism; shared, communal humanity connotes love, which, by logical progression, leads to religion. Deep it’s not.