Saturday, April 21, 2012


Cave of Forgotten Dreams
September 13, 2010 (Toronto International Film Festival)
April 29, 2011 (United States)

Written and Directed by Werner Herzog

"Cave of Forgotten Dreams" is a treasure and will be one of the most remarkable films you will ever behold (if you see it as it was meant to be seen). As always, Herzog brings his Werner to this doc, which means an avant-garde and thought-provoking dissection of a slice of our world and the thoughts beyond it.

For this outing Werner Herzog was given unprecedented access to shoot within the Chauvet Caves in southern France, a remarkable find of recent times that houses the oldest cave paintings known to man, dating over 30,000 years ago. In only 1994 they were discovered and have been studied and protected ever since. The public is not allowed in and so this documentary is as good a look inside as we've acquired or possibly ever will be. It is not just a "good look" however. While any video in that mountainside would have been a rare documentation, Herzog uses state-of-the-art technology and gizmos to capture the ins and outs of the Chauvet Caves, namely 3D.

When I first read on the interwebs that Herzog's next film was adding a dimension a pig might as well have flown by my window. The very thought that this foreign, art house filmmaker would use (let alone endorse) the technique that proved successful with "Avatar" and has since been prostituted and cheaply exploited across the board, defies likelihood and justice. Yet, he did just that. The result? Astonishing. Thinking back, I should not have put anything past this rogue legend. If ever there was a film that deserves 3D, this is that film, and thank the forces that be that it is. These are natural caves with flowing surfaces, forever-dripping stalactites, and other alien formations and remains. The cave paintings themselves are an incredible sight on these far-from-flat canvases.

The film is titled so because the caves house a rich history. In one fascinating scene a scientist shows us the history of one of the walls. They were first painted upon, many years later a cave bear scratched over it, many more years passed and another artist used it. One early painter bore a unique handprint and they were able to track down his work multiple times throughout the tubes. In a drawing of a rhinoceros-like creature we see the outline done multiple times as if creating the illusion of movement. Could this be the seeds of animation? We find the female body formed in an out of reach place. Herzog deducts that it was long before "Baywatch" that such figures have allured us. In his typical voice-over fashion Herzog meditates on what this all means for art history and for the primitive stirrings of the human soul. 

Herzog's perspective is unique enough, but when he brings us to places equally special the combination is bombastic. He has a knack for finding (and possibly directing) some of the more peculiar persons you'll ever meet in the movies. On one excursion he consults a master perfumer's nose to analyze the Chauvet Caves. You'll never guess where he ends up taking us in the documentary's post script and I still do not believe I could tell you why.

Werner Herzog Filmproduktion teamed up with musician Ernst Reijseger yet again for the film's soulful score. Of Reijseger Herzog has said, "He is a magnificent cellist, and he can do anything, anything on his cello. He could play the Civil War, the American Civil War on his cello." The minimalist score is combined with voice to a solemn effusion. In our initial descent into the caves a beating heart overtakes the soundtrack, not unlike the breathing in "2001: A Space Odyssey" we are sedated by our involuntary inner-workings as we explore another world.

Seeing this film in 3D is not an easy task to accomplish anymore. I was only able to do so last summer at the Arclight in Hollywood with my father. (He enjoyed the film. I heard him chuckle at right moments during the showing and afterwords he appropriately thought of the documentary as both "amazing" and "really weird." I was especially pleased that he was marveled by the 3D. Like me, he felt it was the best his corneas had ever been exposed to and we saw "Avatar" together.) With 3D growing as a home entertainment option I have hope that we will be able to see the "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" in all its glory again.


CONTENT: brief references to female anatomy and violence

Updated 3/6/13

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