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Cave of Forgotten Dreams
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CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS, a breathtaking new documentary from the incomparable Werner Herzog (Encounters at the End of the World, Grizzly Man), follows an exclusive expedition into the nearly inaccessible Chauvet Cave in France, home to the most ancient visual art known to have been created by man. One of the most successful documentaries of all time, CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS is an unforgettable cinematic experience that provides a unique glimpse of pristine artwork dating back to human hands over 30,000 years ago -- almost twice as old as any previous discovery.
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The cave which contains the paintings was discovered by three French speleologists on December 18, 1994 in the Ardeche gorge in southern France. The cave is near the famous Pont d’Arc, a natural stone arch that spans the river, which is popular with canoeists and kayakers in the summer. I should know, I’ve been one on several occasions. The cave is named after one of the three speleologists: Jean Marie Chauvet. The cave is in excellent condition since its original entrance had been sealed off by a rock slide approximately 20,000 years ago. It was found by examining the air escaping from vents in the ground. The original access was through a hole that one person could barely squeeze through.
Herzog is again “clicking on all cylinders” with this film. The tonality of his narration exudes “wisdom,” and more importantly, so too does the content. Access to the cave is severely restricted due to the damage that humans can cause, deliberately at times, inadvertently, at other times, simply by their breathing. Herzog is able to obtain permission for his limited crew to film the cave, so that this important patrimony can be appreciated by all of us. The film is in English, and such is the universality of the language, that portions show French and Germans speaking to each other in English. In some cases, the English is dubbed when a French person is speaking.
The paintings are so fresh looking that their authenticity was originally questioned. Microscopic overgrowth that would take thousands of years proved that they were original. The most famous panel contains four horses’ heads. There are also lions, rhinos, and bison. There appears to be a minotaur, the partial body of a female, with the head of a bison. Unlike the paintings in the cave at Lascaux, there is virtually no use of color in the paintings. Herzog notes the efforts to depict the motion of the animals, including 8 legs on a rhino, a type of “protocinema,” as he calls it. Another fascinating aspect of the paintings is that some images overlay others, and via carbon-dating, they appear to have been made 5,000 years apart, longer than the time that separates us from ancient Troy. Archeologists believe that humans never lived in the cave; it was simply visited for ceremonial purposes. And it was much colder back then, with much lower sea levels that made it possible to walk from the sites of present day London to Paris, since there was no channel. “Global warming” must have been an aspiration to the painters in this cave.
Extensive mapping of the cave has been performed, via 127 scanner stations, involving 1800 hours of topography. At Lascaux, an amazingly realistic replica of the cave was built, so humans can tour the “faux” cave, preserving the original. I’ve toured it, and found the movie on how it was constructed to be utterly fascinating. Herzog mentions, in his movie of 2011, that a similar replica would be constructed for the Chauvet cave, and it was opened in 2015. Those many hours of computer mapping of the original had to be essential for the latter project.
The last few minutes of the film are the painted images, without sound or narration, an impressive way of stressing their significance in the silence of the caves. Once again, Herzog has produced a richly informative movie about one intriguing aspect of the world around us. 5-stars.
In this documentary, Werner Herzog takes viewers on a rare visit to the interior of Chauvet Cave, in southern France, to ponder the significance of the 30,000-year-old works of art there. The Chauvet Cave paintings depict lions, horses, and other Ice Age mammals. They are beautiful works of art, with fine detail, oftentimes utilizing the contours of the cave for dramatic effect, and some of them clearly meant to indicate the subjects' movement. These are not the crude sketches usually associated with the art of "cave men." Along with the paintings are bones and footprints of Ice Age fauna, and even a footprint of a child from thousands of years ago. The cave is exquisitely preserved, and officials want to keep it that way. Few visitors are allowed inside the cave, and Herzog's time in the caverns is both exclusive and brief.
Why did these pre-historic people go through the effort to paint these animals, and what do these images mean? The filmmakers and the experts they interview can wonder and speculate, but leave the viewer with the impression that we will probably never really know. And not only is the subject inherently fascinating, and the music ethereal and haunting, but Herzog truly makes the viewer feel as if he or she is part of the crew, descending into the caverns to peer back in time. It is utterly enthralling.
Unfortunately, it is also a bit silly at times. At one point, an expert perfume sniffer (yes, really) attempts to sniff out new cave openings. He apparently doesn't succeed at this, but he wanders through the caverns, treating the viewer to his thoughts on what the cave might have smelled like when the artists were there. In another scene, when musing on the hypothetical eroticism of the one human figure in the cave's art (an alleged depiction of a woman I, and many others in my group, could not see), Herzog reinforces a German stereotype by mentioning TV's "Baywatch", as if it is the modern epitome of sexiness. The music and narration are also sometimes overly dramatic. Finally, I thought the reviewer who said the film ended with albino alligators floating in water from a nuclear power plant was joking. He wasn't.
So yes, "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" is a good/bad movie. It's captivating, haunting, and thought-provoking, but it is also unintentionally funny. It's also about 90 minutes long, and, while I greatly enjoyed that hour-and-a-half, I can see how that might lose some people who don't have an intense interest in the topic. Recommended for enthusiasts of art, anthropology, and albino alligators.
Consider, for example, something very simple-say a drawing of an animal. You would perceive it simply as a visual object, but these
people were great syntheizers. A line was not simply a visual line, but according to an almost infinite variety of distinctions and
divisions, it would also represent certain sounds that would be automatically translated.
An observer could automatically translate the sounds before he bothered with the visual image, if he wanted to. In what would
appear to be a drawing of an animal, then, the entire history or background of the animal might also be given. Curves, angles, lines all
represented, beside their obvious objective function in a drawing, a highly complicated series of variations in pitch, tone and value;
or if you prefer, invisible words.
From this website if you want to read further: https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/sethquotes/conversations/topics/748