Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010) dir. Werner Herzog
By Alan Bacchus
I can’t believe I didn’t know this. In the opening moments of Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Werner Herzog’s delightfully monotone German voice describes to us the discovery of one of the most influential archaeology sites of our time – a cave in France containing pristine, undisturbed cave paintings from 32,000 years ago (that’s THREE zeroes), which makes them the oldest recorded drawings/artwork of man.
Herzog gets us into the caves and shows us in 3-D these phenomenal works of art. I say works of art because the techniques used by these Cro-Magnon men and women were astounding. First of all, the journey into the caves is a story unto itself. After moving through a dead-bolted steel door with small mobile cameras and a minimal crew, Herzog travels down a sharp cliff and then along a 3-foot wide steel walkway in order to not disturb the crystallized foundation of the cave. The whole cave is a work of art – the stalactites, the bones and the skulls of extinct animals, including bears, tigers and other creatures.
On the walls are a series of intricately painted mosaics of animals using the contours of the cave walls to emphasize movement. As usual, Herzog uses his easy-going cinematic style to make even the most dry, perfunctory information interesting and important. But Herzog has never been one to settle just for the information. It’s fun watching the scientists and archaeologists, who have spent as many as 20 years mapping the caves and studying the drawings, discussing what’s in the souls of the artists, or whether they dream of the painting.
What Herzog really wants is his audience to look beyond the art and into the minds of the artists, to imagine their dreams and the spiritual aspect that separates man from animal and what connects people across the ages.
The 3-D is hit and miss. The low-rent handheld camera creates a nauseating swooshing effect, which loses all of its 3-D depth. But when Herzog is able to put his camera on some sticks, we can really enjoy the stereoscopic space. Unfortunately, there’s not enough light within the caves to create definition and perspective as such, so it’s not the best showcase of the medium.
Nonetheless, the film is another one in Herzog’s phenomenal string of successes, doc or drama.