Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Cave of Forgotten Dreams 3D

Werner Herzog: Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010).

CA/US/FR/DE/GB © 2010 Creative Differences, Inc. PC also: History Films / Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication / Arte France / Werner Herzog Filmproduktion / More4. P: Erik Nelson, Adrienne Ciuffo, Dave Harding, Julian Hobbs, David McKillop.
    D+SC+narrated by: Werner Herzog. DP: Peter Zeitlinger. M: Ernst Reijseger. ED: Joe Bini, Maya Hawke. Original in English; even the Frenchmen speak English.
    A 2K DCP in 3D XpanD viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (3D), 28 March 2012.

La Grotte Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc was discovered by three cave explorers in 1994. They found what are held to be the oldest known cave drawings, engravings and paintings, dating from two periods, ca 30.000-27.000 BP (before present) and ca 35.000-32.000 BP.

Professional preservation measures were taken at once, and entry was almost totally forbidden except for scientists for brief visits. The French Government let Werner Herzog document the cave for a movie, and there are plans of a replica cave for the general audience.

The solution to make the documentary in 3D seems strange but is actually well judged because the ice-age image-makers used the three dimensions of the cave walls for their images. The images on the walls have sometimes a sculptural character. Technical experts had to develop new techniques for documentary 3D film-making because special effects could not be used for the documentation of the cave drawings, engravings and paintings. There is also a 3D animation sequence about the total structure of the cave.

There is an intimate diary and essay format in Werner Herzog's movie. We discover the cave and its surroundings from his viewpoint, listening to his reactions. From the matter-of-fact account a sense of awe arises. "The hand of the spirit is painting. The man is a part of the spirit". Herzog is amazed at the 5000 year difference between the oldest and the newest drawings, engravings and paintings in the cave. "We are looking at the abyss of time".

Our screenings were sold out, there was a high intensity in the reaction of the audience, and there was an applause after the movie. People were amused at Herzog's omniscient narration.

I was struck by the shabby quality of the colour in the beginning of the movie, but the palette was probably adequate to the darkness of the cave. The cave drawings, engravings and paintings look stunning in the movie. The 2K 3D projection fails to project the solidness of the mountains and the vitality of nature. But it is strong enough to convey the spirituality of the cave images. I had to sit on the very first row in the sold-out cinema, and the screen filled my field of vision perfectly. I had no problem with the 3D even from that seat.

The drawings, engravings and paintings (the images are mostly drawings) depict almost nothing else but animals. Among the animals represented are the mammoth, the horse, the aurochs, the bison, the megaceros, the reindeer, other cervidae, the cave lion, the panther, other felines, the rhinoceros, the cave bear, the owl, the cave hyena, and the ibex; and there are also butterfly- and beetle- or spider-like signs. There are also abstract markings (lines, dots) (perhaps pointillistic animals, partly erased). There are no full human figures, but there red hand prints and stencils. Towards the end of the cave area there is an image of the pubic triangle next to a feline figure, opposite to which there is a panel of two vulvas. The oldest marks on the wall are claw marks of cave bears. Humans never lived in the Chauvet cave. It had been an animal cave, and there are a lot of bones of many different animals, several of them of extinct species, on the floor. There are no human bones there.

Fascinated by the movie I re-read a favourite book of mine, Arnold Hauser's The Social History of Art, which starts on page one with Paleolithic cave drawings, engravings and paintings. Hauser is struck by the magisterial naturalism of the cave images and the ability of the early image-makers to convey fleeting gestures in the manner of the best impressionists. The images were created by tribes of hunters who were good observers with sharp eyes and whose senses were totally directed outwards to concrete reality. Judging by the high quality of the images Hauser writes that they were not made by dilettanti but by trained professionals.

The images were not made to be seen but to exist. They were not made for aesthetic communication or decoration because they were drawn and painted in hard-to-find caves and hidden in their darkest corners. They had a magical function. The artist-magician captured the spirit, the soul, of the animal in the image for hunting purposes. The magic view of the world was monistic, sensualistic, concrete, centred on the life of this world, portraying things true to life and reality.

Werner Herzog has made his film about cave images that are at least 10.000 years older than the ones that Arnold Hauser could study, but Hauser's points seem valid also with the Chauvet cave. There is also a palimpsest quality (images on top of each other although there is plenty of room on the cave walls) that seems to confirm that these images were not meant to be displayed. There are doubled lines for legs to express movement like in the paintings of Giacomo Balla. There were no figures of hunters or weapons on these walls.

Supreme value was given to magic images that were not meant to be seen and that even we may now also only see via reproductions.

The movie is proof that talent for great art (although the concept did not exist 30.000 years ago) is innate to humans. The official Chauvet website linked above is worth visiting as a complement to this movie of lasting value.

1 comment:

Anton von Monroe said...

Herzog's masterpiece has had about half a dozen screenings in Finland to date. Every single one sold out. Which makes it bewildering that distributors have all passed it.