Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2011)
Only Werner Herzog (Rescue Dawn, Grizzly Man) would make a feature-length documentary about doodles on a cave wall. But hold on, those aren’t just any doodles. In the recently discovered Chauvet caves in southern France, explorers discovered cave paintings from humankind’s prehistoric ancestors. The pristine paintings are 30,000 years old, shockingly twice as old as the next oldest cave painting. That means these remarkable displays are the oldest artwork in human history and a great insight into mankind’s beginning; Herzog dubs the cave “the place where the human soul was born.” Herzog was given special permission to film inside the cramped cave, and to share the experience he shot with 3-D cameras. The theatrical experience comes alive with the 3-D, watching the rippling contours of the cave walls, finding that our prehistoric artists actually used the topography of the cave intentionally (abstract thought from long ago). The movie itself is a bit dry and Herzog is prone to ramble on melodramatic pontification, but the real star is the art. It reopens our ideas of life 30,000 years prior. The artwork is also far more sophisticated than you may be assuming. Due to the limitations of shooting, Herzog relies on several talking heads to fill us in on historical/archeological contexts, but it’s never enough. You hunger for more information that the movie ultimately never dishes. But Herzog has given the world a cultural treat, an artifact to remind us about our shared history and the significance of art to humanity.
Nate’s Grade: B