Ancient Art in 3-D
Director Werner Herzog provides us with a wonderful irony in Cave of Forgotten Dreams, for he uses the latest in cinematic technology to present what might be the oldest existing man-made visual art. He gained special permission to film the fantastic cave paintings in the Chauvet Cave in southern France, a location not accessible to the general public. To give us the best approximation of both the contours of the art on the walls of the cave and the sense of depth of the space inside, Herzog utilized 3-D cameras. Though it may seem funny to present an artistic documentary in 3-D, the result struck me as the most thoughtful use of 3-D I've yet witnessed.
By now Herzog is a thoroughly seasoned documentarian who often also uses his films as launching points for his observations and whimsically frank commentaries about the nature of humanity, artistic inspriation, and the world we live in. Cave of Forgotten Dreams is approached similarly, but perhaps with much more deserving reverence for its subject matter -- one senses that Herzog understands the great privilege he's been afforded to be allowed to film the images inside the cave, and he knows they should be the show's true stars. The first part of the film gives us introductions to the subject via his narration and comments, as well as interviews with researchers of the cave. Once we've become well-acquainted with what's inside, the movie reaches its high point with an extended set of shots that simply linger on the paintings, the cave walls, and all the details we can soak in -- all in 3-D.
This gives us plenty of room for thought, which is what Herzog assuredly encourages. He muses about what the original painters of 30,000 years ago might have been thinking. Interviews provide insight into how differently primitive man must have viewed the world, not just in beliefs or ideas, but in the all-encompassing sense of how one understands and perceives the universe, physically and spiritually. The film is a tonic for our fixed perspectives; it opens up the breadth of the human experience and should serve to make us feel smaller, confirming our place in the grand scheme of things. Or, at the very least, the paintings themselves can simply entrance the viewer, who may marvel at the basic artistic skill on display.
It may be true that Cave of Forgotten Dreams can't shake off a feeling of good-for-you stodginess, and it doesn't contain as much of Herzog's color as his other films do. However, that shouldn't detract much from the feelings of wonder and awe evoked, especially when the images are speaking for themselves. As moviegoers, we should definitely take advantage of this film's availabilty, since we will likely never be able to see this amazing place in person. Thanks to Herzog for giving us the next best thing.
(Released by IFC Films and rated "G" for general audiences.)
Review also posted at ww.windowtothemovies.com.