...a unity of eyes and firelight...

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

In Film, Reviews on April 8, 2011 at 11:09 pm

Werner Herzog, 2010

Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams was my first 3D film since Beowulf. And it was a cracker. The imagery was immediately arresting, even before we entered the cave. The opening shot - a camera roving down a row of crops towards the cliff face in the distance - reminded one of the little crosses of the graveyards of those who fought in WW2. Herzog began his voiceover and already we knew this film would search, and be searching.

So many questions were asked, about art, about history, about how to create a story, and if one ever can create a true story, how to respond to art, how to think of our forebears. Like all the best films, many of these questions were left incompletely answered, or not at all. The paintings themselves were treated with religious reverence by Herzog, with the patient, still shots and slow panning to which we have become accustomed in his films.

The haunting choral soundtrack was pure Herzog, reminiscent of Aguirre or the start of Nosferatu. This reverence was clearly a reflection of that shown by the discoverers and investigators of the cave, and a link was drawn here with the actual artists. At first this was done implicitly through discussion of how little time one could spend, how few people could enter, how protected the cave was. This was not just a cave, it was a church. Silence within the church, and let us listen to our hearts beating.

Finally, the link was made explicit by revealing that the original artists may have used the cave as a temple, as evidenced by a central rock on which had been placed an animal's skull, like an altar.

Herzog avoided drawing too many such conclusions - the story here was not the artists', it was... it is ours. The story is in fact in the fascination of having all these props, these inspiring works, which we can only connect through fiction, not through history. What does this mean for us, for our story?

What will the crocodiles think five thousand years from now?

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