Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Director Werner Herzog (right) is serenaded in "Cave of Forgotten Dreams."

Many are tired of the recent spate of 3-D movies.  Some moviegoers have had enough of the blurry picture and attendant headaches.  However, if this is what was required to arrive at Werner Herzog’s amazing, new 3-D documentary, “Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” it has been well worth it. 

“Cave of Forgotten Dreams” represents the most intelligent, appropriate and mature use of 3-D (and very high quality 3-D at that) that I have ever seen.   Herzog is probably the last director anyone would think of in regard to a gimmick like 3-D.  The filmmaker is associated with difficult to shoot, “on location” projects, such as “Aguirre the Wrath of God” (1972), “Fitzcarraldo” (1982) and the documentaries “Encounters at the End of the World” (2007) and, a favorite of mine, “My Best Fiend,” (1999).

In the Herzog narrated “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” the director has taken the 3-D format, and, from the opening shot, uses it to bring us into a world of “images of memories of forgotten dreams.”  Chauvet Cave, along the Rhone River, in France, contains the earliest works of art ever created, drawn by Paleolithic Man and dating back 32,000 years.  The cave was sealed by a rockslide 20,000 years ago and was not re-discovered until 1994.  It is considered to be one of the world’s most significant prehistoric art sites.  The rockslide created the perfect capsule to keep the paintings in such pristine condition that, at first, they were thought to be forgeries.  Access to the cave has been severely restricted so as not to hurt the paintings, as well as the cave’s delicate ecosystem.  Herzog was granted permission to enter Chauvet Cave with a small, four-person crew, to shoot for a limited time.

What Herzog discovers is a place where time and space have stood still, “a frozen flash of a moment in time.”  Incredible cave drawings made on curved walls portray animals that lived 32,000 years ago, including a now extinct cave lion.  The fact that the long ago artist, or artists, chose to paint on curved walls indicates a desire to give the drawings a three dimensional appearance, not unlike what Herzog is trying to accomplish by shooting the movie in 3-D – two artists, 32,000 years apart, with the same objective.   A painting of a bison has the animal drawn with eight legs to give the “proto” cinematic illusion that the animal is running.  Herzog observes that the shadows created by his crew’s lights on the walls are not unlike shadows that must have been created from the fire that the Paleolithic artist, or artists, used to light their rock wall canvases while painting.

In addition to the paintings, Chauvet Cave contains other elements that chronicle the passage of time. Herzog shows us stalagmites, formed over thousands of years, that were not present when the drawings were made.  In one area of the cave, two sets of footprints, side by side, indicate a young boy and a wolf.  Herzog wonders if the wolf was attacking the boy, or if the boy and wolf were friends walking side by side, or if the two sets of tracks were made thousands of years apart.

I have seen “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” twice.  The 3-D film has not given me a headache, quite the contrary.  The only effect this film has had on my brain, has been to fire my imagination by making me consider an appreciation of the passage of time, our culture’s place in the grander scheme of things, how much we have changed, and yet how little.

“Cave of Forgotten Dreams” opens on April 29.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Director Werner Herzog, 2010,

IFC Films,  90 minutes, not rated


About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on April 27, 2011, in Documentary, New. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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