Saturday, September 17, 2011

Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2011)


The 31st Atlantic Film Festival

It still seems weird that Werner Herzog shot a film in 3D. And it was weird--filing into a sold-out movie theatre with a bunch of elderly cinephiles and middle-aged hipsters, overhearing pretentious discussions about Herzog's "ecstatic truth" in Aguirre, or whatever, and donning 3D glasses to watch a documentary, of all things. But despite the 3D aspect, this was, in the end, a very Werner Herzog-like Werner Herzog film. It had everything you've come to expect from him: a remote location, difficult to shoot in; odd, eccentric characters, mugging for the camera; and Herzog's incomparable narration.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams provides the audience with a tour of the Chauvet Cave, where, in 1994, the earliest cave paintings in human history were discovered--carbon-dating shows that some of them are 35,000 years old (take that, Creationists!). While I certainly don't know much about cave paintings, the ones I remember seeing were always pretty primitive-looking; just a step above stick figures, really. These paintings, on the other hand, are quite involved, and quite graceful; the artists understood shading, for one, and they attempted, in different ways, to capture motion in their still images.

And I have to admit that the 3D format really worked, at least for the scenes in the cave. The artists used the shape of the cave when making their paintings, so it makes sense that Herzog would use a medium that allowed the audience to really see these shapes and contours. Plus, it gives you an uncanny sense of the size and depth of the place. As an added bonus, at times it also gives you the sense of being crowded-in or surrounded; if you were claustrophobic, I actually think you'd have a very hard time sitting through parts of this (the fact that I was relegated to the fourth row probably added to this effect). I couldn't help but get the idea that The Descent needs to be remade in 3D. I imagine that I'm the only one clamoring for that, though.

Like I mentioned, you also get your requisite Herzog eccentrics. The three main culprits is an Einstein-looking anthropologist (or archaeologist--I forget) who tries, unsuccessfully, to reproduce Neolithic hunting techniques; a master perfumer, who attempts to locate caves by smelling them out; and another scientist (I think) decked out head-to-toe in furs, who plays "The Star-Spangled Banner" on a bone flute.

I will say, though, that there are moments when Herzog seems to almost descend into self-parody. Near the end, we're introduced to a crocodile habitat, featuring some mutated albino crocodiles. And this part is, according to Herzog himself, entirely fictitious. Whatever the case, Herzog wonders aloud what the albino mutant crocodiles would think of the cave paintings. He asks, “Are we truly the crocodiles who look back into the abyss of time?"

That's some wild shit, Werner.

1 comment:

Ash said...

Yeah, so I had tickets to Picnicface's ROLLER TOWN, which opened the film festival, but then I (bizarrely) decided to go to a lecture instead. Wrong choice. Apparently, it was great. Picnicface not only has the movie coming out this year, but a TV show and a book as well.