Published Jul 07, 2011Only Werner Herzog could make cave drawings profound for 90 minutes ― in 3D, no less. The Bavarian master (Encounters at the End of the World, Grizzly Man) takes us on an exclusive tour inside France's Chauvet Cave, where the world's oldest cave drawings have been discovered in pristine condition. Credit a fallen rock face that sealed the cave and preserved its 30,000-year-old drawings of horses, bears and other creatures from the Neanderthal age.
Given the cave's fragility and dangerous levels of carbon dioxide and radon, the French minister of culture limited Herzog's access to a crew of four, including handling lighting himself, using compact 3D cameras they assembled inside the cave, lights that emitted no heat and strict rules forbidding anyone from touching a wall, floor or ceiling. And they had to traverse two-foot wide walkways.
Was it worth it? The 3D captures the simple, but beautiful drawings in ways that conventional cinema could not. The key reason is that the line drawings were made on curved surfaces. 3D brings out their texture, particularly the drawings of multiple legs on a beast that create the illusion of movement, which Herzog compares to early cinematography.
As found in his previous documentary about the Antarctic, Herzog interviews scientists, offering context such as the inhabitants of modern-day France dressed like Inuits, that a dry cold gripped the Earth, that they hurled spears at wild horses and played melodic flutes made from the bones of large birds.
Herzog narrates in a typically elegant essay form, waxing poetic about the spiritual significance of these drawings, which he likens to the earliest expressions of the human soul. That may sound grandiose on paper, but coupled with the sweeping shots of the cave drawings and Ernst Reijseger's soaring orchestral score, Herzog's observations are profound.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams is a wondrous experience. (Kinosmith)