(No longer in theaters)
Apr 29, 2011
Werner Herzog penetrates the surface of reality more deeply when he projects his own obsessions onto the landscape. In his 3-D documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams, he takes his cameras into France’s Chauvet Cave, which is full of crystalline structures, naturally mummified mammals, and, far more important, cave paintings dating back 32,000 years, the oldest we have. Access to the cave is rarely granted, and Herzog spends a lot of time preparing us for his (and our) big entrance. He narrates in hushed tones, as if afraid his voice in the recording studio will damage the fragile atmosphere. But he does have a great voice, its German vowel sounds adding hammy depth. And the 3-D makes the crystals more tactile, our own presence more palpable—although I wonder if the space would seem even more mysterious, more pregnant with ancient spirits, without it.
Herzog has a nutty, ingenious thesis: that the stick-figure paintings are a magical precursor to cinema. Hardly “primitive,” the work of these artists shows a grasp of chiaroscuro and suggest motion. It also suggests an awareness of a world beyond the “real,” a spiritual or shadow realm. After these musings comes a clip of Fred Astaire dancing with his shadow, the juxtaposition elating rather than ludicrous.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams is sometimes frozen by Herzog’s awe. But it’s hard not to love him for always trying to look beyond the surface of things, to find a common chord in the landscape of dreams.