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In 1994, a group of scientists discovered a cave in Southern France perfectly preserved for over 20,000 years and containing the earliest known human paintings. Knowing the cultural significance that the Chauvet Cave holds, the French government immediately cut-off all access to it, save a few archaeologists and paleontologists. But documentary filmmaker, Werner Herzog, has been given limited access, and now we get to go inside examining beautiful artwork created by our ancient ancestors around 32,000 years ago. He asks questions to various historians and scientists about what these humans would have been like and trying to build a bridge from the past to the present. Written by
In a forbidden recess of the cave, there's a footprint of an eight-year-old boy next to the footprint of a wolf. Did a hungry wolf stalk the boy? Or did they walk together as friends? Or were their tracks made thousands of years apart? We'll never know.
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Gosh. I sincerely love the commitment that Herzog has made to a cinematic life, and I will follow every chapter.
And I am deeply invested in the creative history of man, and what we have of his/her art.
Also but quite independently there are times when my soul is ready for full on German romanticism. The music of Reijseger is relatively new to me, but I find it haunting, beautiful.
And another thread that sews me together is sorting through the mysteries of how we know what we know about the past and particularly how we know anything at all of ourselves.
But I am not prepared to smoosh all these things together, and that's what my companion Herzog asks me to do. Worse, it is as if he drags us through this as a sequence of motivational posters.
In previous comments, I have noted that often worthwhile artists should just shut up. Where their art opens worlds, sometimes their person just seems dumber than chocolate. The problem here is that Herzog knew that he would not be surprised, had a very narrow set of options so far as what to show, and so retreats to telling us of his own discovery. He gives us a story that is dull, articulated through what he thinks are engaging souls and using often discredited anthropological notions.
(At the end I am not joking he warns that nuclear-mutated albino alligators may threaten the cave and their unique dreams and that perhaps we are those very beasts.)
For those who might not know: the cave is thousands of years earlier than others. It is not revolutionary; if it is as old as claimed (there is some controversy) there is remarkable art from the same period and locale just not cave paintings. But the paintings carry mysteries... and some seem amazingly modern and engaging on terms we can reach.
Who made them and why? Who was the audience and is that even the right question? Where did these masters practice so that the small moments of drawing yielded such accomplishment? What was erased so that the paintings we see could be made? What do the child's footprints mean? Was it really 5,000 years of creation and how did that change? Where were the entrances, really? Light, what about the light?
I spent a lot of time working to understand the Dead Sea Scrolls. The problem is that there are so many presumptions brought by loud thinkers that they have possibly plowed the truth into oblivion. Israelis want to validate a certain history fundamentalists want to hide certain legacies everybody with a skill or insight wants that insight to dominate. I recognize that here.
I believe that we are quite different than the souls who made these paintings, radically so. Radically so. The magic is not in discovering ancient artists like me who speak to me as they intended. Rather the magic is that our reach is so vast, it can swallow artifacts of an intent we cannot fathom. No logic can help. Science drifts us away, melting truth rather than freezing it.
There is no logic at all, and surely not Bavarian, that can clarify.
The beauty in this film comes to me indirectly. On the DVD is a film about the film score, written by a Dutch cellist. The cave inspires Herzog. Herzog inspires this cellist/composer. The composer inspires his wife, who we briefly see with their child, the celestially named Ea. Looking at these two (mother and child) gave me more about the cave than images of the cave did.
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
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