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Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Submitted by Commandrea on May 4, 2011 – 8:17 pmNo Comment
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Cave of Forgotten Dreams brings the viewer up close and personal with cave paintings believed to be the oldest in existence and dated at 30,000 years old. Filmmaker Werner Herzog got permission to make four one-visits to a cave system in the south of France that was long ago sealed to tourists and even made off-limits to scientists. The very breath of people causes mold to grow on the walls.

Otherwise these walls are alive with drawings of animals that look like as if Picasso, if not an Upper Paleolithic Person could’ve done them. A flute made of bone can be played in the pentatonic scale. One scientist illustrates this by playing a song with a replica instrument the melody of which you will instantly recognize.  A handprint all throughout the vast cave system shows that the painter had a bent little finger.

Herzog narrates with his usual sense of understatement. “We have a wolf paw print and a boy’s foot print next to each other,” Herzog mentions in a casual manner. “Was the wolf stalking him, were they friends, were they made thousands of years apart? We don’t know.”

Many of the paintings are on curved walls and Herzog’s camera examines them in a positively spiritual way. The background music is a combination of neo-classical sounds and medieval voices. Even after the cave has been thoughtfully covered Herzog moves on to a nuclear power plant twenty miles away and the fact that some water from a nearby source that would be used to cool down rods in an emergency has been diverted to a another nearby makeshift tropical environment. Here Herzog captures the gaze of a small alligator and wonders aloud if this reptile is not the doppelganger of some creature that frequented the cave in ages past.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams was specifically shot on portable equipment. Each film crewmember brought a light (powered by a battery belt) and had to enter the cave through a vertical drop entrance. The film is shot in 3D in the truest sense and quite frankly because of Herzog’s use of space it’s one of the best films ever lensed for 3D. All the composition emphasizes images in front of your eyes and in the distance. Herzog makes the darkened interior of a cave produce a cornucopia of lighting effects. Plus there are specific shots that emphasize the 3D whether it’s one scientist demonstrating how the Paleolith threw a spear, or the opening sequence where the camera moves slowly through rows of bushes and we can feel bugs in out teeth and depth to the movement. Then there’s that shot of the alligator’s eyes and I’m reminded of the weird crocodile point-of-view shot Herzog used in Bad Lieutenant Port of Call – New Orleans. Cave of Forgotten Dreams opens in Houston this Friday at the AMC Studio 30.

- Michael Bergeron

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