Mar. 23rd, 2011

briarwood: (ZenFen Crane)
Last night I was at a special screening of Cave of Forgotten Dreams. It's a film that's something between a work of art and a documentary: Werner Herzog was given access to film inside the Chauvet Cave in the south of France - an almost untouched treasure of paleolithic art.

The film is in 3D, and though I agree with Herzog that it's the best way to see the caves, that media has it's problems. The conditions they were filming in were very restricted: they had only six days, and couldn't be inside the cave for more than four hours each day. They couldn't carry loads of heavy equipment so it's all hand-held cameras. Particularly in the first half of the film, this makes it very difficult to watch. I got a hell of a headache, partly caused by the camera shake and partly because as always with 3D, I kept trying to focus on the wrong part of the images. After a while I just took the 3D glasses off and watched without them except when the camera was focussed on something I wanted to see clearly.

Honestly, it's not a particularly good film. The narration is good, and most of the interviews are informative and fascinating (although they don't explore the subject in much depth), but the rest of the soundtrack is really intrusive. There's this flute music and singing which I guess was meant to evoke the era but, well, basically it sucks. The film quality seems quite poor - I don't mean the stuff inside the cave, because there's a reason for that, but other things. And what Albino Mutant Crocodiles had to do with paleolithic art I have no idea.

But the cave is incredible and the cave paintings are magnificent; if you have any interest in the subject, it's totally worth the headache to see it in 3D. Years ago, I saw a documentary on medieval artworks, and I remember the documentary cited a particular icon as one of the earliest examples of perspective. Herzog's film totally disproves that. The artists who painted that cave, way back in the Stone Age, not only used perspective, they used animation. Those images move. And while some of them are fairly stylised, others are as realistic as anything painted by Rembrandt or Da Vinci.

More than that, it's an insight into a culture so very different from our own it's almost unbelievable. We think we understand those people; there's a lot written about goddess-worship and nature-worship and what we think they believed and thought and dreamed, but even inside that cave, immersed in what they believed and dreamed, we can't know. It feels like that old saw about quantum physics: if you think you understand it, you don't understand it. What this film gives us is a glimpse, no more than that, into a completely different way of being human. Watching, there were moments when I got it at a gut level, but never in a way I could ever put into words.

That, I think, is the genius of the film; in spite of all its faults, it still generates those fleeting moments of insight. This is not a film I'd recommend unless you care about the subject. But if you do, you've got to see it in 3D.
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