ROCK ART: Magical Cave Drawings Found and Filmed in France

Art, Film, Germania June 23, 2011

A week or so ago I saw a wonderful film at the Sydney Film Festival called Cave Of Forgotten Dreams, a documentary filmed in 3-D made by the German director Werner Herzog, who made  Aguirre, the Wrath of God with music by Popol Vuh.  The film was shot in a cave in the south of France at a place called Chauvet. On the walls of the cave are hundreds of drawings of animals in charcoal and ochre that are between 30,000 and 33,000 years old. These were found in 1994 by Jean-Marie Chauvet whose name has been given to the cave. The drawings are both beautiful and skillfully executed which suggests that there must have been some accomplished artists around 30,000 years ago, artists who sped through their artistic development from crawling to flying status.

A panoramic view of part of a cave wall.

A panoramic view of part of a cave wall.

A small crew of four with only the amount of equipment they could carry, including Herzog who operated the lights, was granted permission to film inside the cave by the French Ministry of Culture. It’s good that happened because the cave is now closed to the public. Despite being restricted to narrow metal pathways laid on the cave floor and short periods of access inside the cave the filming is fabulous. The cave walls aren’t always flat so the 3-D technology takes care of that, displaying the depth of the substrate on which the drawings sit. In some places there are drawings that appear to have been made on top of earlier drawings possibly made many years apart. Due to the uneven surface an curvature of the cave walls these are not 2-D drawings.

A closer view of some of the drawings.

A closer view of some of the drawings.

Herzog captures the eerie magic of the moment when the cave must have been lit by burning torches the flickering of which has the effect of making the drawings appear to move like a primitive animation. This is aided by the fact that some of the drawings have been made on top of each other but not necessarily in registration with the result that a 4 legged animal seems to be 8 legged. Notions of animation, theatre and the birth of cinema come to mind, as Herzog humbly suggests. He interviews several experts and manages to inject a cheeky humour into the subject. And I haven’t even mentioned the albino crocodiles!

This post was first published on the Doctor Comictopus blog.

Doctor Comictopus avatar for Michael Hill Ph.D (a.k.a. Doctor Comics) designed by Michelle Park.

Doctor Comictopus alias for Michael Hill Ph.D (a.k.a. Doctor Comics) designed by Michelle Park.


Creator and former Director of the Master of Animation course at the University of Technology, Sydney, Michael Hill has a Master's degree in animation and a PhD in comics, prompting his introduction on ABC Radio as “Doctor Comics”. A member of the editorial boards of the International Journal of Comic Art, the Comics Grid Journal of Comics Scholarship and the Advisory Committee of the Q-Collection Comic Book Preservation Project, he has delivered public lectures on Anime and Manga and held academic directorships in Interdisciplinary Studies, Design and Visual Communication. Having donated his collection of research materials on Australian alternative comics to the National Library of Australia he is now active in the artistic domain and creating his own graphic novel Blotting Paper.

Comments 4

  1. heejung says on July 6, 2011

    Oooooh I didn’t think about the flickering lights making the drawings look like they’re in motion before but after reading your comment, it’s so true! This film was truly a magical experience for me. So glad they fixed the technical problem in the beginning. I would’ve cried if I didn’t see it! 🙂

    • Doctor Comics says on July 7, 2011

      Thanks for the comment Heejung. I appreciate that. Yes the effect of the lights seemed a little like those early, flickery home movie film projectors of my childhood(before your time, ha-ha!). They used to run a bit slow and the image was jerky. I loved your review of the film and the enthusiasm and strength of feeling that you expressed in it. If you want to guest-blog it here you are most welcome.

  2. kayrodriques says on March 3, 2016

    This is a really great film and yes, the idea that this is/was early animation is mind blowing!

    • Doctor Comics says on March 3, 2016

      Cheers Kay! It was a good Film Festival film. And I’m pleased you like the animation connection. Another film of Herzog’s that I really admire is Aguirre The Wrath Of God.

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