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 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.
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.