Caving with Werner Herzog

August 18, 2011 | By

Tumak: I see horses. Many horses / Loana: Always horses, never me. Why does Tumak not see wife Loana anymore? Is it too much sour bear milk? Smoking too much Moary Jane?

Director Werner Herzog likes to travel. He likes to climb mountains, likes to spelunk, and likes to explore things firsthand because the experience of discovering + filming clearly enrich his life, and if you have some affection for the crazy German, there’s a peculiar joy in seeing the prolific filmmaker transfer his sense of wonderment directly to audiences through visuals, and that calming voice that’s part stream of consciousness, part poetry, and contains thought bubbles of mistranslated English which one usually understands (you know what he’s trying to say), but on occasion have no idea what dimension he’s trying to channel to Mother Earth.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams [M] (2010) is very straightforward, but Herzog does labour on the same panorama of ancient images, and then there’s that coda where albino reptiles might one day time-travel and ponder the sketches of Paleolithic man.

Or, something like that.

However, it all works, because Herzog lets the art speak for itself, and perhaps more than anything, the doc reinforces how little humans have changed. Our brains got bigger, we no longer need to eat bugs, and we have a method of changing undergarments to feel fresh (“washing”), but the desire to create art, and to do it with personal aesthetics is what makes the doc so engrossing; the artists who sketched, shaded, and filled in sprawling depictions of wildlife in age-old France did so using techniques most of us never figured the ancients could develop on their own or at least so long ago.

Co-produced by The History Channel, Herzog was apparently given free reign to structure the film as he saw fit. Barred is the fast editing typical of most docs, and in place we hover along the walls, admire the art, learn fascinating facts, see them again, are told of their delicate status, and see them one more time in a lengthy montage because Herzog’s quartet film crew may be the last to ever film the art in such detail. The repetition of the images reminds us of their importance, and like re-viewing a painting, we catch finer details that may have been overlooked as we concentrated on the caves’ history, and the few known facts of ancient man.

Filmed in Dolby 3D, the process is intelligently used to the point where repeated returns to the cave convince us we’re actually in that cave system, and not once but twice I leaned to the side for a better look at an outcropping, even though I knew I was watching a movie. That’s not a clever trick, but the kind of reaction a great filmmaker can elicit if he / she knows the value of the subject, and how to treat it with finesse.

He may be a little eccentric, but Herzog knows when to step back and let his subject do the talking, even if its creators have been silent for 32,000 years.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams has been held over for a third time at the TIFF Bell Lightbox for yet another week, ending Thursday August 25th. Herzog will be in Toronto for TIFF in September. I do hope someone will tap him on the shoulder and tell him how well his little 3D cave movie has done in North America, because it’s pure word of mouth and a curiosity in ancient art that have sustained his little film far longer than your average shallow Hollywood blockbuster.



Mark R. Hasan, Editor ( Main Site / Mobile Site )



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