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Herzog’s “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” Reviewed by Guest Blogger Ron Wells

June 7, 2011

A few weeks ago, my yoga teacher, Bryan Legere of the Ventura Yoga Studio, made an announcement after class that we should all go see the film that one of our fellow students and a former instructor at the studio had produced. Beyond the fact that many of us knew Adrienne, and that her film was playing in town, he said it was an amazing, must see film. Moreover, he said it was the only film he’d seen that was worth viewing in 3D.

His description and recommendation had me curious and anxious to see the film, in 3 D if possible; the topic itself was already for interest to me. Then I received the following glowing review from my friend Ron Wells:

To begin with, just try and grasp how long ago 32,000 years was. Now, try and imagine artists creating exhilarating works of art during that time, in that world. And then try to imagine those works on the rough interiors of a cave’s walls. It is almost unfathomable.

To see the documentary, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, is to enter a world that connects time and space, art and spirituality; a world so spectacular it defies comprehension.  In 1994, three explorers came upon one of the lost treasures of human existence. And it is here director Werner Herzog (Aguirre, the Wrath of God, Fitcarraldo, Grizzly Man) has been allowed by the French government to take his cameras into a cave that only a few scientists are allowed access to.

For the cave art in Chauvet Caves in Southern France, above where the Ardeche River flowed, will begin to decompose if large numbers of people are allowed inside the cave itself. Thus, we get this film as a record of the one of the most remarkable discoveries ever uncovered in this world.

Herzog was allowed 6 days, filming only 4 hours per day, to capture as much of this awe inspiring magic as he could. For on the walls of this cave, again, over 32,000 years old, is artwork unlike anything one could ever imagine. Preserved by a rockslide that occurred about 20,000 years ago, the cave is so well preserved that it provides nothing but wonder and astonishment.

Theaters are showing this both in regular and 3-D formats, and if possible, one should try to see it in 3-D if for no other reason than to see how these paleolithic artists used the contours of the cave’s walls to create their masterpieces. For here, after scraping the walls, these early humans created pictures of animals that are breathtaking in their preciseness, power and beauty.

Four horses’ heads, drawn by one artist, demand attention, each one different, eyes and mouths perfect, some in different positions than others. Cave bears, lions, antelope, all mingle amidst the caves sides. Some are drawn with eight legs, providing the sensation of movement. Rhino-like creatures appear to be moving, fighting. Butterflies and insects are drawn in little crevices. All the drawings appear to have been drawn in the back of the cave so that light and shadow seem to play on, change, and accentuate the various drawings.

Animal bones, especially those of bears, dot the floor of the cave, but no human bones are to be found. A boy’s footprints can be seen walking next to a wolf’s prints. Were they there at the same time? Or did thousands of years separate them? A drawing of one animal is pictured next to another, but the drawings have been carbon dated as having been drawn 5,000 years apart! How can this be?

During this period, a hunter could actually walk from “Paris” to “London”, because the ocean was so much lower then. A hunter could also  easily make it to “Germany” where primitive “flutes”  and sculptures have been found and dated to about the same time as Chauvet cave.

Who were these people? Why is there a stone “altar” in the cave with a bear skull on top of it? With the fires they lit inside, did these people watch their own shadows as they walked or danced? Did they wish the fires to illuminate the drawings in different ways?

Even more amazingly, the only representation of a human is the lower half of a woman’s body drawn on a rock protruding downward from above. Yet, on the other side of the body, is a bison’s head. A minator would not show up for centuries and centuries after this. Also, at the entrance to the cave are red handprints of a man with a crooked  little finger. It will show up again in the back of the 1,300 foot cave. Why? Who was he?

To see this film is to experience nothing but astonishment and wonder. The beauty is too exquisite to be imagined; it must be seen. Then and only then will it live on in one’s consciousness. As will the questions.  Why? Where? Who? How long ago!?

Many of the scientists say that when they are in the cave it is as if there are spirits watching them. As if these artists were protecting their masterpieces. An aborigine in Australia says his rock art is not created by him. “Spirits create it.” Maybe he’s right. Perhaps all of this is larger than just human beings. Maybe it is nothing but the past touching the future which in turn touches the infinite.

For those who think history is as exciting as watching paint dry, this is not a film for them. On the other hand, for those who ponder the great questions of life including: who are we,  how are we connected to the past, why do we create, what is art, and what is the spiritual foundation of every being who touches this planet, then this is a film that will enthrall them. If you are one of those, do not miss this documentary. Mr. Herzog has done the world a great favor in filming this. It is the type of movie that will live on inside of you, and eventually enter your dreams. It will not be forgotten…..

Note: Now to find where it is still playing in 3D around here and take the family to see it! This absolutely seems like a film to see in a theater and not on a small screen! And thanks Ron, for the inspiring review!

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