Now being fully embroiled in festival programming duties, the days of watching ten films as diverse as Innocent Sorcerers and Bachelorette every week are on temporary hiatus until the programme locks in April. For now, I’m trying to fit in at least one film every week that’s viewed just for myself and happily, thanks to the Filmhouse‘s The Third Dimension strand, Cave of Forgotten Dreams was it. A documentary that offers the only footage inside the Chauvet Caves in Southern France, where the earliest examples of drawing were discovered in 1994.
First of all, let me just give a small bit of praise for the projection team, who far surpassed what was offered when I first saw the film at Glasgow’s Cineworld in 2011, in which the sound was deafening and the light dispersion from the silver screen rendering the image somewhat shallow. The film itself is a true cinematic pleasure as well; director Werner Herzog’s distinctive timbre providing a suitably reverent voice-over as the camera pans across the cave walls, revealing (as interpreted by Herzog), drawings akin to ‘proto cinema’. Accompanied by Ernst Reijseger’s celestial score, to say the effect of contemplating the beginning of art and representation is ‘moving’ would be an understatement.
A key eccentricity in Herzog’s documentaries is the way he extracts tangential anecdotes from his subjects, one particularly delightful example here being the archeologist who’s prior career involved circus entertainment. Herzog’s inquiry into the past of his interviewee occurs naturally when said juggler turned archeologist describes what it is that fascinates the viewer of the Chauvet cave drawings; they are all that’s left of a people who lived thousands of years ago – we can only imagine the lives they lived and the thoughts they had. The way that our lives change – sometimes serendipitously in the twenty-first century – may be easier to document, but what makes us human is our expression of feeling, or thought, creatively represented through art, be it oral or visual. In an age of constant communication, Cave of Forgotten Dreams reminds us of the importance of private thought and considered creativity – revealing via a three-dimensional cinematic experience, what we can never see unmediated.