Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Movie Worth Seeing in the Theater

It's really nice having a just a fabulous non-profit art house theater in Tacoma. It's even more fun to volunteer at The Grand Cinema because I get to see so many of the movies.

Last night I went to see the latest Werner Herzog film, Cave of Forgotten Dreams. This documentary is about the Chauvet Caves in the south of France. They were closed up thousands of years ago by avalanche and were re-discovered by a cave hunting team in 1994. The cave paintings inside, along with the bones of many paleolithic critters (cave bears, cave lions, etc), have been perfectly preserved. They think the oldest paintings may be 32,000 years old.
The caves are kept under lock and key and it is very hard for anyone who is not a scientist to get inside them. Werner Herzog and his tiny team were allowed in for just an hour or two at a time over several weeks.

The images are simply stunning. I was a little disappointed that the narrative ran more to the philosophical and spiritual rather than physical. Meaning that they spent a lot of time speculating about the religion of these people that painted these beautiful images but not so much on the pragmatic side of life. They never even discussed how the images might have been made. Most are black--obvious charcoal-- but others are red. How did they make the stain? How did they get gradations? They spent 5 minutes showing a guy throw a re-creation of a spear in a modern day vineyard but they didn't have an artist trying to recreate technique. But I think that relates back to trying to stay with the spiritual theme.

Look at these rhinos! I didn't even know rhinos were found in Paleolithic France! The one with the white line on his face is one of my favorites.

None of these stalagtites and stalagmites and glittery deposits were there when the cave was occupied. They only formed after the avalanche closed off the cave thousands of years ago. Note the walkway. No one is allowed off the walkway in order to preserve the cave. It reminded me of the Ray Bradbury story, A Sound of Thunder. I kept wondering what would happen if someone stepped off the path. What is also fascinating is that the archeologists were able to date the drawings and map the ones on top each other and figure out that one person made a drawing and then a few thousand years later a cave bear scratched its claws on the same spot and then some thousands of years later after that another person painted on top of everything. A lot of it looks very modern and could easily be Picasso or Chagall. There is even an image of the lower half of a woman with a bull's head! (Mind you, Picasso died 21 years before these were found.)

This movie is very slow and meditative and the music is great. While they talked to a lot of scientists, I still became a little bored by the speculative spiritual part of the movie. However, I would heartily recommend seeing this on the big screen because the images are so lovely and there is absolutely zero chance you could ever see this in person. The famous Caves of Lascaux were closed because the breath of the visitors was causing mold to grow on the images.

Just make sure you drink a coffee before going; the gentleman in front of us fell asleep!

(Side note: I guess this movie is in 3D but not at our little art house theater. I think 3D for this would be worth it.)

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