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K. Kris Hirst

Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams

By April 28, 2011

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This Friday, Werner Herzog's 3-D documentary of Chauvet Cave, "Cave of Forgotten Dreams", premieres in select movie theaters in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles. This is plenty reason for archaeologists and their fans to celebrate, and drag out their 3-D glasses with glee.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams poster.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams poster.
Photo Credit: 360 Degree Communications

I was in college when I first ran into the work of director Werner Herzog: it was Aguirre, The Wrath of God, and it was one of Herzog's early studies of the past. Aguirre is a classic tale of a crazed Spanish conquistador wandering around the Amazon River in South America, fruitlessly searching for El Dorado, the fantastic and fantasy city of gold.

Aguirre is a wonderful, amazing story about how greed and ignorance can do you in if you're not careful. Since that time, I've watched and admired Herzog from afar, as he morphed from a full feature director of Fitzcarraldo and Nosferatu the Vampire, into an eerily effective documentary director, with such films as the Wild Blue Yonder and the haunting Grizzly Man. When I heard last fall that Herzog had been allowed to film in Chauvet Cave, in three dimensions no less, I could not believe our luck. Yours and mine.

Science in the Film

Werner Herzog in the Cave of Forgotten Dreams; directed by Werner Herzog
Werner Herzog in the Cave of Forgotten Dreams; directed by Werner Herzog. Photo Photo Credit: Marc Valesella; A Sundance Selects Release

According to press releases, the film includes appearances from the scientific team at Chauvet Cave, including Jean Clottes and Jean-Michel Geneste, former and present directors of the Chauvet Cave Research Project. Others associated with the film are paleolithic art specialist Nicholas Conard and experimental archaeologist Wulf Hein.

Chauvet Cave is truly one of the gifts that the past has given us. Dated between 30,000 and 32,000 years ago (maybe), Chauvet was only discovered in 1994, and so it has not been subjected to the deterioration brought about by hordes of foot traffic. In fact, Chauvet has been closed to the public since 1996. But director Herzog was allowed in, with special lights that protected the delicate paintings. I've seen some early clips from the film, and if those and the reviews I've seen are any gauge, this documentary film will be astounding. Don't miss it.

Photograph of a group of lions, painted on the walls of Chauvet Cave in France, at least 27,000 years ago.
Photograph of a group of lions, painted on the walls of Chauvet Cave in France, at least 27,000 years ago. Photo by HTO

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