The Cave of Forgotten Dreams – 8

A Werner Herzogian quest for the unusual and the unknowable, placing us inside a French cave with wall paintings from 32,000 years ago. Herzog’s dialogue is wonderfully breathless and the score is lusciously mystical, taking us out of the realms of archaeology and other science into the greater mysteries of human existence. Above all, one is stunned by the extraordinary accomplishment of the art – there is nothing “primitive” in the representations of prowling cave lions or the set of four horses, skillfully shaded and delineated. (Compare these, for instance, with American Indian paintings of horses 32 millenia later.) Questions abound: were these painted to assure a successful hunt? to ward off evil spirits? to celebrate life? If 99% of the bones found in the caves came from cave bears, why are there so few pictures of bears, and so many of rhinoceros, ibex, even elephant? Are there other caves to be found where the paintings aren’t quite so good? Was this moment in time a unique flowering of art, like the Golden Age of Greece, or Egypt’s Old Kingdom? If so, how lucky we were to have stumbled upon Chauvet, and now grateful that Herzog charmed the French to let us in the door.

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