Friday, May 11, 2012

Film Club Review #14

When is a documentary not a documentary? When it's made by Werner Herzog of course. There were rumblings of complaint after we screened Cave Of Forgotten Dreams from some members frustrated with its refusal to lay out all the facts in proper documentary style and thrown by its left-turn ending. The thing is, Herzog isn't a documentary-maker as such, he's more interested in the metaphyics than the facts, and the film should be seen as a meditation on what the caves might mean and the kinds of people they attract. The caves in question being the Chauvet caves in Southern France, home to the oldest known pictorial creations of mankind. As the public are unlikely to ever be allowed inside the caves Herzog's film is an invaluable record of the wonders they hold. It was truly spellbinding to see these drawings of horses, bison, lions and rhinos emerge out of the darkness or a human handprint from thousands of years ago, emblematic of human consciousness, the awakening of self awareness and the transformative power of art. Some members felt because we couldn't show it in 3D we shouldn’t have shown it at all, but really, it didn’t need that. If your imagination can’t process the wonder without the aid of visual Viagra then I’m sad for you. As usual Herzog found odd characters, coaxed revelatory admissions from people, and arrived at a conclusion involving albino alligators that was too much for some. A nearby nuclear power plant has raised the temperature of the local environment and caused evolutionary change in these alligators. This is the same, Herzog seems to say, as what happened in the caves, mankind made an evolutionary step forward, a mutation of consciousness, due to changes in the environment. Whether you buy this or not, there's no denying the experience of the caves, the sense of time as both impossibly distant and mysterious and yet also immediate and alive because of the way Herzog brings us close to the paintings and they bring us close to the people who made them.

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