Werner Herzog takes us on an art tour/meditation/travelogue inside the Chauvet Cave in Southern France. Here, more than 30,000 years ago, early man decorated the stone walls with portraits of the horses they revered, the wild beasts they feared & hunted, and their own hand prints (as if to announce their presence). Severe restrictions on cameras, lighting & Herzog’s crew mean that we have to work a bit to see everything, especially since the prehistoric artisans incorporated the undulating stone surfaces into their compositions. But the miraculous freshness in the drawings, paradoxically simple & sophisticated, is almost overwhelming. Drawn by our Homo-sapien ancestors when they still shared the world with Neanderthals, it begs the question of how Art and the need to leave one’s mark factored into our survival? (Yeah, sure. Go tell the school board.) The film was shown theatrically in 3D and, for once, the loss is felt on 2D. Not only do we miss the near tactile feel of seeming to enter the cave (and the need to dodge a veritable stone ‘forest’ of stalagmites & stalactites), but the contoured etchings & drawings that hug the curves in the wall’s surface are harder to ‘read’ without the depth effect. But, unless the film is scheduled to be shown at your local Natural History Museum in its original format, don’t hold back from seeing this one.
DOUBLE-BILL: Try this with Henri-Georges Clouzot’s THE MYSTERY OF PICASSO/’56 to see how closely a span of 30,000 years can be bridged thru the art of drawing.