In an interview on Fresh Air yesterday, Terry Gross asked Werner Herzog which one painting he had the strongest reaction to as he filmed inside the Chauvet Cave. After saying that it was the overall effect of the cave that moved him the most, he singled out the painting of the lions. Paraphrasing his description, it is of five lions stalking something, intently looking at something but we don’t know what they are looking at — and depicted with such a complete naturalism that we could think we are looking at living lions today. Yet, it is among the single oldest paintings ever made. The earliest pictorial images in all of human art. As moving and complex as any art ever created since. I understand how he feels about the lions.
I’m trying to think of another time when I heard of a project and had such an immediate reaction to just how perfect it is. Werner Herzog, given the chance to bring to us this story of what may be the origin of art, the origin of our humanity. He’s one of the most fascinating artists in the world, and here he is making a movie about this cave that has always fascinated me, and been a continual inspiration for my work since it was first discovered in the 90s and I read about it in my Natural History Magazine.
Go to the article from NPR on the film, and listen to the Fresh Air interview there — in addition to talking about the film, Herzog talks about a lifetime of making films that “stare into the abyss” of humanity ( “Grizzly Man” and “Encounters at the End of the World” have both been on TV a bunch lately): http://www.npr.org/2011/04/20/135516812/herzog-enters-the-cave-of-forgotten-dreams
Clip of the movie:
Werner Hertzog speaks of having always been drawn to prehistoric art, fascinated about the idea of paintings being made so long ago and yet we still can feel the connection between the people that made them and ourselves. I share that feeling. I began to explore our earliest art as I sought to find the origins of bodyart. And the connection between painting ourselves and painting cave walls is undeniable, with, for example, in Chauvet Cave — as in so many others — painted hands being used as stamps to create designs on the cave walls. From the start, though, what caught me most was the constant examples of how these ancient artists expertly used the shape of the cave walls in their paintings, in a way that seems to me the very essence of bodypainting. Speaking only as an artist here, the transference of images on the body to images on the sculptured surface of a cave wall seems a very direct step.
The need to show how the paintings work on the form of the walls explains why Herzog filmed this in 3D: “When I saw photos, it looked almost like flat walls — maybe slightly undulating or so. Thank God, I went in there without any camera a month before shooting. What you see in there is limestone, and you have these wildly undulating walls — you have bulges and niches and pendants of rock, and there’s a real incredible drama of information. The artists utilized it for their paintings. … So it was clear it was imperative to do this in 3-D, in particular, because we were the only ones ever allowed to film.”
There are a lot of videos about Werner and his work, including these two interview segments about this film, particularly fun because he is speaking so off the cuff:
- Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Werner Herzog, 2010) (faircomments.wordpress.com)
- Why Body Painting? – 3: Origins – Touching Ancient Sources (thestorybehindthefaces.com)
- Werner Herzog Will Have to Make a New Movie Because Some Very Much Older Cave Paintings Have Been Discovered in Spain (slog.thestranger.com)
- Doc of the Day: Cave of Forgotten Dreams (daysofdocs.com)
- [VIDEO] The Answer: More from Werner Herzog on CAVE (sundancenow.com)
- The Answer: Werner Herzog on Cave of Forgotten Dreams [VIDEO] (sundancenow.com)
- Why Body Painting? – 3A: Origins – Why did we start painting ourselves? Ancient bodypainting kit discovered at Blombos Cave (thestorybehindthefaces.com)