Cave Paintings and Werner Herzog

As Professor Watrall mentioned, Werner Herzog’s films are definitely a bit trippy. Prior to Tuesday, I had actually already seen Cave of Forgotten Dreams, along with other Herzog films (highly recommend Aguirre, the Wrath of God, Even Dwarfs Started Small, and My Best Fiend). I really like how Herzog captures how beautiful the caves and the paintings are, in a way that I think shows human ancestors as artistic and thoughtful.

Being curious as to way a character such as Werner Herzog was inspired and passionate about creating a documentary about the cave paintings in Chauvet, I looked around the web and found an interview of Herzog by NPR. He exclaimed how ever since he was a young teenager, he has had a fascination with cave paintings, even going as far to call this interest his “personal intellectual awakening.” Herzog’s is most intrigued by the fact that tens of thousands of years ago, human ancestors had a desire to represent the world they see around them and create art, not much different than we strive to do today.

I think it’s interesting to think about how these humans ancestors used to live and spend their time. The idea that not only did they just kill animals such as deer, bison, etc. for survival; but had a fascination and respect for them to beautifully paint them on their walls is incredible.

While reading the NPR interview, I discovered that the film was actually done in 3-D. As mentioned in the movie, the artists painted in sync with the caves features (like the multiple paintings of animals around a hole where water would flow in the cave, or the woman and bison depiction on the limestone outcrop), and Herzog wanted to capture all the “bulges and niches” of the cave.

Also, I think that seeing the documentary in 3-D would contribute even more to the movement that the artists tried to create by drawing animals with multiple legs or horns. In a way, I think that when those who drew these paintings were creating them, they didn’t view them as just 2-D wall art, but life-like, spiritual, and moving pieces of art.

In his NPR interview, Herzog also sheds light onto why he included that short clip of a man tap dancing with his shadows illuminated in the background. That clip is actually of Fred Astaire from the movie Swing Time (1938), and Herzog says he added it because it contrasts to how even thousands of year later, humans are still creating the same kind of concepts. Supposedly evidence of fires in the cave might imply that the same sort of idea may have been used and the human ancestors living in the cave could have created shadows. Although doubtful they were dancing like Fred Astaire was, it’s interesting to think about what they could have made shadows of.

Link to NPR interview:




One thought on “Cave Paintings and Werner Herzog

  1. I had never seen the film prior to class on Tuesday but I certainly agree with its “trippy” description. Surprisingly, I had actually never heard of Chauvet Cave until Tuesday either. The way the cave was described as being such a significant archaeological find you would think that everyone would have at least some knowledge of it.
    I, like you, felt that Herzog did an excellent job of portraying the cave as an object of beauty. Although a tad dramatic I think that that the movie title “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” is very fitting. It’s fascinating to think about how the cave was once a part of someone’s everyday life. To imagine real people walking in there with the intention to paint on the walls is an extraordinary image. To think about all the people who must have entered the cave that we will never know or understand almost makes me a little sad.
    The film allowed me to have a new appreciation for cave paintings. Prior to the film, I never really considered cave paintings true art. Now that seems insane. The paintings in the cave were some of the most interesting and beautiful I have ever seen. I’m not sure if it’s so much what the paintings actually look like or the context they were painted in and what they represent that makes them so beautiful. When we were shown half the painting of the woman and bison I was worried I would never be able to see the other half! Thankfully though they were able to get a camera around there and we were able to see the rest of it. I am in total agreement with you that seeing the documentary in 3D would add a whole new element to the cave paintings and allow us to experience the paintings in the same way that the cave dwellers did.

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