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Peter T Chattaway

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

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This film just played at the Toronto festival, and I love this anecdote from Patrick Goldstein @ Los Angeles Times about the distribution deal it got there:

Nelson, Herzog, Braun and the film's lawyers stayed up until 4:30 a.m., hearing pitches from four different distributors, all eager to release Herzog's mesmerizing film about the rarely seen cave art inside the Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc cave in the south of France, which may well represent the earliest art made by mankind. "It was really tough to choose, because we had all these impressive, smart people coming in, one after the other, telling us how much they loved our movie," Nelson said. "At one point, I jokingly suggested dividing up the country into four regions and letting each distributor have one of the quadrants, except no one wanted the deep South."

Nelson says Herzog sat in on all the distributor pitches. "Obviously Werner wanted to meet his partners, but he was fascinated by the sociological, Kabuki-like theater ritual of the pitch meeting," Nelson explained. "And I felt comfortable having him there, because with Werner's impassive stare, he has a very good knack for picking partners."

The "impassive stare"! I can just imagine. Maybe Herzog should make a movie about pitch meetings? :)

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Persona   

The "impassive stare"! I can just imagine. Maybe Herzog should make a movie about pitch meetings? :)

Peter, that is exactly what I was thinking while reading.

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Tyler   

The "impassive stare"! I can just imagine. Maybe Herzog should make a movie about pitch meetings? :)

Peter, that is exactly what I was thinking while reading.

As long as he consults with the plastic bag during the pitches.

Edited by Tyler

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Roger Ebert's write-up on this film really, really makes me want to see it (it also makes me want to visit the original caves, but it sounds like the French government lets almost no one in there now):

Herzog's limitation of four small portable light panels works to his advantage; as they move they suggest how the flickering torches might have created an illusion of movement in those repeated features. The space was so limited it was impossible for his crew to stay out of many shots, and their shadows dance on the walls, just as the shadows of forgotten ancestors must have danced in the torchlight. Herzog's inspiration is to show us the paintings as the cave's original visitors must have seen them. I have seen perfectly-lighted photographs of other cave paintings that are not so evocative.

Herzog says that in general he dislikes 3D. He told me this again on Monday. But there are occasions when 3D is appropriate (he named "Avatar"), and his film is one of them. It was shown with bright, well-focused digital projection. Apart from a one-shot joke at the very end, he never allows his images to violate the theater space; he uses 3D as a way for us to enter the film's space, instead of a way for it to enter ours. He was correct to realize how useful it would be in photographing these walls. To the degree that it's possible for us to walk behind Herzog into that cave, we do so.

As a documentarian, Herzog is never content to simply document. There's always a transformative element. "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" ends with a "Postscript," in which he notes that not very far away France has built its largest nuclear power plant. The water heated by its cooling towers is directed into a huge tropical arboretum, where trees and ferns flourish. Crocodiles were introduced here, "and man, do they like it." Some of them have mutated into albinos. Herzog, in his inimitable accent, pronounces the words lovingly: Mutant radioactive albino crocodiles. We see their huge bug eyes popping above the water to regard us. Some day, he speculates, perhaps in thousands of years, the crocs may spread to the cave. What will they make of its paintings?

Is this Postscript typical Herzogian whimsy? Yes. But more. There are connections between "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" and at least two other Herzog films, undoubtedly more. Beneath the surfaces of his work coil hidden archetypes, hinting at his conception of our role in the immensity of space and the vastness of time. . . .

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SDG   

I'm always excited by the prospect of a new Herzog docu. And I usually feel frustrated and somewhat disappointed afterward. But this time could be different. But I've thought that before.

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Persona   

We might as well provide all the links, it's always good at the top of a new thread: Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972), The Enigma of Kasper Hauser (1974), Stroszek (1977), Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht / Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979), Fitzcarraldo and Burden of Dreams (1982, Herzog and 1982, Les Blank doc on Fitzcarraldo),

The White Diamond (2004), Grizzly Man (2005), Encounters at the End of the World (2007), Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009), and My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done (2009)... I'll be seeing a few more soon so expect the number of threads to grow!

This is the most I've looked forward to a 3D film since Avatar.

Edited by Persona

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I saw this during a one-week engagement at the Laemmle Sunset 5.

My nervous appreciation for Herzog's documentaries hasn't dimmed despite their tendency toward cosmological despair. I was happy to find that this one takes a more soulful approach to the idea of man's station in the world. One scientist, after looking at the drawings, suggests that we change our taxonomy from Homo sapien to Homo spiritualis.

Edited by Nathaniel

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SDG   
My nervous appreciation for Herzog's documentaries hasn't dimmed despite their tendency toward cosmological despair. I was happy to find that this one takes a more soulful approach to the idea of man's station in the world. One scientist, after looking at the drawings, suggests that we change our taxonomy from Homo sapien to Homo spiritualis.

I missed this earlier. Nathaniel, your comments scratch EXACTLY where I itch on Herzog, and make me as eager to see this film as I imagine any 50-odd words would be likely to do.

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Andrew   

Good article on Herzog and this film in today's NYT: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/24/movies/werner-herzogs-cave-of-forgotten-dreams-filmed-in-chauvet-cave.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=herzog&st=cse

I like this quote, which reminded me of some previous discussions of documentaries in these parts: “I insist that even if you make documentaries, we are filmmakers, and we must never be flies on the wall, unobtrusive and just registering,” he said. “As filmmakers we should be the hornets that go out and sting. The fly on the wall is a perspective that is suspicious to me per se. Every single camera angle is already a choice and a statement.”

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Persona   
“As filmmakers we should be the hornets that go out and sting. The fly on the wall is a perspective that is suspicious to me per se. Every single camera angle is already a choice and a statement.”

I get this, and I love what Herzog does in many of his docs, but having just seen Marwencol I think it is its own approach and that there is certainly room for other approaches.

Edited by Persona

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SDG   
“As filmmakers we should be the hornets that go out and sting. The fly on the wall is a perspective that is suspicious to me per se. Every single camera angle is already a choice and a statement.”

I get this, and I love what Herzog does in many of his docs, but having just seen Marwencol I think it is its own approach and that there is certainly room for other approaches.

I'm sad to say that it's hard for me to take seriously anything Herzog says. I'm never entirely sure whether he has a point to make or only a "point," i.e., whether he says what he says because it's what he really think or because he likes the effect of how it sounds.

In this case, who says that "fly on the wall" somehow connotes, conveys or pretends to refraining from choice or statement?

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Crow   

I thought this was fascinating, both as far as seeing drawings that date so far back in history, and seeing the way the drawings utilized the natural contours of the cave in depicting movement and the depth of the image. Here the 3D really brings out the depth of perspective, immersing the viewer right in the cave so you can see the images like you are standing right there. I have enjoyed viewing petroglyphs at various sites in the Southwestern US, and while a film can't really duplicate the experience of standing in front of art that was created on a slab of rock thousands of years ago, this film is as close to that experience as can be done.

I thought that, considering the technical and spacial restrictions and the limited time available for shooting, the film was an impressive achievement.

The postscript, I found to be kind of odd, where Herzog's speculation of the effects of technology vs. nature seem to be kind of a stretch here (as opposed to the way this is more effectively done in films like Grizzy Man). But those closeups of the albino alligators were strangely beautiful.

Edited by Crow

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This is excellent. Semi-poetic narration and really nice score make this far more than just pictures in a cave. The postscript is a bit of a head-scratcher, but the shots of the albino crocs are really nice. The metaphysics in Herzog's mind play out well here. And do see it in 3D - I may never say that again, so pay attention.

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SDG   

The postscript is a jokey exercise in self-parody. It's got to be. At my critics screening (it was a small crowd of critics) we were rolling in the aisles during the postscript.

Speaking of Herzog parody, not long ago on Facebook former A&F regular M. Dale Prins logged this status update:

From now on, in my mind I will read every Facebook status update with the voice of Werner Herzog.

To this I responded:

Matthew'ss proposal iss an intriguing one. What iss a voice, after all, but a projection of one'ss deepest self? Can I truly claim that my voice is my own? At the deepest level, am I me, and is Herzog Herzog? Or iss there a sense in which I am Herzog and he is me? Theese are the questions that the act of writing a Facebook status confronts us with. If we cannot answer them, we will inevitably wind up eating each other's brains.

This comment accrued only one Like, from M. Dale himself.

Edited by SDG

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Anders   

Matthew'ss proposal iss an intriguing one. What iss a voice, after all, but a projection of one'ss deepest self? Can I truly claim that my voice is my own? At the deepest level, am I me, and is Herzog Herzog? Or iss there a sense in which I am Herzog and he is me? Theese are the questions that the act of writing a Facebook status confronts us with. If we cannot answer them, we will inevitably wind up eating each other's brains.

This comment accrued only one Like, from M. Dale himself.

Like!

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Andrew   

The postscript is a jokey exercise in self-parody. It's got to be. At my critics screening (it was a small crowd of critics) we were rolling in the aisles during the postscript.

Speaking of Herzog parody, not long ago on Facebook former A&F regular M. Dale Prins logged this status update:

From now on, in my mind I will read every Facebook status update with the voice of Werner Herzog.

To this I responded:

Matthew'ss proposal iss an intriguing one. What iss a voice, after all, but a projection of one'ss deepest self? Can I truly claim that my voice is my own? At the deepest level, am I me, and is Herzog Herzog? Or iss there a sense in which I am Herzog and he is me? Theese are the questions that the act of writing a Facebook status confronts us with. If we cannot answer them, we will inevitably wind up eating each other's brains.

This comment accrued only one Like, from M. Dale himself.

That's brilliant. I hope hope hope Cave of Forgotten Dreams makes it to my neighborhood.

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SDG   
That's brilliant. I hope hope hope Cave of Forgotten Dreams makes it to my neighborhood.

Thanks! And yes, you so so so need to see it in 3D!

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vjmorton   

The postscript is a jokey exercise in self-parody. It's got to be. At my critics screening (it was a small crowd of critics) we were rolling in the aisles during the postscript.

Whether intentional self-parody or not, the claims the V/O makes are definitely not true.

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So. Glad. I saw this 3D.

I doubt I'm likely to say that again for a long time, but there it is. For this film, it's essential.

And the conclusion is hilarious.

But my experience was greatly disrupted by a line of college guys a few rows up who were making fun of it while they watched it, jumping and screaming periodically as if something had just leapt at them in 3D. I wanted someone from the Alamo Drafthouse to come in and kick them out with steel-toed boots. But we weren't in the Alamo Drafthouse. We were at Seattle's Meridian 16, and I'm often under the impression that nobody works there at all. Fortunately, they became bored and left with about 30 minutes to go.

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Persona   

So. Glad. I saw this 3D.

I doubt I'm likely to say that again for a long time, but there it is. For this film, it's essential.

Well, two things here. One: Saw it in two D and it is a snoozefest in that format. Two: Don't go see this on three hours sleep the night before.

Regardless of the fact that GR isn't showing it in 3-D (the RATS that they are), the film felt it was more about the cave and less about Herzog. When I see a Herzog, I want to see Herzog doing HIS thing. He was a little too reverent in this doc, no fun for him or me.

My neck hurts from all the jerking last night.

PS Is it really a great film if it is only the effect that's great? What will the people who see it on DVD think?

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Loved it.

It's interesting how the 3D-converted scenes were so BADLY converted, almost as if to make the genuine 3D so much more clear and crisp by comparison when it showed up.

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Anders   

Saw this one in 2D (no option in Waterloo to see it in 3D unfortunately). Still thought it was fascinating, in as much as it's about art and our connection with the past it's also about how cinema fits into that legacy. Also enjoyed the Herzog-moments: the musings on the the wolf and the child, his comment something to the effect that the one archaeologist was "strict but entirely appropriate," the ending with the "albino crocodiles." Worth tracking down, but does make me wish I could have seen it in 3D.

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