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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on DVDs. Pick of the Week: Blu-ray. Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Also Two Disc Blu-ray/3D Blu-ray combo) (Four Stars)
Germany/France: Werner Herzog, 2011 (MPI Home Video)
Perhaps 30,000 years ago, or less, in the age of the paleoliths, a man or woman, or a group of them, stood before the walls of the cave of Chauvet, in France, and, probably by torchlight, drew or painted a group of pictures on the walls, of the animals they saw in the world outside.
Their hands were agile and gentle. Their eyes were sharp. Their labors were tireless. On the walls, they made something beautiful: graceful color drawings of  horses and lions and bears. Of cows. A panther. A rhino. They did it, whoever they were (or whoever he or she was), because, like all artists, they wanted to preserve a life, or create and preserve a sense of life.
They wanted to fashion a horse who would run long after the original had died and crumbled into earth. They wanted to make a lion who would roar long, long after they were gone. They wanted to celebrate the world they loved and that fascinated them. They wanted to rob death of its power to steal that world and take away our loved ones. Their motives were aesthetic, and also, in a way, religious. They succeeded, more than they would know know or could ever imagine. But then, imagining was part of their vocation. They were artists.
Perhaps 20,000 years ago, there was an avalanche or cataclysm of some kind in Chauvet. The caves were buried and the galleries were sealed, kept by mischance from the vagaries of weather or the erosions of time. No one could destroy the paintings, but no one could see them either. The caves are still there, now unsealed since their discovery by archeologists and explorers in 1994. More important, the paintings are still there. You can see them!
Not in real life, because only a handful of archeologists are granted access to those caves, and only a few at a time. But the great German filmmaker Werner Herzog (Aguirre: The Wrath of God), who talked and “pleased” and probably pleaded and was granted rare access to capture the work on the walls with his camera, a 3D camera, will take you there, along with his cinematographer Peter Zettlinger. They will show you the oldest art on earth, in three dimensions that, for once, are justified, and it should fill you with wonder.


Chauvet cave paintings

Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a marvelous documentary about the cave paintings of Chauvet, will be seen by only a handful of the current audience for, say the Harry Potter movies, or War Horse, or Puss in Boots or the new 3D Star Wars. Yet it may prove the most valuable, and, one hopes, most lasting, of all the 3D films we’ve seen so far.

Certainly what it shows is of immense interest and enduring importance. But Herzog also, through the care and love and artistry of his framing, and the lovable pretensions and slightly cracked poetry of his narration, creates a human link to that past. One feels, really, that if it were 30,000 years ago, Werner H. would be there at the wall with his paints, making a picture of a horse. One does not at all feel that about the majority of the other people who make movies these days. Some of them would be eating, some would be copulating, some of them would be counting their banks of gems and pebbles, some finding food for their family.

Some, like the hairy dancing apes in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, would be swinging a bone to crush a skull. But Herzog, I’m sure, would be painting a horse or a panther and then describing it in a lovably pretentious way, or going off to watch some more of life, and then paint some more of it, breathe life onto the walls of a cave.

30,000 years from now, there may be no more movies, or at least none of the ones we know, including 2001 and War Horse and Cave of Forgotten Dreams. Despite all the care taken today by the French government and academia and the archeologists (led by Chauvet director Jean-Michel Geneste), there may be no Chauvet, or other caves and cave paintings. There may be no Earth, or only the blackened remnants of one. Yet, whatever there is, if Earth and art still exist in some way, one hopes that there will be someone somewhere to preserve some of the horses that were painted by the artists who loved them and wanted to give them eternal life. Or thereabouts. And maybe a Werner Herzog to make pictures of the pictures.

Pieter Breughel the Elder’s The Harvesters

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon