Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2011) – Werner Herzog

Early in his career, Werner Herzog made a number of short documentaries in between his fiction pictures. He would, say, squeeze an exhilarating story of a ski jumper into 45 minutes. The problem with Cave of Forgotten Dreams is that he’s spread a 45-minute subject over an hour and a half. There’s a lot to like about this documentary about the Chauvet Cave, which Herzog and his crew were given unprecedented access to, but not enough for its running time. The cave itself, of course, is beautiful but Herzog doesn’t get his famous voodoo of location to jump through the screen, instead he postures in his voiceovers about why the 32,000 year old artist were painting and what they were thinking, and furthermore aren’t we all albino alligators gazing into the abyss of time (actual quote). We’re not even told how the cave paintings were created, we learn how these prehistoric people hunted but not what material they used to create images. All the usual Herzog flourishes are there (he at one point refers to the play between the paintings and the light as “proto-cinema”), he asks the right questions and connects the right dots, it’s just that, there’s not much there at the end of it. The postscript becomes the most fascinating part of the movie.

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