Ice Age art show

Werner Herzog leads journey into prehistoric Chauvet Cave

Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Pageant Theatre. Not rated.
Rated 5.0

Werner Herzog’s first film in 3-D—Cave of Forgotten Dreams—is not being shown in 3-D at the Pageant Theatre. Do not let that be a deterrent.

While I would love to watch the stereoscopic version of all those incredible 30,000-year-old charcoal paintings of Ice Age animals recently discovered gracing the undulating walls of France’s Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave, the version I did see was everything a fan of the quirky, brilliant, German über-director could hope for—visually and intellectually interesting, and at times deeply poetic.

Ernst Reijseger’s slightly over-the-top, original music—meditative strings and exultant choral singing—supports Herzog’s reverential cinematic treatment of his subject matter. We are drawn into the claustrophobic world of the Chauvet Cave and, before long, Herzog’s inimitable way with a camera and with words has the viewer experiencing an exhilarating, expansive feeling of connection to people who lived tens of thousands of years ago.

Woven in and out of cave scenes are interviews with various experts, ranging from a very likeable, pony-tailed circus-performer-turned-archaeologist to a French master-perfumer who sniffs out caves.

At one point, Herzog chats outside Chauvet Cave with a man named Wulf Hein, who is dressed in animal skins and plays a flute made 35,000 years ago from the wing-bone of a Griffon vulture. When Hein points out that the flute is tuned to a pentatonic scale (a five-note scale commonly used in folk-music traditions worldwide) and then proceeds to play the “The Star-Bangled Banner” on it, one would have to be intentionally thick-headed to not get it: Humans across time and space seem to have a hell of a lot in common, including the need to make art, and music with universally pleasing sounds.

Sprinkled with irresistible quotes that can only come out of Herzog’s mouth, the film wraps up with an out-of-left-field, thought-provoking “postscript” that is quintessential, priceless Herzog.