Film Documents Oldest Cave Paintings
By Ron Sutton
Special to The Pilot
Known for showing unusual films, the Sunrise Theater in Southern Pines may have hit the jackpot with "Cave of Forgotten Dreams."
This film documents the world's oldest cave paintings created some 32,000 to 35,000 years ago, and attending this film will be the only way you will ever see them.
The cave is in the Ardeche region of Southern France at Chauvet Pont-d'Arc. Discovered in 1994, the cave was immediately sealed and carefully preserved. The general public is not allowed to enter.
However, on Friday, Sept. 16, and Sunday, Sept. 18, and Monday, Sept. 19, the audience can visit the cave with the talented German filmmaker Werner Herzog. He was given special permission by the French Minister of Culture to film inside the cave, the only filmmaker so far allowed to do so.
There were special conditions. He was limited to a four-person crew. Special suits and shoes that had no contact with the outside world were required. The crew was allowed to use only battery-powered equipment they had to hand-carry into the cave. This included specially designed 3-D cameras that often had to be assembled inside the cave. Only special lights giving off minimal heat could be used. Confined to a two-foot wide walkway, they were not allowed to touch any part of the cave. The near-toxic levels of radon and carbon dioxide in the cave meant that Herzog was allowed to shoot for only four hours a day for six days. Herzog took the challenge, and made a 90-minute film so the world might see the artwork that is in the cave.
On April 10, this feature-length documentary opened with great commercial success, $5.2 million. Critics have praised the work. Walter V. Addiego of the San Francisco Chronicle said, "Art history lessons don't get much better. The oldest paintings captured by the world's greatest visionary."
Susan Grouper of the SSG Syndicate felt the film was "spectacular and absorbing." The film coincides with the publication of Jean Auel's "The Land of Painted Caves," available in hardcover at The Country Bookshop.
The preview trailers depict beautifully rendered images of bison, tigers, mammoths and bears. The ancient artists used the curvature of the cave walls to suggest motion. Herzog comments that they may have also thrown their dancing images on the walls by torch light, thus creating "shadows in motion." These ancient artists also left imprints of their hands pressed into the cave wall.
Viewers can actually study a stubby-fingered person's hand across 35,000 years of time. Audience member Kat Johnson blogged, "It isn't so much a film as it is an experience."
Herzog was one of three filmmakers that led the German New Wave in the late 1960s, '70s and '80s. Joining with Wim Wenders and Rainer Werner Fassbender, this trio of 24-year-olds created more than 60 narrative and documentary films in these three decades.
Film historians Mast and Kawin note that "Herzog in particular seemed less concerned with objectively recording events than in exploring the subjective and symbolic aspects of what he was filming."
His use of interviews, his hauntingly beautiful sound track, his wildly provocative narration and his puzzling introduction of radioactive albino crocodiles at the end of the film show that even at 69 he still is pushing the aesthetic and philosophical envelope. Herzog's favorite images were said to be "natural settings that are mysterious, fascinating and untamed... a filmmaker searching the planet for extraterrestrial landscapes."
He certainly has found his element in "Cave of Forgotten Dreams."
The historical Sunrise Theater is located at 250 NW Broad St. in Southern Pines. Showings of this film will be Friday, at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. and Monday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets for all shows are $7 for adults. Refreshments, including beer and wine, are available. All Sunrise Theater movies are commercial free.
For more information, contact the theater at (910) 692-3611 or www.sunrisetheater.com.
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