A few weeks ago I went to see Werner Herzog’s movie The Cave of Forgotten Dreams at the Broadway Cinema. I have no doubt that there are some people who will not like this movie at all, but I think it is one of the most amazing films I have seen in a long time.
I have spent a good chunk of my life roaming through my imagination. I’ve also spent a lot of time researching history, and I am often able to understand the people from the past by looking at the artwork they left behind. Prehistoric man calls out to me through their artwork, and I have spent a good chunk of time living with them in my mind. My imagination wanders over old relics and art objects and builds a bridge between me and the ancient world. I have never been to the prehistoric caves in France to look at this artwork in person. Aside from running around Utah and other parts of the western U.S. looking for petroglyphs, I’ve seen very little prehistoric artwork in it’s original setting. But it is something I have a little bit ‘o book learning on, and Herzog’s film made it seem like I was right there exploring with him.
I find myself thinking about how it must have been for mankind to live in such a harsh world 32,000 years ago, which is when the first drawing in The Chauvet Cave was created. People were surrounded by animals that just want to eat them, and every animal (including humans) was desperately trying to find enough food to keep themselves alive. Even the herbivorous were incredibly violent, which is illustrated on the cave walls in the images of all the woolly rhinos fighting. And not only that, but it was a freezing cold ice-age too.
These cave drawings weren’t made by one single person, but by many different people contributing to the panels over thousands of years. The way human beings experienced time must have been so very different. Another interesting thing to think about is, humans didn’t even live in many of the caves that contain the ancient artwork. Instead, people would just go down and down and down into the earth with flickering torches, into caves that were often occupied by giant cave bear or puma, to draw a picture. Somehow that picture became ritual. And that ritual became religion. And that religion probably made them feel like they understood, and even have a little bit of power over, this crazy world.
In the end, this movie may not be for you, but I’d still recommend it to everybody. I came away with so many ideas and insights. For instance, I never even considered how the flickering torches the artists used must have made the artwork and panels seem alive, almost as though the animals were moving. So beautiful. I could go on and on…
An aside, but there is one image from another cave in Trois Frères called The Sorcerer that kind of haunts me, and I’ve drawn many variations of this ancient character. I still don’t feel like I have said all I need to say about this Sorcerer/Shaman, so I am sure he will visit me through my artwork again, but he’s always a welcome guest.