Saturday, May 7, 2011

Werner Herzog: Pathways to the Past (Cave of Forgotten Dreams)

The documentary is such an open ended genre with innumerable possibilities for expansion and enrichment. A lot of docs that make it into theatres are your safe, standard talking head investigative procedurals. As in any form of visual storytelling, the basic and prosaic can both offer profundities, depending on the mastery of their expressors.

Recent documentaries, like animated films, have almost all gelled into one shapeless niche of audience friendly standard fare. A Toy Story 3 and an Inside Job are mid-level good movies, don't get me wrong. They're just similar to so many other films. Where's the passion and originality? In regard to docs, it takes an Errol Morris, a Restrepo, or, yes, a Werner Herzog to resuscitate the format. A lot of the most challenging and inventive documentaries never even make it to the cineplex.

Herzog has remained one of the most phantastically vital voices in cinema since his unbounded debut, Signs of Life, in 1968. Since then, he has crafted an indispensable body of work, wunderkind of the German New Wave, he is one of the masters of world cinema. In both his mysterious narratives and his spectral documentaries, he has tried to materialize the matters at hand, see the unseen, stare God in the face. His subject is nothing short of what makes us human, our place in the grand majesty of nature. Aguirre the Wrath of God, Fata Morgana, Fitzcarraldo, Where the Green Ants Dream and his last couple of pieces(Grizzly Man,Encounters at the End of the World) contain some of the most haunting passages of any film you will ever see.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams is a milestone. A milestone in that one of our most inspired and inspiring creative forces is more potent than ever. A milestone in that it is the first justifiable and perfectly crafted 3-D motion picture. A milestone in that a film tracing our historical roots as a species can connect back to the human element with a deep root emotionality by combining sound and vision. Herzog's exploration in wonder of the first known cave paintings in France is in essence the journey to the birth of storytelling and cinema.

The Chauvet Caves and their mystical artifacts provide Herzog with one of his richest and most important films. Stalagmites jutting out of the screen, animal sketches and handprints billowing over stonewall surfaces allow us to brush up against the origins of our souls, making tangible the spirit of man.

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