So, yesterday I went to see the new-ish Werner Herzog documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams. I’m a big fan of the nutso German’s work, both his narrative features and his documentaries. He tends to narrate and sort of star in his documentaries, no matter the subject, and his bizarre insights into whatever he’s talking about often steal the show. I like the guy.
This particular film has as its subject the incredible, 32,000 year-old paintings in the Chauvet Cave in France. There’s no question that these are fascinating, brilliant works that suggest that humanity has had a vibrant inner life well before what we would consider “civilization” reared its head. I’ve often heard it postulated that true artistic expression appears in human society only when there’s a class of people rich, well-fed and comfortable enough to have leisure time to look inward, as opposed to just focusing on finding their next meal and a safe place to sleep. This film suggests a different answer, though – that we create because we’re compelled to, that it’s an essential part of human nature. One particularly interesting point is that at this time, in this location, both Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals were alive and competing for the same living space and resources. Of course, we lived and our cousins died out. There are many suggestions that Neanderthals were as intelligent as we are, so why did we survive and they didn’t? The film points out that there are no examples of Neanderthal art, music or any sort of figurative or creative expression at all, while a fair amount of evidence of Homo Sapien creativity from that period has been found. I’ve heard that fact before, but the movie did a nice job of suggesting that creativity is one of the sources of our strength as a species. Typical crazy Herzog B.S.? Perhaps, but it resonated.
Wow, sidetrack. This post was supposed to be about something else entirely – the way Herzog used 3D in the movie. I had heard in review after review that he did something really special – reviews trumpeted that the flick had finally figured out the “right” way to use 3D. So, I was psyched to see it. However, when I finally got into the theater, the 3D was muddled and odd. Everything was sharply in focus no matter its apparent distance from the lens, and appeared to be on the same plane while simultaneously sticking out from the screen. It was weird, headache-inducing and certainly not the 3D tour de force I was expecting.
I should mention now that I went to the show with my friend Rob, who is a cinematographer. So, he has more than his share of familiarity with projection systems and such. After about ten minutes of the weird 3D, he asked me if I thought it looked as crappy as he did. I agreed, and he went out to chat with the projectionist. He came back, the problem wasn’t solved, and he said to me, “Okay, take your glasses and flip them over. Put them on upside-down.” I did that, and voila, PERFECT 3D. Some of the best I’ve ever seen. I’m still not entirely clear why that worked (Rob explained it to me as a matter of convergence points and such), but it felt like a moment of awesome professional expertise on his part. I love that stuff. Whether it’s watching a documentary about precision watchmakers, seeing a virtuoso musician perform or watching as an artist creates a perfect portrait out of just a few penstrokes, expertise is the BOMB.
Once the 3D issue was fixed (for me, anyway – I almost walked around the theater and shared the trick with the other patrons, but didn’t – even bearing GOOD news to theatergoers, even at showing of an arthouse Herzog doc, runs a risk of violent reprisal in NYC – and I was lazy) the movie was phenomenal. Highly recommended.
Man, what a weird blog entry this was.