Monday, May 9, 2011
Werner Herzog's 3D chronicle of the paleolithic art in Chauvet cave is worth seeing, simply because it's as close as you're going to get to the art itself. I do not, personally, believe it's all 30,000 years old. The set of four horse heads imposed upon one another looks far newer -- but other images, yeah, I can believe. Some of the work almost looks like a sketch pad, with the artist working out the shapes of bear and lion heads in his mind.
What will make you eternally glad that the film is no longer than it is are the talking heads interviews with French archeologists, most of whom are expressing views twenty years or more behind the rest of the international community. There's far too much certainty and far too little acknowledgment of what we don't know. The recurring claim that there is no Neanderthal art, for example, is especially annoying. We don't know who made most of the old stone age representational material that we have -- we just flat don't know, and insisting that it's all Homo sapiens and none if it H. sapiens neanderthalensis is juvenile; it's the sort of behavior that costs you tenure in a US university, and it should.
The decision to shoot in 3D, however demanding it was, was a good one. The artists painted their animals around the contours of the cave walls, and the 3D lets you see how they made it all work. So go see it if you care about this sort of thing, just put on your skeptic headset along with your 3D glasses, any time anybody is talking.