“the illusion of movement, like frames in an animated film”
Cave drawings from 25k to 40k years ago, during the last ice age, including drawings of extinct animals. The earliest recorded human artworks. Somewhat ecstatic movie, between the cave camerawork and the string/choral music, with notes of Herzogian strangeness (a master perfumer speaks of trying to sniff out hidden caves). The first half suffers from having to use a subpar camera, without the time or equipment needed to set up perfect shots, but the crew gets to return with better stuff later, slowly moving a light source while the camera remains still to expose the rock’s textures. Herzog faithfully edits their two journeys separately instead of just using images from the second trip and pretending like they got it perfect the first time.
Sidetrack interviews with cave explorers, engineers plotting the cave with laser imagery, a historian who demonstrates statuettes, ornaments and musical instruments from the ice age, carved from mammoth tusks. Then an unexpected poetic epilogue about albino alligators in a steamy greenhouse warmed by runoff waters from a nuclear plant.
Herzog in Cinema Scope:
There’s not much room for intentionality. You have one week. You have four hours a day to shoot. You have to build your cameras and then reconfigure your cameras on a 60 centimetre-wide walkway. You’re allowed only three people with you. You’re allowed only three small panels of light. So intentionality is reduced to having to film like crazy and deliver.
Of course there was a very clear idea about why 3-D was necessary, and clear ideas about music. There was a clear idea about not trying to define what things represent… because we do not know. There are a number of hypotheses made by scientists, but what’s construed to be a ceremonial site could just as easily have been the traces of children playing. I think we have to keep possibilities open if we want to understand what can look to us like the sudden awakening of the modern human soul.
DEC 2021: Watched again with Katy, who liked it enough that she’s taking an interest in other Herzog movies – this could be good.
Ode to the Dawn of Man (2011, Werner Herzog)
Also on the DVD, Herzog takes a camera to the recording of the film’s score by really amazing cellist Ernst Reijseger. I could watch this a bunch more times. Probably I should just buy the soundtrack.