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In ‘Cave’ everything we do is personal

By Sister Helena Burns, FSP | Contributor
Sunday, May 22, 2011

Cave of Forgotten Dreams” is the latest documentary by the inimitable Werner Herzog. Herzog is one of the most human of all filmmakers, inserting himself, and everyone else, into his documentaries in the most casual and unpolished of styles.

He films himself filming. He films his cameramen filming. We hear him asking questions of his interviewees, and then he interrupts them to probe further. Herzog employs what Blessed John Paul II would call the “personalistic norm.” That is, everything we do, we do humanly. Everything we do is personal and partly subjective: perspective, participation, appreciation and influencing outcomes.

And the personalistic norm is a good thing. Humans should humanize. Persons should personalize. Herzog needs to involve everyone and everyone-experiencing- everything in his documentary as part of a successful experiment.

“Cave of Forgotten Dreams” takes us into the Chauvet Caves in Southern France where, in 1994, the oldest cave drawings in the world, 32,000 years old, were discovered in pristine condition. They are twice as old as any other cave drawings ever found.

Herzog, entering the caves with a team of scientists and art historians, was the only person ever allowed to film the extraordinary sight. Now we get to ogle the exquisite and refined line drawings of animals (some also shaded in) of (mostly) a single, very talented artist. The lights and cameras that Herzog and crew were allowed to bring in were not of the highest quality, but in the end, the effect is that we see the wondrous drawings in the same kind of flickering, dancing light that the Paleolithic people torch light.

There is only one image of a human being: a woman combined with an image of a bull. The rest of the beasts are trueto- life but artistic renderings of the animals that surrounded these early modern humans. The horses are the most beautiful. Everyone in the film pretty much agrees that they are the crown jewels of the caves.

Imagine the artist knowing that we — his brothers and sisters from the future — would be admiring his work all over the world on large screens. Of course, he does know, because “to him all are alive” (Lk 20:38).

Herzog wants to put “ecstatic truth” in his films. He wants to go for “emotional accuracy” above all, which he seems to have achieved in “Cave.”

His opinion of the Chauvet Caves? “It’s as if the modern human soul burst forth here,” he said.