The Nightmares of the Aurignacian Culture and Our Own: Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Radioactive Alligators

Warner Herzog's latest movie, the highly rated "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" explores some cool cave paintings at the Cave of Chauvet-Pot-D'Arc in France. The ~30,000 year old paintings are significant archaeologically, geographically and culturally, and the movie does a great job of bringing the art of the restricted cave to a larger audience, albeit at times ponderously.

Some people will surely appreciate the mystical sometimes overwrought other-world importance Herzog brings to the cave finds. In the film's postscript, Herzog films some albino crocodiles that he describes as downstream from a nuclear power plant near the valley. The move perhaps encourages the audience to compare some dystopic nuclear future inhabited by spooky radioactive albino crocodiles crawling the land, to his vision of a beautiful pristine valley once populated by mammoths, bears, lions, rhinoceros and loin-clothed artistes.

Herzog seems to imbue the Aurignacian culture with the same mythical qualities that James Cameron gave to the fictional Na'vi of "Avatar", both are feted with dreamlike qualities these men seem to admire - wisdom, god-like eco-consciousness, and the capacity to appreciate (and produce) immense beauty. 1 Herzog makes a good film. But our ancestors of 30,000 years ago perhaps mastered the exquisite details of very large and dangerous beasts via many close and no doubt brutal encounters. Such encounters perhaps stirred memories that kept them up nights feverishly scratching very vivid animal portraits on cave walls with charcoal sticks. Is it too facile to point out that the art wasn't necessary created in the lush, happy tranquility of a remote French valley as viewed through modern man's eyes 30,000 years later?

At the end of the movie, Herzog tacks on some fictional "radioactive crocodiles". When interviewed by Stephen Colbert, Herzog said he wanted the audience to come with him on a "wild fantasy" that "illuminates". Without embellishment, he said, reality would be the Manhattan phone directory, 4 million entries, all correct. You would not know what anyone thinks, he said, or cries about...Therefore he's not "this kind of filmmaker". (Colbert invited him to party sometime.)

So the film seems a sort of 'up in smoke' melding of fact and fiction. The paintings are real, but with a fictional allegorical meta-framing. And the postscript crocodiles are in fact non-radioactive alligators, alligators imported from Louisiana, to a French Crocodile Farm where he filmed them. There are only about 20 albino alligators in the world apparently, because they are rare and genetically fragile. The two of Herzog's wild fantasy movie are usually used to attract tourists. Wild.


1 Added 06/11/11: Except now I learn Herzog more or less hated "Avatar", comparing it unflatteringly to yoga

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