Here is a piece my brother Ciaran wrote about Herzog’s latest film…
Manchester City v Sunderland was available in 3D on Sky Sports yesterday. Even before I went to see Werner Herzog’s “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” in the IFI last night, this struck me as extraordinary. In the space of just a couple of years, 3D had shrunk from ‘the future of entertainment’, to a gimmick about as exclusive as HD telly, or ESPN Classic (how DO you get that on UPC? Answers on a post-card please…)
It’s safe to say that Man City’s 5-0 win, while a vital stepping stone on their way to a Champions League spot next year, wasn’t a landmark in televisual or cinematic history. But Werner Herzog’s new movie, a 90 minute trip inside the Chauvet Caves in France, which house paintings from 35,000 years ago, is a game-changer.
I’ve always been ambivalent towards 3D. ‘Up’ was the first of the new batch of 3D movies that I saw in the cinema and while I loved the movie, the 3D element seemed tacked on, an afterthought. I was looking forward to Tim Burton’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’, purely because I thought Burton was the sort of director who would actually be able to use it to his advantage. And while the movie was only ok, I felt Burton had struck on something; that he was at least trying to understand what 3D was about. The movie didn’t really work for me, and the 3D didn’t really work, but at least Burton was engaging with it as a new style, rather than as a fad.
Which leads me to Herr Herzog. For many people, he is the guy who ate his own shoe and made a movie out of it (the movie, for those of you who are curious, is called “Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe”, but he didn’t actually make it, Les Blank did. I digress…). But he is obviously one of the great minds currently working in cinema today, a conscience for us all, and someone who for better or worse really thinks about how he makes his movies and why we should watch them. The overlord of this blog-parish is a huge Herzog fan, and so almost by osmosis I’ve seen Fitzcarraldo, Woyzeck, Grizzly Man and a few others. Werner Herzog was never going to make a movie in 3 dimensions at the behest of a studio, or on a whim.
This immediately made the movie interesting to me. So Werner, why DID you make this movie in 3D? The answer lies half-way down a cliff-face in France, in a cave only discovered in 1994, which houses some of the most beautiful and haunting rock art ever seen. As an archaeological site, it’s of profound importance. But what the curators of the cave, and the scientists there working on it seem to realise to their credit is that it’s importance lies as much in it’s spirituality and artistry as it does in the more prosaic arts of carbon-dating and geology.
The micro-climate within the cave is so delicate that it will never become a tourist attraction; as Herzog says in the movie, the caves of Lascaux, another very famous example of rock art, have been seriously damaged by years of tourists breathing on it. So he saw the huge responsibility on his shoulders – he had one shot to make this movie, and he had to immerse the viewer COMPLETELY – this had to be the next best thing to being there, because that’s all the chance people were going to get to see this.
That’s where 3D comes in. The movie is a monstrous success, on every level. The 3D gives you a real appreciation of the contours of the walls, and how the artists incorporated that into their paintings – how they tried to bend their art around corners and into depressions in the wall. It’s a wholly immersible experience, which the 3D is absolutely integral to. And the central tenet of the movie – that the caves have something to tell us about the spiritual history of humanity – depends on your level of appreciation of the beauty of the caves. Herzog achieves that with stunning visuals, and so then when you hear him asking the head of research of the caves “what constitutes humanness?”, in the context of what the caves tell us about the artists, the question doesn’t sound like a Herzogian flight of fancy, but a perfectly reasonable question to ask. Were the artists the same as us, did they have an appreciation of time, and art, and the timelessness of art? It’s really a deeply serious movie, and 3D is a key partner in that.
So I’ve said this movie is a game-changer. Does this mean 3D is here to stay? I’m not entirely sure, but there is a time and a place for it, we’re sure of that now. Maybe this was a once-in-a-lifetime confluence of events – the closed setting of the caves, an auteur of the quality and temperament of Herzog, the beauty of the rock art. Maybe this is the exception that proves the rule. Maybe 3D will always be a fad. In the meantime, it’s Aston Villa at home to Newcastle next Sunday on Sky, and 2 dimensions of Richard Dunne is more than enough for me.