08 April 2016

From the Silence of the Ages

I am finishing Paul Cronin's fine Werner Herzog:  A Guide for the Perplexed, a compendium of the great German (or as he would prefer, Bavarian) director's insights on filmmaking and living.

For those who've admired Herzog and his work, as I have for forty years, Guide is an invaluable companion to the films and the keen intelligence of their creator.

I'm focusing on him here specifically after reading his colloquy with Cronin about the remarkable 2011 documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams in which we are taken inside the earth under the French countryside at Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc to witness art created by humans 32,000 years ago.  

We -- you and I -- wrestle with communicating through the visual work we do.  What can we learn about the dim recesses of humankind's history from these astonishing paintings and their surroundings?  Herzog tells us:

"These aren't primitive scribblings on the cave walls, like the first attempts of young children.  Art emerged fully accomplished, tens of thousands of years ago; Greek, Roman, Renaissance and modern art never got any better."  
And what vestiges of that art lingered in humanity's DNA, only to emerge many thousands of years later?  Herzog again:

"The only human representation in the cave is a painting of a bison embracing the lower part of a naked female body.  We should ask ourselves why Picasso -- who at the time had no knowledge of Chauvet  -- used the same motif in his series of drawings of the Minotaur and the woman."
You need not be an artist to appreciate the enormity of what's contained inside this cave. The paintings left behind reveal a deep aesthetic sensibility we don't associate with "cavemen."  

I have seen Cave of Forgotten Dreams several times.  Each viewing reminds me of my essential humanity and the long chain of those who blazed the trail for me down through the eons.

I urge you to watch and wonder for yourself.

And don't miss one of the year's best thrillers.  

"A great read." JS, Illinois

"I found myself not being able to put the book down...it just got better and better."  LS, Arizona

"It maps the tortures of the human soul in a completely unexpected and shocking way.  Read it!" CE, Illinois

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