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Werner Herzog

by Charlie Finch
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I had been looking forward to seeing Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams for a while, but dreaded getting a headache from the 3D glasses, which I had last used during a previous 3D revival in 1984, when a bunch of Hitchcock flicks, such as Dial M for Murder, were released theatrically in 3D. People told me that the 3D procedures had advanced from the old days, but the same bogus glasses are still in use. So, when I got out of the 100-degree heat last week and into the air conditioning of the CC Village East Cinemas, I put the glasses on (at a cost of $17.50 a pop, and you have to return them) and, voila, the same stupid 3D "experience" and a headache aborning.

Thus I watched Herzog’s tour of the Chauvet caves in a satisfying semi-blur, only donning the specs for the five minutes or so that the film devotes to the extraordinary charcoal drawings of animal herds and other fantasies, allegedly made 25,000 years ago. As a Herzog fan, let me say that this is a stupid movie, with Herzog spouting clichés of wonder, and his heavily accented "experts," including a perfumer who smells the caves, mugging shamelessly like comic caricatures from Monty Python or the Gong Show.

Much is made of a hanging rock drawing of the lower half of a female being devoured by a bear god, though a far more frightening Big Foot monster with paws like frying pans is shown only fleetingly. Red handprints and a child’s footprints near those of a wolf lead to breathless speculation from the experts and Herzog -- dangling on an aluminum footbridge in the narrow 1,300-foot-long tunnel of the cave -- about whether or not 5,000 years passed between the creation of different images. The drawings, most more elaborate than might be believable from ancient man or woman, adhere pleasingly to the rippling chalk veneer of the cavern walls, which give you the feeling of crawling inside a bag of bones.

As amateurish and simplistic as Herzog’s narrative is, it is worth donning the pink-and-green 3D glasses for a dose of Cro-Magnon Conceptualism if only to conclude what I, always the critic, did: these drawings were done in the mid-19th century. They resemble Delacroix’s studies of the big cats and other four-leggers. . . some talented artist stumbled into the "impenetrable" Chauvet space and did some high-end graffiti.

But don’t take my word for it, check them yourself, avoiding the headache.

CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).