“Cave of Forgotten Dreams”

Lascaux cave art

When I was younger I wanted to visit the Lascaux caves in Southern France to get as close as possible to the famous prehistoric paintings on the walls. Unfortunately, the caves, discovered in 1942 were closed to the public in 1963, shortly before I learned of their existence. Apparently, the hordes of tourists who got there before me weren’t able to hold their breath while walking through the 200-meter structure and their exhaled carbon dioxide damaged the paintings.  In 2008, the presence of black mold placed these caves off-limits to all but a few restorers. Now you can only take a virtual tour of the Lascaux caves, but in conditions significantly less dank and less claustrophobic.

Chauvet cafe painting

The movie “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” by filmmaker Werner Herzog also lets you tour a cave art gallery, this time the Chauvet cave, which, too, is in Southern France. The cave was named after one of its discoverers in 1994.  Chauvet is larger than Lascaux with paintings that carbon dating has identified as reaching the advanced age of 32,000 years, nearly twice as old as those in Lascaux.  Scientists have taken every precaution to preserve the art and the cave contents, including allowing only a small film crew to enter the structure and then for just short periods of time.

Picasso, step aside.  These Paleolithic artists were remarkably talented and modern, as you can see from the painting of four horses and other beasts.  Equine portraits were intermixed with paintings of rhinos, cave bears, cave lions, bison, ibexes, cattle and reindeer. We also got a close look at the red palm prints made by the mysterious artist with a crooked little finger on his right hand.

The movie, presented in 3D, sometimes enhances the viewer’s experience, sometimes adds nothing relevant, and occasionally was completely distracting.  The experts who were interviewed seemed only a few feet away from our theater seats and I found it hard not to reach for their images.  Sometimes I felt like I was on foot, winding my way through the different caverns, spellbound by what I was seeing, not only on the walls, but on the floors and hanging from the ceiling.  Another time, an art historian, who seemed to be standing nearly on my lap, was gesturing with one arm, and her flickering hand directly in front of my face was annoying.

After seeing the 2010 Academy Awards best picture nominee, “127 Hours,” about a young man trapped in a cave, and after having had a mild attack of claustrophobia standing in a hillside cave in Arizona watching what seemed like the entire population of the state crawling into this tiny chamber after me, I no longer feel cheated by having to watch cave art on a screen.  This film dropped me right in the middle of Chauvet — without having to go through airport screening — and let me experience the art fully.

About stillalife

I retired June 30, 2010 after working for 40 years in the field of education and most recently doing school public relations/community outreach in a mid-size urban school district. I wrote for superintendents and school board members. Now I'm writing for me and I hope for you. In this blog, I offer my own views coupled with the latest research on how to preserve our physical and mental health as we age, delve into issues most of us over 50 can relate to like noticing wrinkles and forgetting where we left our keys, discuss the pros and cons of different ways to engage our minds and bodies after we leave the workplace, and throw in an occasional book review, all peppered with a touch of humor, irony, and just plain silliness.
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3 Responses to “Cave of Forgotten Dreams”

  1. Sharon says:

    Actually there is a very impressive replica of the caves that will allow you to experience what it would be like to visit the original — without creating mold. Might be worth a visit. Here’s what the Lascoux visitor website says says:

    “In 1983, a carefully executed replica known as Lascaux II opened to the public. Located on the same hill as the original, the replica cave took 10 years to complete. The paintings were reproduced with painstaking attention to detail by a local artist named Monique Peytral.”

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