Here’s a spoiler if you haven’t seen Werner Herzog‘s latest documentary, the 3D-made (no really), “Cave Of Forgotten Dreams” which centers on ancient cave art — the oldest paintings known to man in the world (shot in three-deee!). So yeah, if you haven’t seen it (and if this headline hasn’t ruined it already), stay away.
Ok, ‘Forgotten Dreams’ is sort of your standard Herzog doc, though a bit more elegiac, cathedral-like — Herzog imbues the proceedings with a solemnity that is befitting images that should be respected and viewed with awe. It’s not our favorite of his non-fiction works (or at least that seems to be the consensus around these part), but we suppose that’s relative compared to his other docs. Regardless, the doc pretty much goes like this (taken and tweaked from our review) : Herzog and his small film crew were granted unprecedented access to obscure caves in the south end of France discovered in 1994 French by speleologist Jean-Marie Chauvet. Inside these subterranean dwellings is evidence of extremely early Upper Paleolithic life, including the most primitive and oldest cave painting art on earth (evidently 30,000 years old)
However, near the end of the doc, in typical Herzog fashion is a (rather unnecessary, but amusing) post-script about some nearby Albino crocodiles. According to Herzog, the crocodiles are actually the mtated offspring of animals that have been living in a French greenhouse heated by the runoff from a nearby nuclear power plant. And of course Herzog attempts to use the crocs to form some sort of absurd and tenuous correlation between the animals and the cave dwellers — their dreams, their aspirations and their unknown ambitions.
Of course it’s fictitious and that’s not a spoiler, Herzog has maintained for several years — that while some charge it to be irresponsible fabrication — that his films contain an “ecstatic truth” rather than the “accountant’s truth.” We’re to glean — from several interviews on this very subject that Herzog has given — that “accountant’s truth” is dull unsexy fact and “ecstatic truth” is Herzog’s version which “illuminates” the story. But this writer is not sure he’s ever seen Herzog fess up to his tricks in such a bold fashion on TV. He usually just simply gives the somewhat cryptic, but telling, “ecstatic truth” quotes. Until now.
“It’s a wild post-script, it’s a wild science-fiction sort of fantasy at the end,” Herzog told Stephen Colbert on “The Colbert Report” last night. “I want the audience with me in wild fantasy in something that illuminates them. You see if I were only fact based, the book of books in literature then would be the Manhattan phone directory — four million entries, everything correct. But it [flies] out of my ears and I do not know: do they dream at night? Does Mr. Jonathan Smith cry in his pillow at night? We do not know anything when we check the correct entries in the phone directory. I am not this kind of a filmmaker.” Best. Quote. Ever.
Watch the entire clip below, it’s pretty amusing. For the record, this writer is ok with ecstatic truth — when it actually works. “Cave Of Forgotten Dreams” was out in limited release earlier this year, and still may be in your local arthouse if you’re lucky. It will arrive on DVD later this year.