It is 16 years since three explorers stumbled across Chauvet cave in the Ardèche valley, southern France, the former habitat of cave bears whose footprints and scratches remain from many thousands of years ago. There is evidence of other mammals; two wolves’ skulls were amongst the many palaeontological finds. And there was another resident, pre-historic man, who covered the walls with red and black pictures and engravings. Radiocarbon testing dates most of these images from 30,000 BP, twice as old as those at Lascaux cave, previously the earliest known cave art.
An extraordinary find by any standards but all the more remarkable for the mastery of the artwork. Fully formed three dimensional bison, mammoths and other animals move in real space anticipating the classical period of modern man. But most impressive of all are the truly breathtaking panels of horses, lions and rhinoceros; a new starting point for art historians, taking their place alongside the other great works in the art canon.
Great art it may be but it is not open to the general public. Even art historians, archaeologists and other experts have very limited access during short periods each year. There are plans to create a reproduction nearby but it could never be more than a themed history exhibition that never quite comes alive. A necessary tragedy, it seemed, in the interests of preservation, and then entered Werner Herzog whose late oeuvre has specialised in surreal but outstanding journeys to the remote. Somehow, and against the odds, Herzog persuaded the authorities to allow him and a small crew to film inside the chamber. Filmed in 3D, the results are spectacular and the closest most of us will come to experiencing Chauvet in a meaningful way.
Herzog in his own very distinctive manner provokes reactions; sometimes direct questions but just as frequently through imaginative and knowingly fanciful possible explanations. We search, as do Herzog and various experts, for clues about the society, culture, religion, and, most intriguing of all, the worldview of the peoples that left us with this heritage of such majestic artwork. It is difficult to escape an overwhelming sense of absolute timelessness but nagging doubts remain as to the purity of our reactions. We have some inner desire for these artists to communicate directly with us but, more likely, our culturally generated platonic understanding of classicism is filtering our responses. In truth, this Palaeolithic time capsule probably does not yield any of its inner secrets; such are the fundamental differences in their mindset.
Herzog retains his power to shock in totally unexpected ways even when dealing with a subject that defies our expectations. There is a sudden change of direction at the film’s close where Hertzog switches focus to crocodiles residing in a glasshouse warmed by waste heat from a nuclear power station just a few miles from the cave. We are astonished and appalled when realising that the radioactivity of the water has mutated the crocodiles’ offspring so that they are now albino. There you have it; the past and the future collide in a single terrifying vision. Another masterstroke from Herzog.cheap cialis jelly buy cialis jelly cialis jelly sale generic cialis jelly