Film Review:Cave of Forgotten Dreams

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Film Review:Cave of Forgotten Dreams
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The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: Film Review:Cave of Forgotten Dreams. The discussion was initiated by baboon.
Below is the discussion so far. Feel free to add your own comments!

a couple of additional points

Just to indulge my passion a bit more, if I may:


Another confirmation from the paintings of Chauvet is of the theses of David Lewis-Williams regarding the cognitive nature of this art, how it fits into the neurological mechanisms that he argues for and for the likely expressions of altered states of consciousness. Lewis-Williams and many other have been villified for putting this analysis forward by supporters of the reactionary view that we can never know, or approach any understanding of what this cave art means.


A few more words on the baboon: the number of rhinocerous that it appears to be contemplating are very active. What appears to be at the side of the baboon is the horse panel comprising of beautifully drawn, undoubtedly feminine, horses (the direct desendents of the same breed can be seen on Exmoor in Somerset today). One of the rhinos appears to be swivelling around towards the horses. As Herzog directs the camera to pan over this scene, perhaps for thirty seconds, the different contours of the cave wall and point of view of it, to my astonishment, turned the baboon into a rhinocerous. Elsewhere in the cave, and characteristic of other cave art, are clearly composite creatures of which one is not quite sure. These, and other "fantastic" creatures seems to have been deliberately fashioned. The legs of the baboon disappear into nothing, ie, there are no feet. This is a feature of a significant number of animals (some have exaggerated feet), albeit a minority. And while ground lines do not exist in Upper Palaeolithic cave art (nor do trees, grass, clouds, etc.) it gives the appearance that the image is "floating" which gives added strength to the idea that these images were representations of spirits. The same could be said of some (not all) of the Swabian portable carvings which are also marked by "signs" and, while they are in a state of "tension", the feet disappear into nothing.


Herzog, who's a great cinemaphotographer and a bit of a nutter, has a strange but powerful epilogue to the film. It concerns two extraordinary looking white albino alligators that live in the underground waters of a nearby cave. Herzog wonders what these bug-eyed creatures would have made of the paintings had they found their way into Chauvet through the subterrenean passages. But the strength of this epilogue is that Herzog, freed from the necessary constraints of filming in the cave, goes to town with the cinematic effects which along with the 3D produces a stunning conclusion.



















By coincidence I noticed Max

By coincidence I noticed Max Nordau also starts his book On art and artists with the question of the meaning of these cave pictures by our savage forefathers:

Nordau wrote:
... These savage forefathers who adorned the caves of
the early stone age with works of art not invariably
crude ; who woke the echo of the forest valleys with
plaintive or yearning melodies ; who excited themselves
by sensuous dances in the moonlight nights of
spring ; who formed, in symbolic and allegorical songs,
their mystic impressions of the great phenomena
of the weather and sky;—these savage forefathers
were the first, but at the same time last, purely
subjective artists, the only real believers in the
dogma of " art for art's sake."
In order to find them once more in our own times,
we must seek them in the nursery or the Board
School class - room. The artist of primitive times
survives by atavism in the child. But he substitutes
for the rock-wall of the cave and the mammoth's
tooth his slate, copy-book, school-books, often enough
his desk and form, which he adorns with drawings that, if not particularly finished, are, nevertheless,
always full of expression, and recognisable. The
child does not give way to his artistic wantonness in
order to please others. He hides it, moreover, mostly
for obvious reasons, from the eyes of strangers ; he
only draws to portray symbolically that which has
made a strong impression on him. He always notes
down the important, distinguishing features which
have struck him in the phenomenon. This fierce
mustache, the circle drawn across which represents the
head, is for the little draughtsman the characteristic
of manly dignity ; this right-angled broken stroke,
which bristles up over a row of men, is the formidable
bayonet that marks the soldier; this disproportionately
big stick in another man's hand is the
dreaded badge that embodies the schoolmaster's
power. The young artist has obeyed genuine
impulses. His art forms really spring out of the
deep grounds of his emotion.
one hand clapping

baboon wrote:
The entry into the "other world" of the cave and being "pulled" along by the panels of compositions is nowhere better illustrated than Lascaux where one is gradually sucked into an intense vortex of swirling beasts and designs. This is more than religious belief and ritual but a universal envelopment into the tiered cosmos and a consciousness that is fundamental to developing human society. I think that it's important to see these paintings as expressions of pre-existing ideas and this is strengthened by the fact that, in general, portable art, small carvings of animals and anthropomorphic figures, appear at least contemporary with or some time before the cave wall art - one would think that it would be the other way around. These small carved animal figures embodied the ideas of "spirituality" that existed within the peoples and was exemplified within the shamanisms.

But this quote isn't from this article above  but from another by baboon written in 2013 about Max Raphael  and shamanism among other  many curious and fascinating things.   But the other article doesn't have a space for comments. So I transferred the quote from it here. 

This is because I'm  interested in the idea of "expressions of pre-existing ideas" and have been wondering for some time how "pre-existing ideas" get into people's heads.  And also wondering where the stuff of dreams comes from.  I should have re-read the article above but didn't!  I understand how a lot of stuff gets into people's heads via experience and even education, but what bothers me is to wonder, perhaps naively, whether we are born already having some content in our as yet officially unformed minds and as yet undeveloped consciousness? Or are we born with blank and totally empty slates waiting to be chalked on. 

i must confess,  that I've always assumed that at birth our brains, and other physical attributes like genes and the blood, already contain information and for lack of a better expression what I'd call a "racial memory".  Somewhat foolishly I once admitted to this (vaguely) in a post on libcom years ago and was laughed off the web. It emerged that anarchist comrades generally think we are all born with brains empty of content.  This surprised and amazed me. But I wondered if they must not obviously be right? 

So this is an  issue I don't deliberately think about much, but it always returns whenever I read stuff by baboon on what  our Palaeolithic  ancestors got up to.  So when baboon refers to "a consciousness that is fundamental" to society above,  I wonder about  the unconscious too, and just how fundamental that might be? And anyway what is meant exactly by "fundamental? And  about whether we are born with some kind of racial memories mainly unconscious but  already in place, and only showing up in dreams, or imaginings, or in response to art and music, hallucinogens  and other unidentified triggers, which produce "gleams like the flashing of a shield" to quote Wordsworth - I think he was referring to  the flashing of a mirror in the sun.  What  might be the source of these intuitions, intimations of immortality (Wordsworth again) ethical sensibilities concerning right and wrong, what is the ground of artistic expression?

Not that our Palaeolithic forebears were bothered about "artistic expression" but more perhaps with  expressing the inexpressible which language cannot satisfactorily cope with? 

Do I hear comrades laughing already, or was it just the sound of one hand clapping? 

A lot there Fred

I liked the Wordsworth quotes Fred and thought them very apt in relation to the question of altered states of consciousness and the importance of timelessness in artistic expressions. I don't know about "racial memory" but think that we are born with certain instincts that can be more or less influenced by the material conditions of society.

There's a lot there Fred and I can't easily answer it but I'm presently working on the second part of Max Raphael which deals mostly with Upper Palaeolithic art so hopefully there will be some deepening there. But when you talk about our prehistoric forbears not being bothered about artistic expression, I think that this is correct given that during this period there is absolutely no question of a "framed" picture - it's inconcievable to the peoples of the time. There are no trees, no grass, no background, no human figures (very interesting), not even ground lines. So in the painting, engraving or modelling of these animal and anthromorphic figures what was being expressed is much more than appears immediatley obvious. The many "signs" (abstractions, hand-prints, scribbles, etc.) that surround, seem to connect and overlay the works of art do suggest to me some elements of a "language", that taken with the expressions had a profound meaning for the peoples of the time. I will return to this question in the text.