Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010) is a documentary shown earlier this week at the United Artists DeVargas Mall in Santa Fe. It has to do with paintings of animals recently discovered in a cave in France. They are substantially over 30,000 years old. Werner Herzog, the famous director, was able to get inside but had to stay in bounds. He could bring only so much artificial light and his crew crawled within a narrow, prescribed walkway in the middle, away from the sides. The walls, of course, are the canvases. Insofar as they are not flat but shaped the paintings on them have the appearance of being three-dimensional.
Outside the Chauvet Caves is an elevated, cliff-hugging, paved highway. Cars mindlessly speed by as they do alongside the petroglyphs on the western edge of Albuquerque. The drawings on the rocks here are hundreds of years old. Those in the cave of southern France are thousands of years old. In terms of age, there is no contest. But something about the preservation of pictorial records, if only in the form of diagrams, or wavy, curvilinear lines, seems to be shared in common. Somehow, in both cases, the unknown artists knew that their work would survive them, as would the rocks upon which they were etched.
But by over thirty-thousand years? Various archeologists speak glowingly about this find and what it might mean for us. They are eloquent and insightful, but only to a point. The prehistoric mindset that prompted these paintings can only be imagined. Handprints suggest an artist six feet tall. Eight foot high scratchings indicate a bear on its hind legs. Is one engraving older than the other? If so, which came first, and by how long? On the floor of the cave is the footprint of a boy adjacent to that of a wolf. Were they made simultaneously? And why is there an arrangement of painted horses next to sketches of bison?
Such questions serve to emphasize the limitations of science. A scientist who deals with bones asserts that the cave was not inhabited but used instead to make these drawings. Needless to say, Cave of Forgotten Dreams is a fascinating film. For a documentary that only just came out, it has already established a reputation of sorts. It especially appeals to those who are fond of the fine arts. There are no lack of these in Santa Fe. Fortunately, it all spills over into cinema. Albuquerqueans can, on this occasion, take advantage of what their sister city has to offer for the price of a ticket. However, no one need miss out. The dvd is coming soon.