Okay, so I know this is a music blog and not about movies, but I have to deviate a little from the norm here. I will spend a little time on the music, but for once, the film is the most important thing.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams is a 2010 documentary by Werner Herzog about a cave in France which contains the oldest known cave paintings made by humans. Ever. We’re talking something like 32,000 years old. If you need that put into perspective, the Renaissance, perhaps the largest and greatest artistic movement ever, began approximately 700 hundred years ago. And we consider that art really old.
This is one of the most stunning films I have ever seen, and the score by Ernst Reijseger is so perfect and haunting. It is truly a case of the music being there purely to enhance the visual experience. And what an experience it is. The people who created these drawings of animals by firelight had an innate sense of movement, of life. It is unknown what the cave was used for or why the drawings were done in the first place, but it is agreed that since no humans ever lived there, it was a ceremonial place. In addition to showing the incredible images from the Chauvet Cave, Herzog also interviews archaeologists about other finds in the region–more paintings, statuary, and small flutes. What all this says to me is that humans have a need for art, that we have been creating pictures and music and stories for the entirety of our existence. That these things did not serve any physical survival needs, only the psychic ones. Anyone who does not believe that we need these things, or that Arts programs are frivolous, needs to see this film. We would not be humans if we did not create art.
The whole thing is posted on YouTube. Or Netflix it. Or buy it somewhere. But see this film now.
Here’s a sample of just the music.
Time for a little side trip into the wonderful world of film scores.
If you have not seen The Mission, I highly recommend it. It is not a great film, but it is a very good one; there’s a couple of plot points that could’ve been explained better, but it features fierce performances by Robert DeNiro and Jeremy Irons. (To be honest, it is on my short list of movies that actually could’ve stood to have been a little longer.) The score was done by Ennio Morricone, a marvelous composer and one of the great names in entertainment history.
I’m not entirely sure if I can describe what this music does to me. It is simultaneously heart-wrenching and uplifting. Although I flash on the film whenever I hear it (and knowing what happens in the film does influence my reaction), I am transported to someplace else whenever I hear this. Especially the refrain of “The Falls.” It begins as a series of notes played solo on what sounds like a wooden flute, then swells at the end into full orchestra. I feel some unnameable thing–it is joy and despair, blessing and curse, falling and flying. For the time it is playing, I believe in miracles.
“Vita Nostra” is another track that strongly moves me. “Vita Nostra,” for anyone who doesn’t know their Latin, means “Our Life.” It occurs several times in the score, a reminder that the lives of the priests and natives are at odds with the rest of the world. Their only concern is to protect their home in the rainforest, to live a life that is righteous. It has always seemed to me like an accusation of the world, of the greed and corruption that spells the mission’s doom (oops, that was a bit of a spoiler). I like the way the voices bite off each word, snipping and sniping without quite crossing the invisible line of insurrection.
These are just two of my favorite moments from a sublime musical experience. Please experience the whole thing for yourself. And it’s good even if you don’t see the film.