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Werner Herzog Fesses Up To The Fake "Mutated" Albino Crocodiles In 'Cave Of Forgotten Dreams'

by Edward Davis
June 7, 2011 3:23 AM
8 Comments
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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.

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8 Comments

  • isomorphismes | October 24, 2013 1:09 AMReply

    There was a similar conflict between Mike Daisey and Ira Glass / This American Life thisamericanlife://radio-archives/episode/460/retraction

    The "deeper truth" that fiction authors get at; what underlies, or the "journalist's truth" — like what we know for a fact.

  • desu | March 13, 2013 9:19 PMReply

    poor minded leftover of humanity, even the people who did the art on this cave have more brain and sensitivity than the writter of this "review" (using voice of Dr.Evil of Austin Powers)...

  • Aaron | September 26, 2011 5:13 AMReply

    What a poorly written piece from someone who should reserve judgments to content he can actually grasp. Why tell people to "stay away"?! Because you didn't get it, so why would we bother?!

    Mike is right, the crocodiles are us.

    I hope I never accidentally come here and waste time at this site again.

  • General Shareman | September 12, 2011 1:32 AMReply

    I also thought Herzog's silly musings at the end hit a sour note in an otherwise stunning film. Albino crocodiles are not so very rare in the wild and I have seen several at zoos, where, once you have a captive group with the trait, you will begin to have many more.

    I am a reasonably intelligent person and have watched many Herzog films and have seen him in lecture some years back but I had a hard time following his train of thought on this one.

  • Mike | August 16, 2011 7:28 AMReply

    I think you totally miss the point of the albino crocodiles. They are not meant to represent the ancient cave painting humans. They are meant to represent US.

    Herzog wants us to think about our origins. About the world that humans came from, a world of vast forests and raw animal life, in which humans were just a small part, fighting tenuously for day to day survival.

    The albino crocodiles live (apparently) in a fake enclosure fed by warm radioacive waste water from a nearby nuclear plant. They are mutated and distorted, raised in captivity in an artificial environment. The image of the albino crocodiles is one rich in these symbols - captivity, artificiality, distortion, mutation. Herzog is portraying US as beings raised in an artificial enclosure, distorted and mutated by the fake industrial world. We are like the albino crocodiles as we attempt to stare back through the distortion of our world, through the glass barrier, back to prehistory.

    Why would those albino crocodiles have anything at all to do with the cave painters? That makes no sense at all! The only reason you would believe that is because you are extremely uncomfortable with facing up to the pain of Herzog's true analogy.

  • ska-triumph | June 8, 2011 7:55 AMReply

    I did see this in 3D at the IFC center NYC, and even with a couple of snooze times, I enjoyed the dream-like cinematography of the caves... The postscript/epilogue crap with those albino crocodiles - real or not - ruined the aftertaste. Seriously, yeah, it's Herzog but geez.

  • matt | June 8, 2011 3:38 AMReply

    FYI it's Chauvet, not Chauve

  • Cobraverde | June 7, 2011 4:27 AMReply

    Werner Herzog has such a great voice I'd listen to him recite the Manhattan telephone book.

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