The Ecstasy of Time Travel in Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams

In David LaRocca (ed.), The Philosophy of Documentary Film: Image, Sound, Fiction, Truth. Lanham, MD 20706, USA: Lexington Books. pp. 209-224 (2017)
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Documentary film is that genre of filmmaking that lays bare the fact of all film, which is that it presents "a world past" (Cavell, The World Viewed). This fact of film seems to point to a paradox of time in our experience of movies: we are present at something that has happened, something that is over. But what if we were to take this fact to show that film has the power to place us outside our ordinary, unreflective relation to time? In this essay I examine three pre-cinematic descriptions of relations to time – in Emerson, Thoreau, and Weil – that anticipate the paradox of time inherent in film. I then put that examination to use in a reading of Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a film ostensibly about prehistoric cave paintings but whose achievement is its declaration, not to document some past time, but to liberate the present moment.

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William Day
Le Moyne College


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