Photo by J. Clottes
Lascaux was discovered by Robot the dog. Chauvet saw a star of Prehistoric Cinema born. Cave paintings in France show more than meets the eye. They certainly show the first bison. Animals: we dedicate a second issue of the Journal to them.
Just a second! «I’m giving you the plot». Woody Allen is sitting in the offices of a TV studio. «The plot is that the son is kind of sensitive and he wants to draw.» Woody plays the part of a mediocre ad man. He is pitching the idea for a sitcom, centered on the classic family… of Neanderthals. «He draws bisons on the wall and other, you know…but basically bisons.»
No, the meeting with producers doesn’t go well, with the story full of absurdities ending in the third episode of Crisis in Six Scenes. Yes, it’s a recently produced series by the New York director.
«THE BOY DRAWS BISONS ON THE WALLS.»
But let’s try to answer his question. We know what a Paleolithic man would draw, right? Woody plays with our mental images. Those that cling to a memory, or blossom from an inkling, can make an inner portrait from a word taken from the world. «Thirty thousand years ago.» «Painted caves». «Lascaux». We from the Journal are adding one more: Chauvet.
The oldest painted caves known to us so far were discovered in Ardèche, in southeastern France, by Jean-Marie Chauvet, who has had the honor of linking his name to thousands of extraordinary cave paintings. But he was one of few to see them in real life, back in 1994. Warned about the risk of it becoming a tourist disaster like in Lascaux, the Chauvet Cave has been reserved for scholars, and open to the public only in a scaled-down reproduction.
Photo by C. Valette
WOODY ALLEN, WERNER HERZOG, AND AN UNEXPECTED STAR.
Luckily for us, cinema has come to the Ardèche. And not via Woody Allen. But through Werner Herzog, director of a small masterpiece called The Cave of Forgotten Dreams. It is through the eyes of a single artist that we non-archaeologists, non-speleologists get to see the paintings in Chauvet.
Huge herds of bison from tens of thousands of years ago on the frozen tundra. Indeed, it is as if a procession of animals had entered the rock, and remained there moving among the colorful pigment. It’s just like being at the movies!
Again luckily for us, there are serious scholars who have already spoken of a Prehistoric Cinema, so there’s no risk of appearing foolish – like the protagonist in the first frame of our post – if we affirm confidently that the Bison, in addition to being the main subject of the painting, is also the premier star on the big screen.