I’m very pleased to be launching a new Tumblr with the wonderful kateopolis. It’s called “image oscillite” and it will curate a video collection, at a rate of two a day, that I hope will eventually be on par with her superb kateopolis.tumblr.com. If we fail to achieve that level of quality, it will undoubtedly be my fault. :)
Something like 20,000 years ago, a rock slide sealed up the entrance to a large cave set into a limestone cliff above the Ardèche River in southern France. No human being entered it again until 1994, when a trio of explorers wedged themselves through a tiny aperture and made one of the most extraordinary discoveries of cultural history: Chambers upon chambers of spectacular prehistoric art, both figurative and abstract, including images of many extinct species of Ice Age animals. You and I will never see any of this, except with the help of Werner Herzog’s strange, flawed and mesmerizing 3-D film Cave of Forgotten Dreams, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on Monday night.
Let me go over that again briefly: Yes, Werner Herzog has made a movie in 3-D that’s largely set inside a cave full of Stone Age art. His producer, Erik Nelson — who is a friend and an occasional Salon contributor — says that Herzog is the first director of the new 3-D wave to use the technology for good, not for evil. Secondly, yes, the art is beautiful, even stunningly accomplished, and these images are breathtaking — unlike anything you’ve seen before or will see again. And thirdly, yes, Cave of Forgotten Dreams will become a classic drug movie almost immediately, although the experience is mind-altering enough without any augmentation.
What’s now known as the Chauvet Cave (after Jean-Marie Chauvet, leader of the exploring party) was promptly seized and sealed by the French government; more people have visited the summit of Everest since 1994 than have seen the interior of the cave. Much of the struggle for Herzog and Nelson was getting in there in the first place. Beyond the 400 or so Paleolithic cave paintings in pristine condition, and the important artifacts and fossils (cave-bear skulls! cave-bear scratches!), Chauvet has far-reaching implications for the study of cultural prehistory and the birth of human consciousness. These paintings are roughly twice as old as any other known examples of pictorial art. (The earliest of them may go back 33,000 years.) They’re as close as we can come, at least for now, to the dawn of art.
One of the oldest and largest cathedrals in the world, the splendid Hagia Sophia, which is now a museum, sits atop an ancient series of underground tunnels said to connect the cathedral with the Basilica Cistern, Princes’ Islands and Topkapi Palace. Director Göksel Gülensoy has decided to embark on a scuba diving expedition under the building to unlock some of her ancient secrets. Gülensoy began his documentary project in 1998, but budget concerns and Turkish government red tape delayed its completion until late 2009. His 50-minute film, In the Depths of Hagia Sophia, shows a side of the historic structure that has never before been explored in depth, let alone filmed. More here.
At its peak in 1950, the city was the fourth-largest in the USA, but its new statistics are staggering: 40sq miles of the 139sq mile inner city have already been reclaimed by nature. One in five houses now stand empty. Property prices have fallen 80% or more over the last three years and a three-bedroom house on Albany Street is still on the market for $1.
The seeds of the Motor City’s downfall were sown a long time ago. The blind belief of the Big Three in the automobile as an inexhaustible golden goose, guaranteeing endless streams of cash, resulted in the city becoming reliant on a single industry. Its destiny fatally entwined with that of the car. The greed-fuelled willingness of the auto barons to siphon up black workers from the American south to man their Metropolis-like assembly lines and then treat them as subhuman citizens, running the city along virtually apartheid lines, created a racial tinderbox. The black riots of 1943 and 1967 gave Detroit the dubious distinction of being the only American city to twice call in the might of the US army to suppress insurrection on its own streets and led directly to the disastrous so-called white flight of the 50s, 60s and 70s.
On the plus side:
With the breakdown of 20th-century civilization, many Detroiters have discovered an exhilarating sense of starting over, building together a new cross-racial community sense of doing things, discarding the bankrupt rules of the past and taking direct control of their own lives. Still at the forefront of the American Dream, Detroit is fast becoming the first “post-American” city. And amid the ruins of the Motor City it is possible to find a first pioneer’s map to the post-industrial future that awaits us all. So perhaps Detroit can avoid the fate of the lost cities of the Maya and rise again like the phoenix that sits, appropriately, on its municipal crest. That is why George and I decided to call our film Requiem for Detroit? – with a big question mark at the end.