When we dream of gods speaking, they all sound like Werner Herzog. Revelations granted by viewing Cave of Forgotten Dreams and the following Q&A on Saturday night at the Natural History Museum only made this man seem more like an immortal: Herzog has shot on every continent, including Antarctica; he thinks Picasso is over-rated, and he does not dream. Rather, he escapes his body during long walking journeys and “lives entire novels” as he steps–never, mind you, forgetting his direction.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams becomes especially poetic considering the fact that its author has never experienced a dream nor the overwhelming frustration caused by the failure to recollect one that was particularly poignant. The “dream” remembered in this film is something much greater and far more enduring than the vain fits of an individual subconscious flailing out its psychoses amid murky symbolism and meaninglessness.
Like almost every Herzog project – especially his documentaries – Cave of Forgotten Dreams exposes some ecstatic truth about humanity and the universe. In pursuit of this divine task, however, the film does not neglect those baser pleasures we viewers seek–beautiful swooping landscapes, carefully composed details of the cave paintings, astonishing (if imperfect) exploitation of 3D technology, and a few idiosyncratic human beings we love immediately upon introduction- an “experimental archaeologist” dressed in a home-made reindeer suit, an ex-carnie turned scientist, a man who hunts for caves by sense of smell, and another who re-enacts the throwing of spears towards imaginary horses in vineyards.
In the Whale Room afterwards, experimental arts asylum Mastodon Mesa constructed a giant cave where Paw Paw Club performance artists painted visitors' faces as they hid from the party and enjoyed photographs on loan from French artist Marc Valesella. Matt Baldwin oozed pleasant sound-scapes perhaps better suited for a bedroom while partygoers navigated the labyrinth of lines that led from one booth, where cash was exchanged for tickets, to another, where tickets were exchanged for booze–an exasperating process that deterred drinking. We decided it was a metaphor for the inefficiency of modern markets and resolved to bring a flask next time. White Magic appeared as a lone Mira Billote performing psychedelic blues ballads in transcendent tones of sadness, punctuated by oddly engaging visuals and whispered rumors supposing morbid grounds for Billote's solo show.
Meanwhile, in the Gem and Mineral Hall, Dublab curated a flawless program, creating a dynamically symbiotic relationship between performers and venue. Surrounded by precious stones and crystals, M. Geddes Gengras entranced the audience, layering nostalgia and obscurity with discriminating charm. Back under the Fin Whale's phalanges, Nite Jewel started and re-started three times. These unexplained technological difficulties actually enhanced the performance by demonstrating the band's precise practice, especially singer Ramona Gonzalez's, who nailed the first song's opening croon over and over again. Once the backing tracks fell in line, everything came together. Covering crowd favorites as well as brand new songs, Nite Jewel's set displayed a lovely evolution of disco and funk, acknowledging formal origins while incorporating contemporary influences and innovation. We swayed between Swoon magazine founder Kelly McKay and esoteric pop darling Julia Holter, all of us noting our favorite songs as they wafted through the air.
The evening closed with a surprise collaboration between Canada's Islands and fast-talkin' LA favorite Busdriver, and the crowds wandered past the skeletons, through the rose garden, and into the night rehashing their favorite moments of the film, the performances, and the museum, forming and molding memories in their own minds and those around them. We kept summoning a certain beat from Herzog's Q&A–he wanted to go to space but couldn't on account of a false tooth. Though he could never travel to space, he reminded the audience that he had made a science fiction picture, but he stumbled and stuttered as he attempted to extract his film's title from the ether. An audience member shouted, “'The Wild Blue Yonder'!” “Ah, yes,” Herzog nodded in appreciation.
Supposedly, couples who have been together for 50 years or so split up memories to maximize the potential function of their two minds, i.e. one partner remembers where the spare keys are while the other remembers their relatives' birthdays. When one partner dies, the other feels something akin to insanity because suddenly so many things she thought she knew are gone. In some moments, perhaps a fan can play partner to an artist's faltering recollection or, more interestingly, perhaps an artist–a prolific producer of culture–can play partner to an earlier version of himself, a story-teller long gone but still communicating across the abyss of time.