Monday, April 14, 2008

Lascaux and the earliest days of cinema


We finally made it to the Perigord area of France. The caves of Lascaux are now closed to visitors but the replica, Lascaux 2, provides a great introduction to the prehistoric caves of the region. It's simple to magic yourself back 17,000 years to how these parades of bison and horses first looked. The flames of torches flicker and dance movement onto the images, pictures conjured out of darkness and coming to life on the walls around you. The first scenes, on your left as you enter Lascaux 2, are a sequence of horses ... each horse in a developed stage of a gallop, legs and haunches stretching, the whole pattern of a horse's movement brought to life. I looked on, and realized that the very first form of art we have on our planet is, in effect, cinema.
James and myself were then given a private tour of Font de Gaumes, with its awe-inspiring bisons' gallery, the artists discovering the shapes of animals in the fissures and rounds of the rock walls and, with just a few strokes of colour sometimes, bringing those images to light. Here the prehistoric cinema takes on emotional drama, one deer reaching forward its head to lick the face of another.
Archaeologists found scaffolding stored in the caves, wooden platforms allowing artists to climb and fold their images across ceilings and high along walls. Animals and not men dominate these early cinematic scenes, living marvels of nature brought to life on cave walls as if in a womb.

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