Vision Thing (I Am a Camera)

Werner Herzog

I was born with amblyopia, a lazy left eye,  part of my genetic inheritance, and have limited actual depth perception–my brain  fills it in.  And it is this big assist from my brain that prevents me from walking into the furniture (more often).

Discovered when I was five, an American child with a View-Master and a disc of Mickey Mouse in The Magic Kingdom (“Mommy, why is there no Mickey on the left?”), it went untreated and as I read decades later, “amblyopia can have lasting effects into adolescence and adulthood, affecting…activities like sports, driving and certain occupations.”  But taking pictures isn’t one of them.

3D movies that required paper glasses with stop-and-go-colored plastic lenses never worked for me.  (Weegee took a great infrared photo of two teenagers in the audience at a theater showing a 3D movie–they also must have amblyopia and therefore are disinterested in the screen.)

I didn’t expect 3D success with the new technology either which is why, although I like to be wow’d by CGI, I skipped “Avatar.”

But I never skip Werner Herzog movies and went to the screening room to see “Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” prepared to exit before I got seasick if the images didn’t merge.   But I could see 3D (coming funny full-circle–the film was being shown at Disney’s Park Avenue screening room) and was awe-struck by the hyperreality of the Chauvet Cave and the miraculous beauty of the art on its curving walls.

The paintings, discovered in 1994, over 30,000 years old, more than twice as old as those at other sites, were pristinely preserved 20,000 years ago, sealed by a rock slide that closed and hid the entrance.  Spectacular images include horses, mammoths, cave bears, hand prints, a partial female body and a bison with eight legs, summoning motion.  In his narration of “Cave,” Herzog calls this image “proto-cinema.”

Floored and thrilled that the new technology makes it possible for me to see 3D, I asked patient (and funny) Sally Strasser, manager and projectionist at the screening room, to explain (for the laywoman) how it works:  The projector sends out a divided signal, two images changing back and forth from eye to eye (alternative-frame sequencing) at 60 frames per second.  The LCD shutter glasses (XpanD) receive an IR signal, which tells it when to shut off each lens.

Sally also owns a movie house, which she bought in 2004, State Theater, in Tupper Lake in the Adirondacks, screening first-run features on two screens in a building built in 1914 to show silent movies.  She talked about the latest technological transformation, “The changeover from film to digital–$100,000 per projector–will continue the killing off of small, independent theaters.  Soon there will be no more film to project.  I’ll be ok–I feel very lucky, I’ve gotten some grant money–but I’m worried about the guy in Lake Placid.  He has four screens and the cost of the new equipment is more than his building is worth.”

I’ll never watch a film on my iPhone and totally prefer a big, dark room with strangers to  a state of the art, huge flat-panel TV and Blu-ray.  But certain I’m in a dwindling minority, I asked Sally’s opinion of the future of movie theaters.

She’s not worried, “We all have kitchens but we go out to eat.  Same thing with movie theaters and home systems.  These are different experiences.”

In “Cave” Herzog also shoots the outside of the largest nuclear power plant in France, “20 miles as the crow flies” from Chauvet and then goes inside a nearby biosphere heated with waste steam from the plant.  Concentrating on albino crocodiles living there, real-life reptiles even more bizarre than the hallucinatory iguanas in “The Bad Lieutenant:Port of Call–New Orleans,” Herzog muses on what they might think of the Ice Age mammals of the Chauvet paintings.

“Cave of Forgotten Dreams” opens on April 29 in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

Self-Portrait With View-Master

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One Response to Vision Thing (I Am a Camera)

  1. Pingback: Ken and Flo (and Nisi and Aza) | Talking Pictures

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