R685 – Week Nine – Online Video

I’ve always been a little bit of a fan of video as an educational tool – I spent lots of time learning about science during Bill Nye the Science Guy time in my classes (including as far as AP Biology!), and there aren’t very many documentaries I won’t watch. However, I decided to play devil’s advocate in the forums a little this week, pointing out instead the problems I saw with video as an educational tool – and the rest of the class responded beautifully. My peers suggested a lot of ideas to work around the way many students tend to treat in-class videos as break time rather than learning time, and pointed out that short videos are good introductions to topics students may not have had any experience with.

But what I’d really like to blog about today was an incredibly powerful educational video I had the opportunity to see this past week: Cave of Forgotten Dreams, written and directed by internationally-acclaimed directer Werner Herzog, about the Chauvet Caves in southern France, which have the oldest human pictorial art we’ve been able to find on their walls. I spent 90 minutes with a dorky pair of 3d glasses on my face staring in amazement at the display of technique, spatial awareness, and artistry of those prehistoric cave people. This happened at the IU Cinema, where I was part of the first public audience (eg, not at a festival) to see this film.

Now, this was a little different for me because I went to see it because I wanted to, not because I had to for a class. But I learned a lot, and the 3d aspect of the film really added to it. Herzog, who has gone on records as disliking 3d film as a medium, felt that it was necessary for a deeper appreciation of the artistry that went into these paintings. I tend to concur; the 3d really increased my immersion. I found myself feeling a little claustrophobic, even, when they were in some of the narrower parts of the cave. There’s a review that is at least mostly synopsis here if you’re interested in finding out more about what went on in the film.

I will say that I learned a lot from the film, but it was also incredibly entertaining. Herzog introduces a series of very funny “characters” over the course of the movie, my favorite of which was a master parfumier who went around sniffing for caves. No, I mean, really sniffing. With his nose. And the topic of the film makes it really easy to figure out where in a curriculum such a film might fit – while its humor is perhaps a bit advanced for younger audiences, high school and college-aged students studying art history would certainly appreciate it and learn a great deal. The film is a great example of a piece of technology that supports the curriculum, rather than being supported by the curriculum; it brings great insight to the topic that we might otherwise never have an opportunity to experience.

While I was initially worried that the 3d might give me a migraine (it has in the past), I went because I wanted to at least try to see the film. I found myself unbothered by it, thankfully, and I’m glad I gave it a shot. Looking at the cave paintings in two dimensions – I’ve checked – doesn’t have the same sense of spatial awareness that one gets when experiencing it in 3d. I took an art history course during my undergrad that had a section on cave paintings; I’d even seen some of the ones from Chauvet. But never like I saw them in the film.