Heart of Glass is one of those films that – unless you take the time to learn about the film’s intentions and the strange stylistic choices-  will be difficult to digest.   It’s easy to get distracted wondering “why are these people acting as if under a state of trance?” Something is “off,” obviously.  Heart of Glass is singular, as few films have it’s entire cast under hypnosis during the production.

The Players:

  • Director: Werner Herzog
  • Writer: Werner Herzog, Herbert Achternbusch
  • Cast: Josef Bierbichler, Stefan Guttler, Clemens Scheitz

Notes:

The most memorable element of this film are its images.  A man named Muhlbeck has recently passed away, and the secret to making ruby glass died with him.  An entire town speaks of his death with sadness… as if the end of the world is inevitable.  Amidst this set of circumstances, a search for Muhlbeck’s secret unfolds.  Films likes The Thin Red Line and Tree of Life show poetic parades of imagery set to evocative music, and in Heart of the Glass, those poetic also exist.  There are beautiful shots of nature; clouds racing across mountaintops and silently engaging shots of men staring out into the distant landscapes.  The language is poetic as well.  Prophetic types speak of impending doom, while other characters can be heard speaking heavy lines of dialogue such as, “the chaos of the stars makes my head ache.”  In a scene where three men join a someone looking towards the ocean from a rock, voice-over tells us, “they want to reach the edge of the world, to see if there is really an abyss.”

Despite achieving moments of poetic bliss, the acting is just too odd to be emotionally engaging.  And for all the talk of stylistic poetry,  the best scene is one where we merely observe glass blowers in a Bavarian factory.  Though only a fragment, this short glimpse really lifts curiosity for what life must be like in that corner of the world.  There are other films where director Werner Herzog gives a straightforward look at what life may have been like for those experiencing the past – as with the Spanish explorers in Aguirre, the Wrath of God. -  and if Herzog ever decides to show us more about this glass blowing lifestyle in Bavaria, hypnosis wouldn’t be necessary.

Brief Words for Mr. Ebert:

I want to like this film. I feel lucky to have seen a truly unique film.  For now, I can’t help but feel that your conversations with Herzog have influenced your interpretation.  A film should stand on its own.  It is intriguing to consider your recommendation to approach this film like a piece of music.  You mention that, “by primarily comprehending everything in terms of mood and aura, we can be aware of how it makes us feel even if we can’t say what it makes us think.”  Why should Herzog get a pass?  While I agree that the world does seem to be spiraling out of control, I feel that it would be difficult for someone to take that message from this film without knowing its intentions.   You point out that Herzog is interested in showing us a world in decline.  But would we be better off if Herzog just told us to smoke a joint and attempt to subdue our minds to a hypnotic level as those we see onscreen?

Good, Bad or Great Movie:  GOOD

Do you like Heart of Glass?  Do you consider this film to be Good, Bad, or does it stand up as Great?

Next week’s review:  Chop Shop

Years ago, ScreenCrave contributor Jaime Lopez privately began tackling Roger Ebert’s “Greatest Films” list, an ever-expanding monolith of celluloid currently comprised of 354 films.  Lopez has set himself to put these remaining films’ “Greatness” to the test–reviewing both the movies themselves and Ebert’s response.  By taking on Werner Herzog’s Heart of Glass this week, he now has 279 under his belt and less than 100 films left to go.