Heart of Glass (1976)
Werner Herzog may well be one of my most cherished humans on the planet. If he were giving a lecture on the idiosyncrasies of his films, I would like to be there. If he was sitting on a sidewalk eating chips, I too would like to be there. He is without a doubt one of the cinema's most fascinating minds ever. He is, in my opinion, the King of the New German Wave of the 70s. And he still makes great and exciting movies! One of his most enchanting moments in his long and ambitious career (really, was there any man more ambitious in films than he?), is Heart of Glass, a totally bizarre portrait of a town gone mad. Although the picture for all intensive purposes defies the boundaries of any genre, it has been described as an absurdest drama-dy. That's a pretty suiting classification. If Heart of Glass can be described in one word, it would have to be absurd.
The film's protagonist Hias, a prophet of sorts. He can see the future, and seems usually to be depressed with the burden. His village has just lost the proprietor of its livelihood. The foreman of their red Ruby Glass factory, the only man who knew the secret of how to make it, died without ever getting the chance to pass it on. The town now searches in vain for the secret. Without it they grow depressed and begin losing their sanity, particularly the man who owns the glass works factory in his bid to discover the secrets.
That's really all that I can disclose about the film. Herzog's film is one based on style and atmosphere, getting at something underneath its story. He famously hypnotized the entire cast for each scene, save for the actor playing Hias and the professional glassblowers. Much of the dialogue was then improvised in a hypnotic state by the actors. Herzog described how an uneducated man in the cast was hypnotized, and then told to read a poem on the wall. The man replied he couldn't' see it without its glasses. Herzog told him to just move forward and he would see it. He then reportedly read off a stunning poem - a work of his own mind, since no poem ever existed on that wall. The hypnosis not only gives the actor's improvisations an peculiarity, but also their manner of delivery. It's bizarre, but totally encompassing.
It's moments of comedy are bizarre but joyful. Two men argue about who will die first, then the townspeople find them and argue which one is still alive. Later, the live man takes the dead man to the pub for a dance as a hurdy gurdy man plays.
The film starts with a long shot of Hias sitting in the mountain field watching cows in the fog. Herzog then employs footage he shot of clouds in the mountains, taken over the course of days. One shot in particular appears as though a wave of clouds is invading the hills. It's an absolutely breathtaking shot, and one that I've never forgotten, and likely never will.
Herzog once famously suggested that he directs landscapes more so than actors. In Heart of Glass he gives ample evidence to his claim. He takes joy in cutting away to seemingly completely unrelated events: a mountain waterfall, close up, as Hias narrates (it is claimed that this shot will have a hypnotic effect, especially if you speak German and do not have to read the subtitles); smoking springs and ancient trees at Yosemite; and a finale that involves a 500 year old monastery on a steep rocky Island off Ireland (Skellig Islands, fascinating place). The imagery and moody accomplishments of Heart of Glass are difficult to describe in words. It's one of the most visually arresting movie's I've ever seen. Herzog shot the film just a few miles from where he was raised in Bavaria. To list all the stunning shots in the film would be a tedious task. Virtually ever outdoors shot triumphs. It's visual poetry is profound.
Heart of Glass is one of Herzog's most unabashedly poetic and abstract films. Who else but Herzog would hypnotize his entire cast for artistic ambitions? It's a glorious film that thrives on its own integrity, and the mad visions of its ingenious helmer.