‘Heart of Glass’ Review: A Fire Flowing in the Brook

Posted in The Screening Room by - May 18, 2016

For the third week of Werner Herzog Month, I chose another of his narrative films, Heart of Glass (1976). After my experience with Invincible in comparison to Encounters at the End of the World, I was worried that I was in for another relatively wooden feature film. I was also worried that I would once again be subjected to a fairly dreary and depressing look at the struggle of utterly two-dimensional and melancholic characters. Invincible was so different from Encounters that I had to assume it was simply an inability to transfer the mood and feel of a documentary into a narrative on the part of the auteur. With the film’s opening consisting of four minutes of a man sadly sitting in a field of cows followed by a monolog by the man about his imaginings on what it would feel like to fall off the end of the earth during the end times, I was not encouraged.

Heart of Glass is a German film released way back in 1976. It follows the story of a small town who’s existence is only warranted because of it’s ability to produce “ruby glass.” Unfortunately, the glass maker dies without telling anyone else how it is done, and the owner of the glassworks descends into an obsessive madness focused on rediscovering the lost secret. Meanwhile, the town falls into a stupor, unable to work toward any other purpose now that the ruby glass can not be made. They frequently speak of their impending deaths, the fragility of glass, and of one man’s ability to see a dismal, fiery future. A physically challenged old man is carried through the town, laughing manically at all the attempts to discover the secret of the glass. Two steady hands outline how they will die, take no action to change it, and then die. A prophet says indecipherable things that are only understood after they happen. The owner sends men to destroy the last pieces of the very thing he seeks to build in a futile attempt to find the method of its construction.

The scenes are barely connected at all, jumping back and forth between a few key characters as they silently perform tasks with no apparent relevance to the story and individual spout lines of dialogue that outline observations on the futility of man. The acting is almost flatter than that in Invincible, though that seems to be intentional in this film to accentuate the bizarre existence of the town. Characters deliver their lines in a monotone, staring off into the distance, acting at but not too each other as each solemnly considers their lives. Supposedly most of the talent were hypnotized during their lines, and they were cast, not because they were actors, but because they were receptive to such hypnosis. The film also includes frequent jump cuts, again for no seemingly apparent purpose except to draw attention to the fact that this is a movie. Perhaps this as intentional, to remind the viewer that what they are experiencing is less a story about characters and more a commentary on the way Herzog sees the world.

If this were an review analyzing the film’s meaning and outlining its analysis, then there would be more to say, but as this review is designed to express whether or not a movie is entertaining then I truly have little else to show. Heart of Glass is a slow, methodical, and somber feature. Its visuals are impressive but it’s narrative, it’s characters, and it’s plot are simply shells for the same message spoken by all Herzog films. If you enjoy the styling of the avant-garde or wish to watch a movie that causes you to ponder the point of your very existence and struggle for life, then watch Heart of Glass. Otherwise, the only aspect of the film of any real interest is an examination of the way in which the village reacts to the prophet, knowing their future, taking no action to attempt even to resist it, and treating the prophet himself like little more than a GPS tracker or an errand boy. All in all, give Heart of Glass a skip.

Final Say: Skip It

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Born in Arizona, he currently resides in Denton, Texas. When he isn't watching movies he's playing board games and drinking whatever he can get his hands on. John watches Djimon Honsou movies because he likes Spawn, which had Michael Jai White.
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