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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Probably the most difficult of all Herzog's films., 12 May 2005
This review is from: Heart Of Glass [1976] [DVD] (DVD)
Heart of Glass begins with a scene of quiet contemplation, as the central protagonist sits alone on a rock overlooking a field of cattle, entranced by the pulsating sounds of the Scandinavian soundtrack and the sight of a thick, impenetrable fog that lingers across the screen. The pace of this scene, and of course, the pace of the proceeding film, is one of slow foreboding and persistent dread, as the filmmaker allows the images to run naturally, refusing to break the trancelike pace that is slowly being created between the subtle symbiosis of sound and vision. At this point, the voice over comes in, and the film cuts to a lengthy shot of a cascading waterfall that we, as an audience, are directed to stare into. Here, Herzog is inviting the audience, albeit, subjectively, to drift off into the same dreamlike state that is inhabited by his characters and indeed, enter into a hypnotic realm of woozy reflection and severe stylisation.
It is important for Herzog to establish such a lethargic and entrancing mood at the beginning of the film, with the stylisations here used to convey to the audience the sense of blind obsession, entrancement, possession and greed. Around this central cinematic notion- as well as the basic plot - the film is further fleshed out by Herzog and his cinematographer Jörg Schmidt-Reitwein, who here creates some haunting and hypnotic compositions, which further compliment those bold stylisations and over-exaggerations (or indeed, under-exaggerations, depending on how you look at it) from Herzog and his performers. To some extent, the film is similar to von Trier's masterpiece Europa, with both films beginning with their director's using repetitive imagery and a powerful voice-over to captivate the audience, before leading them into this strange world in which the actors don't necessarily build characters, but rather, perform like rigid marionettes composed onto these lush, beautiful landscapes, all the while being controlled throughout by the director.
The film is also quite similar to the work of Tarkovsky, with Herzog purposely drawing the film out, so that scenes unfold slowly, creating a dense and suffocating atmosphere that seems right for the story; whilst the use of philosophy, mysticism and the idea of dreams and visions isn't that far away from the ideas and ideologies of some of Tarkovsky's key films, for example, Nostalgia and The Sacrifice. Of course, certain images - such as the (seemingly) mentally handicapped woman doing a random striptease on a tabletop, or the lethargic bar-fight that erupts from a moment of quiet contemplation - could have only come from the same man that gave us the treetop riverboat from Aguirre, or Stroszek's dancing chicken. However, there are many aspects of the film I don't quite understand, for example, the ending, with the surreal nature of the film and the mystical aspects of the plot making the whole thing quite impenetrable for the casual viewer. So, if you're looking for an easy way into Herzog's work... then this isn't it, and you'd be better off sticking to something like Aguirre The Wrath of God, The Enigma of Kaper Hauser or the acclaimed Fitzcaraldo.
All we can be sure of with Heart of Glass is the bare bones of the plot, with the central character prophesising the town's downfall in his opening, hypnotising dream, before we move into the actual narrative, in which the town try desperately to figure out the correct method of creating ruby glass (which has been an integral part of the town's financial success for many generations). The only person who knows/knew how to create the glass was the town's elder, who dies at the start of the film, therefore leaving his son and his various cronies to tear the town apart in the hope of finding some hidden instructions that may or may not have been left lying around. As the town descends into slow hysteria, our central protagonist relocates to the mountains and has a vision of surreal potency - not entirely dissimilar to the vision at the end of The Enigma of Kasper Hauser - and the film ends there, with a question mark, as opposed to a full stop. As with most Herzog films, the final shot is absolutely gorgeous, and somehow makes us want to go back and re-watch the film and re-evaluate it further, in the hope of discovering more about it's elusive charms and stark ambiguities.
Heart of Glass is, without question, Herzog's most demanding work... asking a great deal of patients and concentration from the audience, most of whom will be alienated by the film's lethargic pace and stark, stylistic diversions. However, despite these factors, the film still remains one of Herzog's defining moments - easily on a par with films like Strozseck, Signs of Life and Fata Morgana and possibly more integral than Nosferatu and the later Cobra Verde - with the director creating another poetic, dreamlike allegory about greed, trust, fate and obsession (making this film an obvious stylistic and theoretical close cousin to his masterworks Aguirre, Woyzeck and The Enigma of Kasper Hauser). Although it perhaps lacks some of the depth and emotional complexity of those works, it is without question, an enchanting film, which, despite it's alienating qualities and cinematic short comings, remains a haunting and hypnotic visual experience without equal.
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3.8 out of 5 stars (10 customer reviews)
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