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Tell me the Secret of the Ruby Red Glass!
MacAindrais5 November 2008
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.
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7/10
Groundbreaking, but not without problems.
ccscd21222 July 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Normally I don't like to know much about a film before viewing it. I feel it allows me to watch a movie with a more open mind and makes the watching experience thus more enjoyable. However, in the case of Heart of Glass, not knowing that most of the cast is hypnotized and that Hias's prophecies are the actual prophecies of a Bavarian peasant would probably lead me to deem the film pretentious and confusing. That said, knowing these facts, the film is quite remarkable. I wouldn't read to much into the allegory part of it-- which is to say that I wouldn't say it's an allegory of something specific in history. I'd say it's more allegoric of human life in general. Senselessly pursuing something unattainable, understanding the value of friendship only when it's too late, wrestling foes that only we can see, foolishly rowing into unknown waters, etc. A fine film, not Herzog's best, but an intriguing one indeed.
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10/10
No accounting for taste... power begets strong reaction
tho-35 October 1999
Unlike Herzog's other movies, with their super-realistic substrate on which he paints our miserable human condition, Heart of Glass is an allegory, a fable told to peasants as a cautionary tale: the human heart is precious... and the peasants are us, and we violate that warning everyday, in a thousand little ways, with our stupidity and our pettiness...

Is the movie slow? perhaps... Do I still remember scenes vividly from the movie as if I saw it yesterday, though it's been more than 20 years? oh yes... this movie haunts me, unlike any other movie I've ever seen
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8/10
Mesmerizing, but an Acquired Taste
mstomaso19 December 2008
Each of Herzog's films is an experiment in one way or another. Heart of Glass is one of the most overtly experimental of the lot. Like almost all of Herzog's films, Heart of Glass makes the most of spectacular landscapes and visual context - every scene is, in its own way, a beautiful still-life. However, in Heart of Glass, the effect of the visual context is compounded by the fact that almost every member of the cast - throughout the entire film - is in a state of hypnosis. Predictably, the acting is, to say the least, avant-garde. Nevertheless, characterization is strong, and more importantly, this bizarre, somewhat jarring method of execution creates the film's time and place just as much as the gorgeous landscape shots.

Heart of Glass takes place in 19th century Bavaria. The Director's comments (always worth hearing after viewing a Herzog film) indicate that Herzog grew up in a place very much like this. This doesn't stop Herzog from turning his keen analysis of the human condition and modal personalities to attack the central problems of life in this time and place. The story involves a small town in crisis. The one person who holds the secret that is the key to the town's prosperity has taken that secret to his grave, and the master of the glass factory in which he worked is losing his mind looking for a solution. Meanwhile, one of the film's more sympathetic character's, a deeply insightful prophet/lunatic shepherd (with no sheep), Hias, predicts an even greater crisis.

Herzog's most consistent theme - his view of human nature - is powerfully illustrated in Heart of Glass. As the great director has often done, Herzog universalizes his view by giving us an essentially alien, dream-like setting and atmosphere. The effect of the cast's hypnotic state is even more jarring than the sheer intensity of Klaus Kinski's performances in many of Herzog's films from this period, and Heart of Glass is as avant-garde as some of his later efforts (such as The Great Blue Yonder). In other words, the average cinema-goer will have a difficult time with this one.

Recommended for Herzog, avant-garde and art-film fans. Not recommended for anybody else.
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9/10
Not pretentious but difficult to access indeed
snauth13 February 2005
Warning: Spoilers
According to IMDb trivia most of the actors were hypnotized by Herzog and given instructions to carry out while acting. Aware of this many comments mention the hypnotizing quality of the movie. The movie is slow and very weird, indeed. Take one scene: Two men sit at a table, they drink beer and talk about a prophecy that one of them will sleep off his hangover lying on the dead body of the other. In the course of this conversation one tears the other at his hair, who hits back with his beer mug, and so on. Later we see that the prophecy has come true. And later on the living is taking the dead one into the tavern to dance with his corpse.

Heart of glass was written by Herbert Achternbusch, a prolific Bavarian film-maker and author who got some (mostly local) attention during the 1970s/80s because of his ruthless opposition against the Bavarian reactionary catholic government (personated by the late Franz Josef Strauss). The movie bears a lot of resemblance to Achternbusch's other works. Since Herzog is much better known world-wide I will focus on Achternbusch's contribution here.

Achternbusch always mixes his own strange private mythology with regional influences from Northern Bavaria (Niederbayern, Bayrischer Wald) and other (often ancient Greek, but also all kinds of 'native') mythology. The outcome is not very accessible, of course, but there are some threads which help to read his works.

There is the anarchist despise of power and the sympathy with the victims of power. But this sympathy never leads to illusions about the poor and the wretched. They are ugly, because they are made ugly, their emotions are coarse - like in the scene described above, where two friends are only able to express their affection through violence and death. In Achternbusch's works the only place outside a world where power and violence affect everyone and everything is ruled by absurdity. Where he fails to make sense, his journey to freedom begins. Not unlike his fellow countryman Karl Valentin, he explores the limits of his own language because language is reason is the tool of the powerful.

Achternbusch once said that the only genuine national culture which post-war Germany had left after Worldwar II was that it had no national culture, and that it is losing this as well after 1989. "Heart of Glass" follows a similar 'logic': The industrial revolution (represented here by the glass-works) once was carried by a dream, a secret knowledge (the red ruby). This vision of turning the world in a gleaming cold world of glass was terrible in itself yet bore some beauty. Now that this dream is lost, industrialization is running loose turning the world into a burning hell, aka Worldwars I and II.

But here I shall stop trying to make sense of the movie, it refuses to yield to reason and so shall I.

P.S.: Funny to talk about "Spoilers" when it comes to movies like this.
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Film of quiet beauty with deep, timeless message
mdm-118 October 2004
Warning: Spoilers
With a rural 1800s Bavarian setting, director Werner Herzog tells the timeless tale of tragic loss and its consequences.- The young "master" of a glass mill, who appears to be "ruling" the village of people whose lives revolve around this source of employment, becomes obsessed with the "formula" for the making of a special kind of "ruby glass", the secret of which the foreman of the factory apparently took to his grave.

The bizarre behavior of this young master is compounded by another character, Heisl, who constantly bubbles over with premonitions affecting the townspeople immediately, as well as prophesies reaching beyond their own lifetimes. One account clearly describes the events surrounding WWI and WWII (remember that the characters in this story are living in the 1800s).

Several of the characters appear to be "mad", either mentally or emotionally. One young woman is shown in various situations indicating that she is not of sound mind, stripping her clothes off and twirling in a daze, in a state of mental unconsciousness. The young master's father, an elderly man who is shown wearing clothing befitting an aristocrat, yet he babbles and laughs uncontrollably, all the while refusing to walk. Towards the end, as the townspeople are in a panic over a fire, the man wanders about his house searching for his shoes, then again laughing uncontrollably and without motivation. Two "drinking buddies" are bewitched by Heisl's premonition that one of them shall die, while the other shall walk away from the "deadly accident". The events happen just so, then the "survivor" fetches the corpse for a dance. Even when putting this material in the perspective of the setting, it appears extremely morbid, pointing again to the disproportionally large number of "village idiots".

Another scene indicating the depth of the symbolism employed by Herzog is set in the primitive jail in which the young master and Heisl are thrown (one because he murdered his maid in a euphoric daze, the other because he was faulted for "wishing" the series of misfortunes he had predicted on the village). The young master was pictured with his wrists tied in shackles and chained to the wall, while Heisl was pacing the floor restlessly, lamenting that he must be in the woods to "see things", not in this place of confinement. The next scene shows Heisl back in the woods.

There are too many gripping scenes in this masterfully written, cast, photographed, and directed film. The authentic Bavarian dialect and the period language give this film true genuineness. Both written and spoken German has evolved considerably in the past 100-150 years. Anyone speaking like the characters in this film would be ridiculed today. The difference compares to The King James Bible vs. Webster's Dictionary.

Some would consider it "strange", but upon giving the message of "Heart of Glass" more thought, the viewer must conclude that this is more than an old Bavarian folk tale. When replacing some of the characters with known figures of World History, we may be struck with haunting similarities.

This is not the kind of film to view in a Sunday Matinée, but it certainly makes for some great discussions for a film club, a university level German class, or a literary club. For its many outstanding features, this film earns my highest recommendation.
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an incredibly dense atmosphere
fred-8326 July 2001
This is a truly mesmerizing movie experience. It manages to balance that fine line between stylization and total realism, not unlike Kubrick, though he never ventured this far. The cinematography is almost like in a documentary, but the performances and narrative is totally abstract and stylized. In my opinion, it succesfully transports the viewer into another reality. It is a film that invites you to meditate and free-associate at your own will. The narrative, linear but disjointed, suggests a breakdown of time itself, a consequence of the lost secret of the glass. The long sections with hypnotizing music and magical landscapes balances well with the rest of the story, and there are scenes were dialogue, visuals and music, creates an incredibly dense atmosphere. There is also a welcome sense of humor which prevents it from becoming overly pretentious. I found it to be a very inspiring and unique movie, and I recommend it to anyone tired of the ordinary.
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The Heart of the Film Soldier
tedg31 July 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Spoilers herein.

Some films come wrapped in their own skins -- distinct beings, which can be taken as they are.

But many films come with connections to their context, usually in the distraction of seeing a familiar actor.

Cinephiles follow certain filmmakers and develop certain expectations and

understandings over a career. For instance, Eric Rohmer's films have value because of what we know about him and what he attempts to do. Without that, we have the olive, not the meal.

Herzog is all about risk and commitment and following the life of the project wherever it demands you go. It is about the unfriendliness of fate and how far you will take the religion of film. How tempestuous the visual sex. How much trust you will put in the grace of accident.

There are one or two youngsters (like Harmony Korine) who attempt this, but nothing on the scale of what Herzog demands.

In this case, he works on the sense of place as the animator of the people within. The fecund, harsh motherland as the holder of fate. All of the people -- the stuff WE think is important -- stagger around in trances, barely managing to scoop some minerals, some blood out of the pores of the mother to refine into small art, here glass objects. The interesting thing with all such projects to me is what the filmmaker does to equate the people we see with the people we are.

What he does -- or tries to do -- here is to put us in a trance with the somnambulant queues and laconic pacing. With the steady drum of tedium, with the meditation on beauty. With the careful discovery of charm in the ordinary. Was there ever a more endearing character than Ludmilla? Was there ever less artifice in a character's formation?

But Herzog never escapes the Germanic lure to be a craftsman himself, to be one of the fine glassworkers he shows. So even though he makes great claims for single takes and discovered framing and accidental light and nuance, many -- indeed nearly all -- of his tableaus are painter-perfect. Even though he invests in the nature of place, he uses a "virtual place" assembled from around the globe. Even though his mad factory owner decides to sacrifice the art of the glass by throwing it in a lake, Herzog (literally, with his friends) secrets those gems and keeps them safe for our peering.

(This is what "Koyaanisqatsi" pretends to be.)

Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 4: Worth watching.
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10/10
The film I liked most...
daPeda5 June 1999
Well, i completely disagree with the guy from NYU. I've seen this film seven times between 1978 and 1991 (although in its original german version) and found it absolutely hypnotizing. This film simply is a piece of art and cannot be measured with hollywood standards. Besides 2001: a space oddyssey and Chabrols 1969 masterpiece 'The beast must die' this is my altime favourite.
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7/10
The Smoke At The End Of The World
loganx-218 June 2008
Hypnotized actors, in this story of how something as fragile as glass can bring on the apocalypse for a small German community. There's a character who predicts the future, and narrates in some of Herzog's most poetic dialog yet. The scenes at the end overlooking the cliffs above the Atlantic and their dream of "worlds to come", keep this from being your usual end of all things story. For Herzog there aren't ends, just junctures where one thing dies and another begins. Cycles in history (reflected in the mysterious prophets discussion of greater apocalypses to come in the future world wars 1 and 2).

The man who can see the future (and who is of course blamed for all the towns ills), at one point wishes he was out of his cell, and in the next scene he's walking in the woods talking to himself, giving the film a strange tinge of magic realism(though realism and this film don't exactly mix). Strange, difficult, but unforgettable, and a must for Herzog fans. (also it's where the Blondie song comes from)
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10/10
Is all human striving in vain
batzi8m13 November 1999
At a Q&A after an appearance at a week long run of his films in SF, Herzog was asked whether, since all his characters seem to be destroyed in the process of pursuing their dreams, he felt that all human striving to realize our dreams was in vain. "If you and I were old friends sitting over beers, you might get me to talk about that..." he responded. So I asked him if the the arabesque at the end of Heart of Glass held a clue. He responded by repeating that true story of fishermen who left for a rock on the horizon. This movie is a dream about people who allow their dreams to be controlled by the vagaries of the society and economy of the moment, because when that is gone, and they have no personal dream, they are truly lost. Warning: All of Herzog's films tend to be poetic allegories and as translucent as the clouds rolling through the Alps in slow motion to the dream music of Popol Vu (AKA Florian Fricke, who does Herzog's soundtracks and tantric instrumentals.)

An yes, this movie is more obtuse, dream like and surreal than even his usual stuff. So if you want Sound of Music Alpine scenes, or real life MTV, you will hate this film. But if you've ever dreamed in color, you might enjoy it.
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7/10
Poetic reflection on existence
Morten_54 November 2017
Filmed on beautiful locations in Germany, Ireland, Switzerland and the USA, "Heart of Glass" (1976) is a poetic reflection on existence.

Containing a little less absurdity than, for example, "Stroszek" (1977) and "Even Dwarfs Started Small" (1970), this work by German auteur Werner Herzog is rather a dramatic and thoughtful consideration of the importance of knowledge.
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4/10
A Failed Experiment?
DhavalVyas13 March 2006
'Heart of Glass' was quite the daring experiment from the extraordinary German filmmaker Werner Herzog. He hypnotized all the actors except one man; a mystic who is trying to save a village from destroying itself. The scenery is stunning and so is the music. The yodeling at the begging of the film is hair-raising and unforgettable. Other than that, 'Heart of Glass' does not make any sense, especially the last scene. The final scene has nothing to do with the main story. The final scene has nothing to do with anything in general. Also, the hypnotized actors look goofy and silly most of the time rather than being in a trance-like state. It is a good thing when artists try to experiment like this, but in this case, I would consider the experiment a failure. Watch some other Herzog films, especially the ones with Klaus Kinski.
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7/10
Terribly beautiful - terribly pretentious
zetes27 March 2002
It's impossible to love this film, and it is as impossible to hate it. The plot is slight and silly, and the dialogue and acting are unintentionally hilarious. Heart of Glass could stand as the archetype of the so-called "pretentious European cinema," you know, the kind you would have seen Mike Meyers make fun of in his "Sprockets" sketches on SNL. In fact, I don't know of anything that comes even close to Heart of Glass in its pretentions. The film is as shallow as could be. Perhaps those with overactive imaginations could "figure it out," but I don't want to waste that time.

However, Herzog is an amazingly skilled director. The script may suck, but the visuals, the cinematography and the mise-en-scene, represent some of the greatest moments in all cinema. It's not a non-stop beauty festival, but there are many individual scenes of outrageous splendor. If only Herzog had planned the script as intricately as he searched out locations for the shoot. What this film really reminds me of an Andrei Tarkovsky or Michelangelo Antonioni film with no substance whatsoever. I can't give Heart of Glass more than a 7/10, but, in many ways, it's a must see. If you've never seen a Herzog film before, though, avoid this one. Start with Aguirre the Wrath of God or, my favorite so far, Fitzcarraldo.
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7/10
*** out of ****
kyle_c23 September 2002
Herzog's film about a small village that goes insane after their glassblower dies without revealing the secret to his ruby glass is pretentious yet interesting. The acting is strange - not good, not bad, just strange. The highlight of the movie is its brilliant visuals and cinematography. There is a lot to think about here, but Herzog never really makes it clear what he wants the viewer to think about. It's this confusion and lack of coherency that causes the movie to suffer. Overall, a decent effort and a good experiment but can't stand up to his other works, which offer some of the same themes in a better package.
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5/10
a muddled merging of poetry and documentary; a film that will hit, miss, or both, for its audience
Quinoa198421 May 2007
Heart of Glass is a period piece, not merely because of its probable 19th century time period, but because of when it was filmed, what footage was used, the music, the "acting" (appropriate in quotes), and the experimental attitude. Werner Herzog has always been one of the most unconventional and challenging of filmmakers- of himself and for his audience- but in this case his challenge almost becomes more of a gimmick. I wonder if my reaction to these non-professionals Herzog has here would be any different if I was not aware before that all of the actors were hypnotized, save for Hias (who, to be honest, could've fooled me with how his 'performance' goes). Maybe not by much; like Jean-Luc Godard, whom Herzog once said is like intellectual counterfeit money, Herzog used his cast as much as gets them to be their unnatural selves by having them almost as mouthpieces to say his dialog, more leaning to being stylized poetry, as much as their sort of physical presence being controlled to the note. Also like Godard, he attempts to combine this with a technique in composition that merges documentary with a sensibility that is as well closer to a form of poetic, personal expression. Unfortunately like Godard (I mean later Godard though), it doesn't really fly.

It may for some, and in fact it's up there on lists of Herzog fans as one of the best. But the problem is that Herzog is so wrapped up in how everything should try to be in evocation and, in his own usually warped way, provocation, that its a style that can shut out the viewer from what should be a rewardingly hypnotic experience. But even if there was no knowledge of the hypnosis of the cast, things still feel off; at times I almost felt like I was watching some demented hippie filmmaker from the period waxing and waning in 19th century garb about random intonations in nature or what the 'ruby glass' has in significance, with stares and glazed looks and demented laughter. It's not un-merited for a man of such immense talent and artistry of Herzogs's to experiment and push the envelope of how a story can be told and how to get characters on screen in a way that is totally his own. The problem though, which is usually not the case particularly with his prime work in the 1970s, is to experiment without much of a real story to work with, or for that matter any characters to really give a s*** about. The main character, Hias (Bierbichler), is the one who gets the town into its sort of madness, but I didn't even really get this sense until more than halfway into the film. By the end, even as Herzog's reached something of a quasi-resolution with the factory burning down, his message (which does lie somewhere in the film) about the beauty and dangers of a 'cult' mentality lays in a muck of flat scenes of symbolism.

Needless to say, however, Herzog tripping over himself, in my opinion, contains moments of wicked absurdity that are quintessential, and moments where the documentary style works strongest, as well as his ever strong eye for 'adequate images'. Maybe the funniest scene, amid two cartoonish looking fellows sitting at a table, has these guys in a daze working out their issues with glasses of beer: one throws a glass at the other's head, without any response, as well as the other just dumping the beer on his head. A moment like this, or the scattered laughter during a botched glass-making attempt, rises to Herzog as a subtle master of weird comedy. It was also worthwhile to actually see how the glass-making process actually worked, as Herzog's eye for men in a physical act like this was pretty interesting. I even dug the whole fast-speed shot of the clouds running over the valley. But even in getting his footage of landscapes, some of it seems like it's aged, put to Popol Vuh music that accentuates its 'trippiness' where it doesn't need it. And it's sad to admit that by having characters that give off a totally empty aura in exquisitely framed and lit compositions aren't a good match.

For me, which it won't be for everyone seeing the film as some may be even more turned off by as being totally boring, which is sort of isn't despite its pretensions and for those who find in it great and moving art which is understandable, it's not a success. But as with directors like Lynch and Woody Allen and even Godard to a degree I'd rather watch a moment of stumbling than a complacent work by a hack Hollywood director. In the midst of the muddle, at the least, there are some bright spots of artistic expression.
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this does come with an accompanying conversation with the director
christopher-underwood27 March 2008
This is a beautifully made film and is indeed beautiful to look at. The landscapes, manipulated and natural are awe inspiring and the interiors almost painterly. However, it is undeniably slow. It is also unworldly. We have a peasant making rather odd prophesies and a cast, acting under hypnosis, responding or not as the mood takes them. Certainly a very different cinema experience but a little wayward and unfocused for my liking. I have to say, though, thanks to the wonder of DVDs, this does come with an accompanying conversation with the director. Watching the commentary track is for me a far more engaging and satisfying experience. Enjoyable too! Herzog is simply marvellous in giving full explanations in instances such as the circumstances of the hypnosis and totally uncooperative when the questioning gets a bit close to seeking 'the answer'. I always hate it when an artist is asked to interpret his work (as if there would be any point in it if it can be fully explained another way) and here Herzog slaps down his interviewer on several occasions. Quite right. Well worth watching/listening for an alternative view on the art of film.
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1/10
Stupefying, literally
theskylabadventure29 March 2012
I have struggled through a good dozen of Herzog's early films and am not too proud to admit that I simply do not get it. Detractors accuse his films of being slow and pretentious (a word I hate). I adore Tarkovsky, Bergman, Antonioni, Kieslowski - all of whom suffer the same slings and arrows from would-be cineastes - but I just can't get into Herzog at all. I certainly enjoyed some his films more than others ; The Enigma of Kasper Hauser, Nosferatu The Vampyre and, in particular, Woyzeck all have their moments for me.

Heart of Glass is best known as the outcome of Herzog's most radical experiment; having most of the cast perform under hypnosis. Accused to this day of gimmickry, Herzog insists that this was done for the sake of "stylisation not manipulation" in order to add a trance-like aura to the characters' increasing insanity. Factoring in the fact that almost everyone in the film was a non-actor, what do you think the outcome was? Let me save you the suspense. The outcome, as far as I'm concerned, was that we get to watch 90 minutes of people in what appears to be a stoned, stupefied coma. This is confounded by the fact that the dialogue - if it can be so called - seems to be written in some trite haiku style. For the most part, nobody talks to anybody else, they simply recite this flowery, contrived poetry at each other. Half the time, the actors are not even looking at each other! At the risk of sounding incredibly shallow, most of the cast could also be contenders for the title of Ugliest Person Alive.

Don't get me wrong, I like a film to be challenging, but there's a line and Herzog not only crossed it, he set fire to it and threw it out the window. There's nothing challenging about an old man in a chair randomly and unconvincingly cackling; or a naked, bald-headed woman holding a goose (yes, a goose) and staring into space; or two half-cooked men slowly pouring beer over each other; or a man sitting perfectly still looking at a hand of playing cards while madness ensues around him. This is considered half-arsed film-making if we're talking about people like Jess Franco, but somehow Herzog gets away with it.

I'd love to sit down and watch this again with someone who likes it so I can ask them to point out what I'm missing.

The most painful thing about this film is that, after 90 minutes of genuine suffering, there is very little payoff. Okay, I get it, Herzog is making a point about faith, despair, hopelessness and the fragility of humanity (the heart of glass). He could have done this just as effectively in ten minutes, this being about the collective total of the film's screen time which I would like to see again, as it contains some lovely cinematography (which has nothing to do with the rest of the film).

This notwithstanding, the only reason I could recommend this film to anybody is for the sheer, baffling pointlessness and stupidity of it. Honesty, you really do have to see it to believe it.
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10/10
A visual masterpiece
BerndSchneider16 July 2002
Werner Herzogs, Herz aus Glas is truly a masterpiece. In this movie he has captured the most magnificent visual

imagery perhaps ever seen! You might call this movie a visual masterpiece. Herzog has transformed the art of film-making to its very highest

limit! The amazing pictures shown in the beginning of the movie

are truly wonderful and combined with the great background

music, it gets even better. And as leading character Josef Bierbichler would have said: "Ich sehe ein neue Erde...".
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10/10
More like a work of art than a conventional film
acelle16 April 1999
A very unique film full of imagery and ideas. However one should only see it if they are prepared to open up their minds. This is by no means a conventional film. The actors are said to be hypnotized which adds to the apocalyptic atmosphere of the film. It is like a work of art, a painting which gives us only a glimpse of the director's inner world.
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2/10
Drink about 9 cups of coffee before you attempt to see this one!!
MartinHafer1 February 2013
As I watched "Heart of Glass", I couldn't believe the complete lack of energy that dominated the film. The first 8 minutes or so consisted of yodeling and scenes of the mountain shot through a gauze-like filter. Then, when people came into the film and started talking, they all seemed to act as if they're all suffering from an overdose of sleeping pills. I have NEVER seen such a slow and lifeless beginning to a film and it did feel rather pretentious. Sure, the town is saddened by the recent death of a master glass maker--but even then, showing them sad would have been a major improvement--they were downright zombie-like. --and they had tons more energy. Because of this complete lack of any energy, I was very tempted to turn off the film. But, because I usually like director Werner Herzog's films, I decided to stick with it a bit longer. However, try as I might, I felt the life being drained from me with each passing minute. Truly, this is an almost impossible to watch film. And this is saying a lot, as I have seen and enjoyed tons of pretentious art films! The biggest problem with me and this films is that although the towns people SHOULD have been depressed, none were upset---just catatonic. It made the film utterly joyless and SHOULD have been better. For example, "La Femme du Boulanger" from Marcel Pagnol had a very similar theme but was clever and fun--and is one of the best French films of the 1930s. Unlike "Heart of Glass", it did NOT feature scenes showing a pile of dead flies or Hias the fortune-teller talking about the apocalypse!
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1/10
Not a very interesting or entertaining movie
arian_aiwendil9 February 2004
I am a fan of foreign language films and own many other German ones. When I read the cover information I thought this would be quite an interesting film but was very disappointed in it. The premise was good, unfortunately the dialogue was minimal and the acting was extremely strange and boring. The scenery was the best thing in the entire film.

Take my advice, save your money - rent if possible, do not buy. Even my German parents were not at all impressed.
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Probably the most difficult of all Herzog's films.
ThreeSadTigers29 December 2007
Warning: Spoilers
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 trance-like 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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Ritual
chaos-rampant12 March 2011
Everything in this film is ritualized, solemn and somnabulent, a state of meditation. It works like a mandala, a symbol that represents in Buddhist lore a sacred space for the concentration of the mind.

This goes beyond a stylization, indeed in a manner that defies our knowledge of Herzog, a man of the impromptu and the adventurous, here I discern a certain ceremonial importance. That is, if the film is important, it's because it derives power from the congregation, its audience. It's up to us to be devout or flippant, be absorbed or laugh it off. I mean this is a film where prophecies are fulfilled.

It starts with a creation myth, almost by necessity born of destruction, and ends with a diluvian suggestion, with one of those unforgettable Herzogian images that haunt with the futility and madness of human struggle in a yawning indifferent universe. There's a quest here to discover the lost recipe of a glasswork masterpiece, the Ruby, to which we can read all manner of existential parables. Individually, as allegory, this is nothing new. Like meditation, the insight is not intellectual, if we approach it that way the film may seem ponderous, rather it flows from living an experience.

There's a marvelous scene where we see glassworkers at work, blowing life into vials or glass horses. Herzog gives us a sharp contrast here between the sheer beauty of creation and the mundanity of it, one of the workers putting down his glasswork to take a sip of beer from a glass jug. The owners of the factory, son and disabled old father, don't even have that spontaneity to enjoy, they waste away in decadence and futile ruminations.

How the unforgettable finale ties up to this is a guess, does it merely frame or does it mythically abstract.

Like Tibetans work tirelessly day and night on mandalas only to destroy them upon completion as a palpable reminder that all things are transient, so is Heart of Glass a kind of vehicle, an artifice that serves a purpose only if we work on it. If we arrive anywhere by the finale, it's because we walked.
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10/10
haunting and mesmerizing...a beautifully disjointed film...hypnotic
jzucker28 April 1999
perhaps one of the most original films ever made. hauntingly beautiful. the hypnotized actors are used to an eerie and mesmerizing effect. a very subtle work. very disjointed and truly experimental.
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