January 22, 2007

heart of glass - WERNER HERZOG

Werner Herzog's films really do it for me....Heart of Glass is my latest obsession...here is a great review by John Fortang.

An isolated community renowned for its glassworks is thrown into chaos when the chief glassblower dies. Werner Herzog's mysterious depiction of collective hysteria

To get the weird bit out of the way first, every actor bar one in Werner Herzog's Heart Of Glass performs while hypnotised and, had the director been able to, he would have included an introductory sequence designed specifically to put audiences under as well. As is frequently the case with Herzog's famously extreme shooting methods, the director casts his net into the primordial gloop and brings up a slow but beautifully shot and eerily toned vision of mass hysteria set amid the magnificent landscapes of pre-industrial Bavaria.
Working from Herbert Achternbusch's adaptation of a German folk tale, a small village is renowned for its ruby glass. When the chief glassblower dies without revealing how the glass is imbued with its mysterious properties, the villagers succumb first to depression and then to collective madness.

The owner of the factory, Huttenbesitzer (Güttler), is obsessed with discovering the manufacturer's lost secret, a quest that in true Herzog style is compulsive, relentless and futile. Meanwhile, wandering mystic Hias (Bierbichler - the one actor not performing under hypnosis) is living out in the woods and issuing apocalyptic predictions about the fate of the glass factory which, he says, will be destroyed so it can rise again.

Herzog's claim to have hypnotised his cast (non-professionals recruited by advertisement) each morning was greeted with suspicion in some quarters, both for its veracity and its ethical implications. Far from acting as sinister puppet master, Herzog hoped that by putting his cast into a trance he would enable them to commune with some deeply-buried, irrational core - a mystical madness that would be manifest in their performances. Whatever the truth, the result is undeniably strange. Performances are slow yet intensely focussed and the actors move through their scenes with an unblinking determination that we might now associate with zombies or heavy drug use. (The barroom fight alone ranks among the oddest moments in Herzog's canon.) 

Despite the story's more obtuse elements, Herzog, always sensitive to landscape, captures the Bavarian countryside with an extraordinary, stark style. Clouds race over the forest like flowing water. A waterfall is shot to create the impression that the viewer is being elevated towards the sky. Such techniques are employed with the explicit intention of inducing in audiences the same trance-like state achieved by the actors. 

The film's contemporary significance is saved for the finale, when Hias appears to foresee another collective madness, this time infecting all of Germany. It's an interesting, if unsubtle attempt to imbue the film with an explicit allegorical message, but the real appeal here is in the Gothic quality of the images, the unsettling sense one gets from the insensible performances, and in Herzog's vigorous raking up of the subconscious.

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