It is time for me to kick off the 2015 edition of the Blindspot Series, where I will be doing a yearlong celebration of 40 years of the Toronto International Film Festival. I begin with a selection from the very first Festival of Festivals from 1976. There are many films I could have gone with from this inaugural year, such as the opening film Cousin Cousine or the closing film Queen of the Gypsies. However, since this first year of TIFF had a focus on German directors, such as Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Wim Wenders and Werner Herzog, I decided to go with Herzog’s film Heart of Glass.
Heart of Glass takes place in an 18th century Bavarian town, which is known for its glassblowing factory, which produces the red tinted ruby glass. The master blower of the glass factory dies, taking the secret of the ruby glass with him. A seer from the hills named Hias (Josef Bierbichler) is tasked by the local baron to decipher the secret of the ruby glass.
Even though Werner Herzog has a long career dating back to the 1960s, most of the films of his I’ve seen came from the last decade. In addition, I’ve probably seen more of his documentaries than narrative films. Probably the earliest of Herzog’s films that I saw prior to Heart of Glass was his 1979 remake of Nosferatu the Vampyre. I’m not sure where Heart of Glass stands in the pantheon of Werner Herzog’s filmography, but to say that I did not know what I was getting into would be a major understatement.
My experience watching Heart of Glass is one that is hard to describe. While technically it can be considered a narrative film, there is a lot to the narrative that does not make a lot of sense. In many ways, I can probably can compare Heart of Glass to my recent experience watching Inherent Vice. While the film does have the ruby glass plot thread that ties the film together, the film is more just a series of really weird moments.
Of course, there is a reason why Heart of Glass is filled with really weird moments. With the exception of the lead actor Josef Bierbichler and the glassblowers that appear in the factory, everyone in Heart of Glass is performing under hypnosis. This is why many of the characters seem a little off within the film. Then there is the dialogue of the film, which is almost stereotypically Herzog. In fact, much of the first eight minutes or so of Heart of Glass consists of these silkscreen filtered landscape shots with narration such as “Now I look at one spot in the tumbling waters. I seek one spot on which my eyes can rest. I become light, lighter, lighter. Everything becomes light, I fly upwards.” If that isn’t representative of Herzog, I don’t know what is.
I can’t really say that I really got what Heart of Glass is trying to say. It is very much an art house film, though it does features some elements that Werner Herzog would become quite well known for. Plus, it does fit in my celebration of the Toronto International Film Festival’s 40th anniversary, since Herzog has become one of the directors to regularly have films screened at the festival. It is only fitting that I watched the first.5 | INDIFFERENT