Hias the herdsman sits looking after his cows on a Bavarian mountain. Hias (Josef Bierbichler) has the power to foresee events, and as he contemplates the misty landscape below he has a premonition of an apocalypse where the planet Earth falls and a new world rises. The people of the local village know very well about his abilities and today some of them come to see him about one of their number witnessing a giant in the area, but he reassures them it was simply the shadow cast by a dwarf. However, he won't be alleviating their fears for much longer - their lives are about to change...
Hypnotic is a good word to describe director Werner Herzog's Heart of Glass, or Herz aus Glas as it was originally called, and not just because of the effect it has on the viewer. To create the atmosphere he wanted he actually hypnotised most of his cast save for Bierbichler and the glass blowers featured (presumably mesmerising them would have been too dangerous), meaning the film has a strange, dreamilke mood as the cast shuffle around looking blank and intoning their lines.
And it has to be said, it also has a ridiculous look, as you keep expecting one of the cast of amateur volunteers to at the very least bump into the furniture as if they were a wind-up toy. Scripted with Herbert Achternbusch, a writer-director-producer-actor in his own right, Herzog again demonstrates his willful awkwardness, most pointedly in the obfuscation of the plot which grows so caught up in its visions that the end seems to have been dropped in from another film entirely.
Before we get that far, there's the matter of the villagers' worries over their local industry, the glass blowing. In this (perhaps) eighteenth century time the manufacture of their special ruby glass has kept them comfortable but the foreman has now died and taken the secret of the glass with him to the grave. So they begin to panic, in an extemely slow kind of way, that their livelihood is now denied them. This despite the fact we can see they still know how to do the basic glass blowing, so it's not as if they couldn't carry on with the more traditional product.
But there's an ominous air to Heart of Glass. Some have described it as a black comedy, but Herzog originally meant to have the viewers hypnotised as well as his performers, and although there are funny scenes gradually you go into a trance while watching it if you're concentrating at all so I don't know how much laughing you can do in that state. Hias' premonitions dominate eventually and his prediction of the village falling apart comes true after a fashion, but what we're supposed to make of it all is a mystery. It could be a warning against forthcoming World Wars, or even the threat of a nuclear armageddon judging by the Nostradamus-like dialogue from Hias, but the film is better as an enigma, even if there's the suspicion that there's a joke being played somewhere here. Music by Popol Vuh, as well as some yodelling and chanting.
Eccentric German writer/director known equally for his brilliant visionary style and tortuous filming techniques. After several years struggling financially to launch himself as a filmmaker, Herzog began his career with the wartime drama Lebenszeichen and surreal comedy Even Dwarfs Started Small. But it was the stunning 1972 jungle adventure Aguirre, Wrath of God that brought him international acclaim and began his tempestuous working relationship with Klaus Kinski. The 1975 period fable Heart of Glass featured an almost entirely hypnotised cast, while other Herzog classics from this era include Stroszek, the gothic horror Nosferatu the Vampyre and the spectacular, notoriously expensive epic Fitzcarraldo.