Heart of Glass (Werner Herzog / West Germany, 1976):
(Herz aus Glas)

A concise visualization of a prophet’s apocalypse ("Before the day is over, the end will come") at the edge of the world (Bavaria, 1800s). Glass is the village’s art, the townspeople are bereft when the master craftsman dies and the formula for making red-colored "ruby glass" dies with him. The factory owner (Stefan Güttler) is a drowsy, dandified vampire who seems to suffer from Rimbaud’s vertigos ("The chaos of the stars makes my head ache"); he finds the elusive dye in the blood of his servant (Sonja Skiba), then ponders the industrialist’s dilemma: "What are factories still good for?" Meanwhile, the divination of the cowherd-seer (Josef Bierbichler) proceeds beyond rural calamity toward the next century’s Reich upheavals and, finally, into timeless fable. Werner Herzog has at his disposal the off-center, zombielike timbre of Dr. Caligari and Friedrich’s skies, yet his purpose is to invent the look, like a silent-movie maker, rather than imitate it. Candelabra, harps, geese and torches are among Herzog’s compositional tools, interiors combine hot candle yellows with inky blacks in startling chiaroscuro; glimpsed through an open door, the outside world just about shivers in bright turquoise. The joke is that this misty beauty is home to Woody Allen’s Village Idiots Convention, where a wizened invalid rises from his chair for the first time in 12 years just so that he can misplace his shoes and drinking buddies solemnly smash beer mugs over each other’s skulls. ("I will sleep off my hangover on your corpse," one of them drones; the corpse is later summoned for a tavern dance.) Herzog’s absurdist take on Whisky Galore!, with its ineffable feeling for hypnotized performers and the weight of their eyelids, is spacious enough for a mini-documentary on glass-blowing -- the camera raptly takes in the translucent horsey that emerges from the molten mass spun out of a furnace. The elating visions build to the last stand of the human race, who proves, blessedly, still brave and foolish enough "to risk the ultimate" and row into the unknown. Cinematography by Jörg Schmidt-Reitwein. Music by Popol Vuh.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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