A Bavarian village is in big trouble because the foreman who knew how to make the renowned ruby glass has died, taking the secret with him. The master of the village, understandably, starts to go insane and turns into a pyromaniac and a murderer. A seer from the hills making predictions, in the style of Nostradamus, is thrown into the mix. Then everything goes a bit pear-shaped.
Here is a typical scene: a man dances with a dead villager, accompanied by a fellow with a hurdy gurdy. In the foreground sits a man cackling away, encouraging the surreal dance, while a woman holding a duck stares gormlessly into space. Welcome to Heart Of Glass.
Most of the actors were hypnotised for their scenes. You can't accuse Herzog of playing it safe and it does create a strange dream-like atmosphere. The only people who weren't in a trance were the glass blowers going about their work. Glass blowing with stunningly hot molten glass and hypnotism do not make good bedfellows. Obviously, they were allowed to drink plenty of beer to keep them cool. Also the seer Hias (Josef Bierbichler) was unhypnotised. He just acts like he is, staring into the far distance as if he's seeing the future. He is a strong presence and you look forward to his scenes.
There are some gorgeous landscape shots within Heart of Glass, the initial scene with Hias and some cows in the mist is a highlight. Herzog lingers on these shots long enough for you to appreciate them.
The commentary is very entertaining. You learn about Herzog's childhood in Bavaria and there are quite a few amusing anecdotes about the making of the film. Herzog actually did the hypnotising himself. Brave cast. He endears himself to me though, by not having a clue why he did certain things, the end sequence for instance, where he tells a completely separate story. He just admits that he can't explain it. Top bloke.
I've actually managed to make it sound more exciting than it is. Slow pacing and some inscrutable dialogue make for quite an endurance test. The pacing is not a problem in itself - I like Jean Rollin films, where the slowness is part of the charm - but the main issue is that not much happens. I think that Herzog films, much like Rollin's, are an acquired taste. Worryingly, they are starting to grow on me.
If you like this you could also try:
Even Dwarfs Started Small, Fata Morgana, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, Eraserhead, Mulholland Drive, Inland Empire.