Thoughts on Herzog’s ‘Heart of Glass’

I just saw this film yesterday and it totally blew me away. Someone had said I should see it but I couldn’t remember why, I watched the whole thing with this nagging feeling at the back of my mind that there was something very odd about it.

After it was over I looked it up on the net and then I remembered: the reason I particularly wanted to see it (apart from the fact that I want to see all of Herzog’s films), and one of the reasons it is very odd, is that all the actors in it are hypnotised, except one, Josef Bierbichler, who plays Hias, the herdsman who can see into the future.

That’s right, Herzog personally hypnotised all the cast before shouting ‘Action’ (or the German equivalent). Now I suppose when someone is hypnotised they are literally ‘under suggestion’ from the hypnotiser so it depends what suggestions he gave to them. In a way it is a director’s dream come true, to give directions to the actors which they carry out precisely; and possibly it could be said that they are not really acting at all as they temporarily believe that what they see before them in the film set is real and that they are their given character.

The overall effect is very strange, in a way disturbingly real, in another way, very detached. It is like watching someone sleepwalking- they appear to be awake but their mind is clearly elsewhere and they don’t inhibit their behaviour like we normally do in the consensual ‘real’ world in order to fit in.

‘Heart of Glass’ reminds me of so many other films, I feel sure that it is one of those works that every director has to see at some stage and I can detect its influence in many other movies, for example David Lynch has created this same odd atmosphere, pushing it over the edge into the realms of nightmare on several occasions, such as ‘Lost Highway’ or ‘Mulholland Drive’… even ‘The Straight Story’ has a slightly dreamlike quality which is akin to ‘Heart of Glass’.

Also Kubrick’s ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ has this dreamlike, detached feeling which many people seemed to think was a weakness when it came out, but I feel sure it will be ultimately judged as one of his greatest films. It’s not an accident that it feels detached; Kubrick did not deal in accidents.

‘Mirror’ by Tarkovsky and ‘Hour of the Wolf’ by Bergman must have been influences on Herzog for ‘Heart of Glass’- for me ‘Hour of the Wolf’ is one of the scariest films ever made; I can sit through more or less any horror film and feel nothing but boredom but HoTW is properly chilling, like taking a holiday in a schizophrenic’s mind. ‘Mirror’ has the same poetic quality as ‘Heart of Glass’, it is nothing so prosaic as an allegory or a metaphor, hiding one thing behind another; more like the director’s emotions put straight into your body and mind by means of the medium of film. Yes, I like it…

Older films which may have influenced ‘Heart of Glass’ could be Robert Bresson’s films where he used non-actors and told them not to even try to act, giving a very emotionally flat effect to the performances which is contrasted with occasionally very dramatic subject matter, for example in ‘Mouchette’ where the tension between the performances and what is taking place leads one to doubt what one is actually seeing.

Anyway I was left literally hypnotised by ‘Heart of Glass’ and never cease to wonder why the less a film tries to please the audience, the more I like it (with the exception of ‘Container’ by Lukas Moodysson which I saw recently and was thoroughly bored by, even though I love all his other films). It’s probably simply that I am allergic to cliché in the cinema, and ‘Heart of Glass’ is further proof that Herzog is the right kind of man to be making films, i.e. a complete nutter.