Because this Flemish-painting-come-to-life was so against the grain of the wired 70s, it struck a resonant and influential chord; it's easy to imagine Lynch, Tarr, von Trier, Korine all over this movie. But although, for me, it never becomes more than the sum of its parts, I did find it fascinating and often very beautiful. It also helps that it has a sense of humor about its own weirdness.
Despite initially enigmatic formalism, there are glimmers of future Herzogion poetics. Yet, what's most amazingly symbolic is the extended shot where glass-makers work glass, tying the polarities of heated air and maluable material; further representing the clouds and earth, liars and thieves, soothsayers and capitalists. To foresee results of labor one must give in to uncertainties behind dreams or future visions.
Herzog's weird and wonderful film is visually spectacular and strangely hypnotic, an appropriate description for a production that is infamous for the hypnotism of its cast. Based on Bavarian folklore, the plot concerns the crisis which descends upon a village when the foreman of the local glass blowing factory dies without revealing the secret of how to make its famous ruby glass. Challenging but rewarding viewing..
Herzog is capable of making great films and terrible films. This is somewhere in between, but it's definitely not one of his best. Some interesting surrealist scenes don't make up for the lack of interest of the whole.
***1/2. I first watched this film in 1977 in a local theater and I still remember now that I was totally euphoric after the screening. I hadn't understood one scene of the film but its stunning cinematography and Herzog's handling of the most obscure and dark themes of German Romanticism had filled me with enthusiasm. The actors, hypnotized every morning by Herzog and a psychiatrist, seemed to have popped out of George Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. It's 2010 now. I understand a lot better the script of the film because I've watched all the movies Werner Herzog shot before HEART OF GLASS, I still consider that some scenes of the film are, like the dance with the dead man. exceptional, but I'm not euphoric anymore. I'm getting old, I presume. Recommended.