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Monday,
August 12, 2013

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The Industrial and Creative Divide in Haanstra's Classic Documentary

The Industrial and Creative Divide in Haanstra's Classic Documentary

After decades of global industrialization, glass blowing remains largely untouched by the advancement of technology. These mesmerizing techniques are showcased in Dutch film director Bert Haanstra's 1959 Oscar-winning documentary entitled Glas. This ten-minute documentary provides an escape from everyday office life, transporting one to another world, but still familiar to the one we live in.

The film starts with the word "Glass" translated into five languages - Dutch, English, German, Urdu and French. The words collapse into a floating golden ball dancing around the black screen with a xylophone tinkling in the background. These lone notes are quickly joined by lilting jazz as the screen brightens to men rolling glass with ease. A variety of workers appears, some old, some young, some dressed in suits, some in flannel, one even smokes a pipe while blowing glass vases, candelabra, pitchers - a truly amazing feat.  There's something hypnotic about watching glass being manipulated as easily as water. The viewer becomes relaxed watching products being lifted gracefully from their poles and transported by large tongs sheathed in protective toweling. 

Suddenly an abrupt change of music heralds lava-looking glass shooting through the air and then captured in steel-iron glass casts. The music is almost grating, echoing the robotic and repetitive way countless bottles are made. A man wearing a fedora meanders his way through the massive machinery, prodding and poking to ensure everything is lined up properly. One faulty bottleneck wreaks havoc, causing bottles to fall off the line and shatter on the cement, until an alerted worker removes the culprit, so that the machine can continue its steady job.  After this moment of human intervention, Haanstra slides back to the handiwork of the blowers, focusing on their hands, constantly turning, feathering the poles.  This distinction between the mechanical, industrial production and the creative, energetic flow of the glass-blowers movements becomes obvious to the viewer, as the music returns to the gentle jazz.  Quick clips of the glass blowers puffing into their poles, morph into glass shooting down industrial slides and into generic bottle molds. 

A robotic voice repeats over and over an eerie and indistinguishable mantra as is the glassware-making process. This film, beautiful as well abstract, compels the viewer to focus on details and even going back to watch it on repeat.

Watch Glas 

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