Glass: The Oscar-Winning “Perfect Short Documentary” on Dutch Glassmaking (1958)

You’ll find many a bold claim on Wikipedia, even on the page for Bert Haanstra’s Glass, a 1958 short doc­u­men­tary on glass­mak­ing in the Nether­lands, which, as of this writ­ing, men­tions that the film “is often acclaimed to be the per­fect short doc­u­men­tary.” Just the sort of thing you’d want to take with a grain of salt, right? But if you watch Glass itself, which won the 1959 Acad­e­my Award for Doc­u­men­tary Short Sub­ject, you might find your­self join­ing in on that sup­posed cho­rus of acclaim.

Prashant Par­vat­neni at The Essen­tial Mys­tery calls Glass “at once a pas­sion­ate cel­e­bra­tion of human labour and crafts­man­ship and a bit­ing cri­tique of the mech­a­nis­tic mass-pro­duc­tion of objects. On the very sur­face this doc­u­men­tary can appear as a demon­stra­tive film keen­ly elu­ci­dat­ing the very basic process­es that go into the mak­ing of hand­made glass­ware and jux­ta­pos­ing it with the process of bot­tle-mak­ing in a mech­a­nised fac­to­ry.

Yet this very jux­ta­po­si­tion cou­pled with a Haanstra’s strong styl­is­tic inter­ven­tion takes the film into a polem­i­cal space.” Tak­ing a slight­ly dif­fer­ent tone, Colos­sal’s Christo­pher Job­son high­lights the jazz of the tra­di­tion­al half, and the “whim­si­cal score of more syn­the­sized music” in the mod­ern half. “Also,” he adds, “there’s a ton of great smok­ing!”

Job­son does­n’t men­tion that these guys also some­how man­age to keep smok­ing even while blow­ing glass — an impres­sive feat indeed, and just one of the impres­sive qual­i­ties on dis­play in Glass’ brief run­time. Even­tu­al­ly, the footage turns back from the fac­to­ry to the work­shop, and soon it begins oscil­lat­ing between the two, cut­ting to the jazzy rhythm and even mak­ing the machines and work­men into musi­cal instru­ments of a kind. The Dutch glass­mak­ing indus­try has sure­ly changed in the past half-cen­tu­ry, but stu­dents of Dutch film can’t ignore the work of Haanstra, who in addi­tion to this and oth­er doc­u­men­taries short and long, direct­ed fea­tures includ­ing Fan­fare, still one of the most pop­u­lar films in the Nether­lands ever. But as any film his­to­ri­an might sus­pect — and here comes anoth­er bold claim — Glass will out­live them all.

Glass will be added to our list of Free Doc­u­men­taries, a sub­set of our col­lec­tion 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

via Colos­sal

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Why Man Cre­ates: Saul Bass’ Oscar-Win­ning Ani­mat­ed Look at Cre­ativ­i­ty (1968)

Oscar-Win­ning Ani­mat­ed Short, The Dot and the Line, Cel­e­brates Geom­e­try and Hard Work (1965)

Watch the Funky, Oscar-Win­ning Ani­mat­ed Film Fea­tur­ing the Music of Herb Alpert & the Tijua­na Brass (1966)

36 Free Oscar Win­ning Films Avail­able on the Web

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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