Friday, December 05, 2008


1958, 10:03
Directed by Bert Haanstra
Academy Award: Best Documentary, Short Subject (1960)
Silver Bear - Special Jury Prize for Short Documentary - 1958 Berlin International Film Festival

I am a huge fan of How It's Made. It engages my endless craving for gadgetry. In How It's Made, the stuff being manufactured is rarely anything special - highlighters, bicycles, sometimes candy - because those are things that won't distract us from the real stars: the industrial machinery that churns through incredible masses of raw materials and turns out something we can use.

Glas also puts the focus on the means of production: the expert glass craftsmen. Sure, they're making cool and unique works of art, but glass-blowing is a quirky job that lets each individual glass-blower put his or her personality into the process. My personal favorite is the guy with the coke-bottle glasses.

The jazzy soundtrack fills in this feeling of "quirky" and "personality." The jazz genre revolves around improvisation. No two sessions sound alike. Likewise, no two hand-made glass pieces ever come out identical. But then we leave the world of expert craftsmen and enter one of mass production. The music changes to one defined by samples, which are used over and over again. Each sound is identical, just like each piece produced by the machine is identical. The men tending to the machines are relatively uninteresting to look at. Of course, the moment the machine trips up and starts doing something out of the ordinary, the monotonous voice counting out how many bottles have been produced gains some human urgency. Drew brought up this theme in his original post: "Men no longer are behind each piece of craftsmanship, only kept around to make sure that the machines work properly." The monotonous voice changed to reflect the moment when the machine started producing unique pieces of glass: broken bottles.

Glas is ten minutes long. One 22-minute episode of How It's Made consists of four separate segments that clock in at about five minutes apiece. A short film about the production of goods will probably never run more than 15 minutes in length. Who would pay attention? How It's Made appeals to me because it requires virtually no attention span. If it were any longer, it would turn into an industrial training video.

p.s. How It's Made has also documented glass-making in a segment about marbles. Beautiful.

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