Still from “Glas” by Bert Haanstra (1958) (screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic)

In 1958, renowned Dutch filmmaker Bert Haanstra visited the Royal Leerdam glass factory in the Netherlands, where glassblowers created handmade crystal wares, as well as another factory where automated machines mass-produced glass bottles. The result was Glas, a mesmerizing 10-minute film that won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short the following year.

Set to jazz music, the wordless film contrasts the artful, improvisational process of traditional handmade glassblowing with its robotic, automated counterpart. At the Royal Leerdam factory, cigarette-smoking workers in newsboy caps blow long tubes with puffed cheeks, resembling horn players; their movements look like an elaborately choreographed performance. Molten glass blobs glow in the dark factory, plopping into molds and emerging transformed into crystal vases, mugs, and goblets. Equally transfixing is the mechanized version of this process, in which freshly cooled bottles travel down conveyer belts and sometimes get into traffic jams, smashing onto the floor. The contrast offers a look at the meticulous craftsmanship often lost with automatization and industrialization, although traditional glassblowing techniques are still widely practiced today.

Glas has just been made available online via Aeon as part of its curated series of videos about art, design, and culture.

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering arts and culture. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Baffler, The Village Voice, and elsewhere.

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