Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach Screen 13 articles

Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach

1968

Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach Poster
  • The strangest and most uncompromising of all musician biopics, Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet’s 1968 debut feature, The Chronicle Of Anna Magdalena Bach disregards most conventions of costume drama to ask some very human questions about history, what it takes to be an artist, and what movies can tell us about ourselves. . . . What matters is that it tests our preconceptions about historical narratives and dramatic involvement, and in doing so, hits at some truth about time.

  • Initially, seemingly restrictive images and spaces unveil new possible modes of historical examination, achieved through reduction—a paring down of images that render them so lifeless as to swing back around the spectrum and evoke the lushness of tones that accompany the cinema of the Straubs’ beloved John Ford. These revelations do not negate the oppressiveness of the film’s structure . . . , both serving to affect the viewer’s body and instill it with the sound of Bach.

  • “Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach,” by Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, is a recording of magnificent music and a film of equally impressive contradictions. An impossible documentary, at once austere and rhapsodic, it evokes the 18th century while feeling as present as a live concert. . . . Juxtaposing these glorious sounds with the hardships that accompanied their production, “Chronicle” offers evidence of transcendence.

  • From the minute I started I wondered whether I saw a film or whether I listened to an audio book. The film is an extensive repertoire of Bach’s music, if you wish. The first forty minutes are almost nothing more than people playing Bach’s music in long static takes. Here and there we hear the voice over of Anna telling the viewer of the going-ons in the life of the Bachs. The film is radical. It upsets everything we know of film, and it did so even more, I believe, when it was released in 1967.

  • Because none of the sound was studio-recorded, and because any mistake made at any moment during a given performance would force the musicians and the filmmakers to stop and start again, there is, as Barton Byg writes, something unexpectedly suspenseful about what we see and hear, since “something could go wrong, be lost or forgotten.”

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    Film Comment: Gilberto Perez
    May 03, 2016 | May/June 2016 Issue (p. 60)

    The film conducts a dialogue between Bach as he survives in his music and Bach as he lived and worked, between enduringly beautiful music and the often worrying circumstances of its composition, between transcendent aesthetic experience and the constrictions of living in the world, between the autonomy of art and its embedment in history.

  • It's important, with Bach's music and with [Straub and Huillet's] films, not to mistake the absence of showmanship with an absence of emotion, or an absence of passion, an absence of anger, an absence of love. Their untimeliness, like Bach's, is a quest for universal values, filtered through personal experience. Popularity vanishes. Who remembers the artists who were more popular than Bach in his time? Yet what truly endures is often out of sync with its own times.

  • This film was made without much of the context from the [slow cinema] canon — it was “breaking new ground” with its pace and distance, meaning Straub and Huillet took this more academic route to fit their aesthetic needs, raise their questions (of feminine narrative), and produce a mood (of airy, solemn concert) they intended... Straub and Huillet’s long takes serve their purpose, showing Bach’s performances in a full context, allowing them to speak for themselves for our aural enthrallment.

  • The European art film may have never come this close to being a non-movie—and to summoning the nascent force of cinema as a primal concentration of experience... The net effect is not having seen a film but having lived a real moment, in the presence of monumental music. Is this a documentary, or a biopic, or something else we've never named?

  • As somebody familiar with Jean-Marie Straub’s cinema solely through academic studies, I expected an introduction to his notoriously “astringent” and “austere” work to be akin to a semiotics lecture in an empty auditorium. Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach promptly dispenses with such gloomy prospects—the director’s best-known film, made with wife Danièle Huillet, is, in the first of its many paradoxes, both insistently severe and intensely pleasurable.

  • A narration (compiled from contemporary sources) sets [Bach] in his economic and social context. With his minimalist's sensitivity to nuance and inflection, Straub eschews pointless cutting and camera movement. The beautiful result has the air of a crystal-clear meditation.

  • The film has a musical structure that is very much like Bach's own St. Matthew Passion; and Straub uses the format of Bach's music to etch a minimalist love story of enormous richness.

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    Artforum: Manny Farber
    February 1970 | Farber on Film (pp. 682-683)

    What the film is about... is poured through a minimalist movie apparatus, producing a timeless, classical, boring work in which every shot comes across with super clarity and poignance. There's no pretense at naturalism and the hollow images of wigged actors who don't act playing harpsichords and choir singing, suggest a touched-up super-real grisaille, like Ingres' black-white Grande Odalisque.

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