When I first saw History Lessons, I hadn't even heard of the Brecht novel, and what I knew of Roman history I had learned in high school. Nevertheless I was gripped.
...These adjacent scenes typify each dimension of History Lessons’ sui generis dual form. Through this dual form, the film not only models a notion of cinema that propels the viewer into action, that instructs rather than enthralls, but also presents a visible reality upon which the viewer’s newly critical gaze, one that takes perceptions for signs, and investigates their causes, might be tested.
In effect, the film is almost a monologue, testimony, it’s difficult to say what exactly it is. What is, however, easy to note is that, once more, emphasis is placed on sound, on speech. You can black out the image and you might even get more out of the “film”. What is important in both [History Lessons and The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach] is not what is shown, but what is heard.