The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach Reviews

  • Aug 15, 2018

    A meditative, if not exactly intriguing or compelling, exercise in minimalism precariously situated between a broad swath of contradictions, which function like a fugue, constructing the film through thematic counterpoint. Part biopic and part concert film, but fully neither, lacking almost any narrative outside the chronological presentation of a life stripped to its bare, mundane, economic facts, few pieces played in their entirety and for no audience except the anachronistic one on this side of the years and the camera. A film lacking practically any camera movement or narrative pacing, with long static takes of stoic musicians doing little more than waggling their fingers, about polyphonic music as vivacious, byzantine, and brisk as has ever been composed. Pieces played on historically accurate instruments not by actors but by professional musicians (including as JSB Gustav Leonhardt, one of the leading figures of historically informed performances) in true-to-life costumes, in many of the same rooms that Bach premiered these same pieces, allowing the viewer an imaginary glimpse back in time to the baroque, a technical historicity that encourages us to slip into fantasy. The story of a man as told by his second wife through a mixture of narrated fictional journal entries and photographs of real textual documents (contracts, sheet music, etc.), that nonetheless obscures its narrator-the real Anna Magdalena Bach died penniless on the street-just as Bach's vision was obscured at the end of his life, just as the audience is encouraged to wonder at what it has been allowed to see, what it accepts as true, and what remains false or faraway. The end effect would make that great philosopher of music, Schopenhauer, proud: In order to hear the music as (we think) Bach wrote it and heard it himself, in order to make the music true to itself (in this sense, at least), the visuals must be falsified, the ultimate contradictions of film being those between sight and sound, reality and representation.

    A meditative, if not exactly intriguing or compelling, exercise in minimalism precariously situated between a broad swath of contradictions, which function like a fugue, constructing the film through thematic counterpoint. Part biopic and part concert film, but fully neither, lacking almost any narrative outside the chronological presentation of a life stripped to its bare, mundane, economic facts, few pieces played in their entirety and for no audience except the anachronistic one on this side of the years and the camera. A film lacking practically any camera movement or narrative pacing, with long static takes of stoic musicians doing little more than waggling their fingers, about polyphonic music as vivacious, byzantine, and brisk as has ever been composed. Pieces played on historically accurate instruments not by actors but by professional musicians (including as JSB Gustav Leonhardt, one of the leading figures of historically informed performances) in true-to-life costumes, in many of the same rooms that Bach premiered these same pieces, allowing the viewer an imaginary glimpse back in time to the baroque, a technical historicity that encourages us to slip into fantasy. The story of a man as told by his second wife through a mixture of narrated fictional journal entries and photographs of real textual documents (contracts, sheet music, etc.), that nonetheless obscures its narrator-the real Anna Magdalena Bach died penniless on the street-just as Bach's vision was obscured at the end of his life, just as the audience is encouraged to wonder at what it has been allowed to see, what it accepts as true, and what remains false or faraway. The end effect would make that great philosopher of music, Schopenhauer, proud: In order to hear the music as (we think) Bach wrote it and heard it himself, in order to make the music true to itself (in this sense, at least), the visuals must be falsified, the ultimate contradictions of film being those between sight and sound, reality and representation.

  • Mar 07, 2018

    If you value your time spare yourself the torture to see a MOTION PICTURE without MOTION. Of course you can go to a concert and see an orchestra and choir while listening to Bach but here these 2 characters Huillet and Straub just spoiled everything because there's no movement in the movie at all, there's no zooming in to the period instruments or the costumes of performers, let alone showing the magnificent surroundings of a cathedral or an altar. The zipping down of the women's voice that's supposed to be the wife and narrator reading at high speed about local happenings of 1738 Prussia is also not acceptable. Big disappointment!

    If you value your time spare yourself the torture to see a MOTION PICTURE without MOTION. Of course you can go to a concert and see an orchestra and choir while listening to Bach but here these 2 characters Huillet and Straub just spoiled everything because there's no movement in the movie at all, there's no zooming in to the period instruments or the costumes of performers, let alone showing the magnificent surroundings of a cathedral or an altar. The zipping down of the women's voice that's supposed to be the wife and narrator reading at high speed about local happenings of 1738 Prussia is also not acceptable. Big disappointment!

  • Walter M Super Reviewer
    Apr 21, 2012

    In trying to learn about great artists of the past, the one thing we should be concentrating on is whatever creative projects survive to the present day, and worry less about what made them great. Along these same lines, this film takes a modestly revolutionary step by putting the truly wonderful music of Johann Sebastian Bach(Gustav Leonhardt) front of center, as explained in the making-of documentary. Framing the sublime sounds is the life of the composer as narrated by Anna Magdalena(Christiane Lang), Johann's second wife, filling in the gaps of their personal struggles and his career, with minimal extrapolation. One particular episode stands out with Johann's tutorial explaining not only a particular musical instrumment but also the sounds of the era.

    In trying to learn about great artists of the past, the one thing we should be concentrating on is whatever creative projects survive to the present day, and worry less about what made them great. Along these same lines, this film takes a modestly revolutionary step by putting the truly wonderful music of Johann Sebastian Bach(Gustav Leonhardt) front of center, as explained in the making-of documentary. Framing the sublime sounds is the life of the composer as narrated by Anna Magdalena(Christiane Lang), Johann's second wife, filling in the gaps of their personal struggles and his career, with minimal extrapolation. One particular episode stands out with Johann's tutorial explaining not only a particular musical instrumment but also the sounds of the era.

  • Jan 19, 2012

    WYHIWYG. Good thing it's perfect.

    WYHIWYG. Good thing it's perfect.

  • Mar 15, 2011

    Really boring and totally non-cinematic.

    Really boring and totally non-cinematic.

  • Feb 28, 2010

    A diametric of parallels through pronounced asymmetry. Two dreams should make bare some of its inner order: In the first one I was riding my bicycle on the sidewalk, east down Hollywood Blvd on my way to a wrestling show at a public rec center with an expected attendance of no more than 10 people. I stopped slowly near a frail figure stumbling down the same sidewalk, I recognized him as a wrestler performing in the show to which I'm attending. Excitedly and timidly I asked, "are you going to the show"? His response was slurred and addled while telling me that he defecated in his own pants. I put my hand on his shoulder in a gesture of protection, encouraged him to "hold on" as I knew for a fact that there was a bathroom at the public rec center. Second dream involved having guests over the house hanging out in the living room. While talking to the guests, I was assailed with sudden exhaustion. Just then, one of th guests hands me the copy of the film "Tron" he brought with him. With the DVD in hand, I freeze before placing it in the machine. I stop and said to myself,"Wait, am I really going to be STARTING fucking TRON RIGHT NOW!?"

    A diametric of parallels through pronounced asymmetry. Two dreams should make bare some of its inner order: In the first one I was riding my bicycle on the sidewalk, east down Hollywood Blvd on my way to a wrestling show at a public rec center with an expected attendance of no more than 10 people. I stopped slowly near a frail figure stumbling down the same sidewalk, I recognized him as a wrestler performing in the show to which I'm attending. Excitedly and timidly I asked, "are you going to the show"? His response was slurred and addled while telling me that he defecated in his own pants. I put my hand on his shoulder in a gesture of protection, encouraged him to "hold on" as I knew for a fact that there was a bathroom at the public rec center. Second dream involved having guests over the house hanging out in the living room. While talking to the guests, I was assailed with sudden exhaustion. Just then, one of th guests hands me the copy of the film "Tron" he brought with him. With the DVD in hand, I freeze before placing it in the machine. I stop and said to myself,"Wait, am I really going to be STARTING fucking TRON RIGHT NOW!?"

  • Feb 05, 2010

    Anyone who says they prefer this to Amadeus is probably either: 1) a liar trying to impress you, 2) an asshole who just always has to go against the grain, or 3) just really likes Bach way more than Mozart. Or some combination thereof. The film (if you can call it that) is mostly just people in period costumes, sitting in period locations, playing the music of Bach. Between pieces, there are brief floods of rather dry biographical information from the perspective of Bach's wife, usually about the publication of some music or an attempt to curry favor with one official or another. Once in a while there will be some actual acting (if you can call it that), but it doesn't happen often and it doesn't last long. If you really adore Bach, you might like this, but then why not just pick up a nice album collection with some good liner notes? And if you're not into Bach, this movie probably won't inspire you to get into his work. Of course, the music is wonderful, and it's impressive that it's all been recorded live. But it's all so dull and uncinematic.

    Anyone who says they prefer this to Amadeus is probably either: 1) a liar trying to impress you, 2) an asshole who just always has to go against the grain, or 3) just really likes Bach way more than Mozart. Or some combination thereof. The film (if you can call it that) is mostly just people in period costumes, sitting in period locations, playing the music of Bach. Between pieces, there are brief floods of rather dry biographical information from the perspective of Bach's wife, usually about the publication of some music or an attempt to curry favor with one official or another. Once in a while there will be some actual acting (if you can call it that), but it doesn't happen often and it doesn't last long. If you really adore Bach, you might like this, but then why not just pick up a nice album collection with some good liner notes? And if you're not into Bach, this movie probably won't inspire you to get into his work. Of course, the music is wonderful, and it's impressive that it's all been recorded live. But it's all so dull and uncinematic.

  • Jul 20, 2009

    I liked the music. I haven't totally made my mind up about the rest. The director, like so many 20th century artists, substitutes philosophy for a compelling product. There is no technique, no talent behind the camera, only a theory and a style. Bach's music has all of the above except for a theory. Perhaps there is an irony to work out in this, perhaps even an intentional one, but who has the time?

    I liked the music. I haven't totally made my mind up about the rest. The director, like so many 20th century artists, substitutes philosophy for a compelling product. There is no technique, no talent behind the camera, only a theory and a style. Bach's music has all of the above except for a theory. Perhaps there is an irony to work out in this, perhaps even an intentional one, but who has the time?

  • Feb 02, 2009

    Beautifully and matter-of-factly presents/performs Bach's life and work(s) without falling into any Christian, Romantic, or just plain bourgeois mystifying/fetishizing ideological traps.

    Beautifully and matter-of-factly presents/performs Bach's life and work(s) without falling into any Christian, Romantic, or just plain bourgeois mystifying/fetishizing ideological traps.

  • Oct 30, 2008

    In its own way, this is one of the greatest concert films ever made--an historical recreation of sorts of many of the most perfect pieces of music being played in front of a camera, with hardly any cuts in the performances, interspersed with occasional narration from Anna Magdalena Bach, wife of J. S. Seeing the performers (in beautifully composed frames) playing on the instruments heightens the experience in the same way it does when watching a live performer--the coordination between what the performer does and the sounds that come out help us to hear more nuances and appreciate the music even more. Eventually, the focus shifts (visually and, if one can use the word for this movie, narratively) from the technical, instrumental performance to the spiritual state of the composer and performer, just as Bach shifted from technical exercises to spiritual majesty--the first and last thirds, as a result, are particularly compelling (the opening and final shots are crazily moving for such a seemingly detached film).

    In its own way, this is one of the greatest concert films ever made--an historical recreation of sorts of many of the most perfect pieces of music being played in front of a camera, with hardly any cuts in the performances, interspersed with occasional narration from Anna Magdalena Bach, wife of J. S. Seeing the performers (in beautifully composed frames) playing on the instruments heightens the experience in the same way it does when watching a live performer--the coordination between what the performer does and the sounds that come out help us to hear more nuances and appreciate the music even more. Eventually, the focus shifts (visually and, if one can use the word for this movie, narratively) from the technical, instrumental performance to the spiritual state of the composer and performer, just as Bach shifted from technical exercises to spiritual majesty--the first and last thirds, as a result, are particularly compelling (the opening and final shots are crazily moving for such a seemingly detached film).