CHRONIK DER ANNA MAGDALENA BACH
(Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach)
Director: Jean-Marie Straub
Production: (West Germany) Franz Seitz, Filmproduktion-Kuratorium Junger Deutscher Film, Hessiches Rundfunk, Radio-Televisionbessoise, Filmfonds, and Telepool; (Rome) IDI Cinematografica, PAI; black and white, 35mm; running time: 94 minutes. Released 1968, West Germany.
Producers: Gian Vittorio Baldi, with Jean-Marie Straub; screenplay: Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet; photography: Ugo Piccone, Saverio Diamanti, and Giovanni Canfarelli; editors: Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet; sound: Louis Houchet and Lucien Moreau; music conductor: Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Schola Cantorum Basilienses; concert group conductor: August Wenziner, Hanover Boys Choir; music director: Heinz Hennig; costume designers: Casa d'Arte Firenze, Vera Poggioni and Renata Morroni.
Cast: Gustav Leonhardt ( Johann Sebastian Bach ); Christiane Lang ( Anna Magdalena Bach ); Paolo Carlini ( Hölzel ); Hans-Peter Boye ( Born ); Joachim Wolf ( Rector ); Rainer Kirchner ( Superintendent ); Eckart Brüntjen ( Prefect Kittler ); Walter Peters ( Prefect Krause ); Kathrien Leonhardt ( Catherina Dorothea Bach ); Anja Fährmann ( Regine Susanna Bach ); Katja Drewanz ( Christine Sophie Henrietta Bach ); Bob van Aspern ( Johann Elias Bach ); Andrea Pangritz ( Wilhelm Friedemann Bach ); Bernd Weikl ( Singer in Cantata No. 205 ); Wolfgang Schöne ( Singer in Cantata No. 82 ); Karl-Heinz Lampe ( Singer in Cantata No. 42 ); Nikolaus Harnoncourt ( Prince of Anthalt-Cöthen ).
Straub, Jean-Marie, and Danièle Huillet, Chronik der Anna Magdalena Bach , Frankfurt, 1969.
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Roud, Richard, in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1968.
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The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach is Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet's version of film biography. The film presents biography as the rewriting and juxtaposition of prior documents; in this instance music and a chronicle are most prominent. Defined in this way, through a range of documents, Bach does not emerge as a conventional dramatic character. The importance of music in the film, which was performed and recorded during the filming rather than dubbed, stresses its centrality to the contemporary knowledge and appreciation of the historical figure Bach. In fact, Straub has said that the music was considered the basic raw material of the film, and not simply background accompaniment.
Personal aspects of the composer's life are presented, along with the musical performance, through the agency of a diary. A voice-over narration, purportedly reciting the text of Anna Magdalena's journal, provides information about financial and familial affairs in a matterof-fact monotone. No such chronicle really exists, and the narration was constructed from various sources including letters written by and to Bach. However the actual status of the spoken text is less important than its effect in the film as a document.
Through the use of these prior texts as its basic structuring principle, the film constructs a biographical portrait while asserting its distance from its subject. In line with this approach, the film refuses to engage the viewer emotionally in its characters as psychologized individuals. To undermine any sense of realistic depiction, the actors are dressed in period costumes but do not visibly age in the course of the film. The film as a whole is visually austere and verbally reticent, and the music stands as the major mechanism of viewer involvement. The actors rarely speak and the narration is void of emotional sentiment. This "silence" is expressed in several visual pauses punctuating the film; two shots of the sea, one of the sky, and one of a tree intervene in the course of the film. These images serve as moments of meditation. Removed from the musical, familial, and financial concerns developed in the narrative, they offer the possibility to speculate on, among other things, the relation of these images to the filmic depiction of Bach's life; the relationship of nature to social and cultural life; and the nature of cinema. With regard to the latter, Straub is known for quoting D. W. Griffith: "What the modern movies lack is the wind in the trees."
The framing and lighting convey an almost academic sense of beauty, a calculatingly striking surface that denies the depth of space or character. While many of the images involve composition-in-depth, they are often so extreme and self-conscious that their status as artificial constructions—through the conjunction of set construction, lens choice, and character placement—is obvious. In addition, various camera and lens movements frequently manipulate and shift apparent depth within the course of such shots. The formal contrast and counterpoint guiding the editing are often seen as the visual counterpart of the structure of Bach's music. However, this approach to editing, insisting on the process of spatial construction, is characteristic of Straub and Huillet's films. It is a way of underscoring the artificiality of the film's visual world.
—M. B. White