THE CHRONICLE OF ANNA MAGDALENA BACH
Dir. Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub, 1968
Federal Republic of Germany, 93 min.
In German with English subtitles.
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 3 – 7:30 PM
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 7 – 7:30 PM
This fall, Spectacle is proud to present married director-duo Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub’s rigorous first feature, THE CHRONICLE OF ANNA MAGDALENA BACH, in a special 16mm screening. Made up of thirty-two scenes and only about a hundred shots, CHRONICLE is a memoir of the last two decades of the life of J.S. Bach as told by his second wife. The famous complexity of Bach’s compositions finds a counterpoint in Straub-Huillet’s restrained style, constructing the story from a series of tableaux and allowing Bach’s music to come forth in all its majesty.
Straub-Huillet’s compositions are not austere in the manner of Dreyer, but sumptuous. The rooms and costumes in which Bach (played by the Dutch harpsichordist Gustav Leonhardt) plays extracts from dozens of his pieces—in chronological order—are filled with baroque ornament, and for all its supposed minimalism, the film draws a tense energy from the period’s nervous detail. There is hardly a review of the film that doesn’t use the phrase “less is more,” the anti-baroque slogan par excellence, which points a fruitful contradiction in the pairing of Straub-Huillet’s reductive modernism with the age of Bach.
Many critics wonder whether the film is a biopic or a documentary, while others think it’s something else entirely. The Village Voice’s Michael Atkinson says that CHRONICLE is the closest that any European art film has come to being a “non-movie,” and Sight and Sound’s Richard Roud goes as far as to claim that it is not a film but music. Whatever it is, THE CHRONICLE OF ANNA MAGDALENA BACH is an opportunity to train one’s cinematic attention and submit oneself to something sublime.
Special thanks to David Callahan from the New York Public Library for the 16mm print and to Barbara Ulrich at BELVA Film GmbH.