Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle HuilletItaly / West Germany93 minutes1967B&WGerman
Straub-Huillet made their first masterpiece with this account of the last decades of the great composer's life, featuring glorious, direct-recorded performances of Bach's music on period instruments.
A cinephile's dream: a new 35mm print of a classic of modernist cinema, unscreened in Toronto for a decade. Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach stars the late virtuoso harpsichordist Gustav Leonhardt as Johann Sebastian Bach and Christiane Lang as his second wife Anna Magdalena, whose journal serves as the film's narration. An account of the difficult last 27 years of the composer's life, Chronicle places as much emphasis on economic and social factors as on character and incident, but cedes all to Bach's music — lots of it, gloriously performed on original instruments and recorded with direct sound to ensure purity and authenticity of reproduction. (Paradoxically, Straub and Huillet insisted on period-specific performance not only for the sake of authenticity, but because at the time it was rare enough to be "new" and radical.) Chronicle achieves grandeur through the interplay of visual design and camera placement, the counterpoint of music and editing, of music and narration, the use of silence and interpolated images of nature, and the many performances of Bach's music. "One of the most beautiful achievements in film history" (Martin Walsh).