A life through music - not your normal action drama
Archimedes | Pennsylvania | 01/06/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This deserves 5 stars; I merely put 4 stars to signify that your mileage will most definitely vary!
This movie, a DVD of a film of the late 60s, presents Johann Sebastian Bach through 2 avenues: (1) a (ficititious) diary (the Chronicle) of Anna Magdalena Bach, the composer's second wife, and (2) the music of J.S.Bach itself. It is in German, with English subtitles.
The Chronicle, if not authentic, has been created from actual letters and descriptions taken from writings of the time, so that the language and feel is utterly authentic. We have Bach reading from his own letters (which appear translated--in summary--in the subtitles, of course), and so the literary aspect of the movie: the script, that is, is creative in the sense that the screenplay recedes almost to the background. We hear Anna Magdalena, in voice-over, reading her journal, and we get an almost painful look at the beauty of Bach's music against the deaths of more than half his children. Infant mortality in those days were high, but it took its toll, surely.
The acting has been deliberately kept to a minimum. What they have tried to do is to create a pseudo-documentary, that achieves the goal of throwing us back into the 18th century, to show just how different life was, back then, and as part of it, how different music was.
It is well recognized that Bach's music, as well as those of his contemporaries (almost any music, in fact, I suppose) has to be understood in relation to the times in which it was written. While Bach's music can impress anyone, despite our ignorance of the cultural context of it, thousands will attest to the fact that the attempt to try to understand Bach's life and times is infinitely rewarding. Travel is broadening, and this movie is travel in time. It has the eerie feel of early 20th century documentaries taken back 200 years further. How did they do it? Black and white film, deliberately understated action, and static scenes, where little happens except music performance.
In this way, you hear --and see-- some of Bach's most important and representative music, you see Gustav Leonhardt performing, directing, instructing students very much as Bach would have. These were two of the director's main goals, and he has certainly met them.
IN musical legend, the romance of J.S.Bach and Anna Magdalena is an important fixture. This movie stays true to the legend; she is represented as a patient, loving, admiring wife who is deeply hurt by all that hinders Bach from creating greater and yet greater things. Yet there is never more than the slightest hint of frustration, another way in which the movie more powerfully weaves its spell of time travel, back to those times when one took a beating and ground on without making much of a fuss.
I recommend it highly, for Bach lovers as well as those who are yet to discover Bach, if it is through his personality that it happens. Gustav Leonhardt, a pioneer of the movement to perform Bach in authentic style, was instrumental in recruiting a whole generation of fans. This movie has the power to do more of it.
FILM ABOUT FILM
A fan | London UK | 03/21/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Some might think this previously unobtainable film to be an arcane (for some) cinematic exploration of Bach's musical career. Wrong! This painstakingly assembled piece of work is one of those few cases where feature-length film transcends the normal limitations of the medium. It is relentlessly pared down (I think there are no more than 200 edits during the whole film) and while this may seem austere / unforgivingly minimal it certainly encourages you to focus on the fact that THIS is a film that has been MADE (rather than having sprung into existence full-formed) - a film where each and every decision has been carefully and conscientiously weighed by the directors. Instead of mindlessly expecting a film to entertain you - like some kind of ferris wheel - try appreciating the MEDIUM for once. This great and unique film will help you to do so!"
Even Bach Would Be Bored
Peter A. DeSimone | Santa Barbara, CA | 03/08/2007
(2 out of 5 stars)
"I love Bach more than anyone I know. I immediately purchased this DVD when it came to my attention that there was actually a movie about the life of my favorite composer of all time. I was a bit disappointed, however, upon watching this film: visually speaking, its drabness is incomparable.
The fact that it is entirely black & white doesn't bother me, but what does bother me is the fact that it is composed entirely of static camera shots. The camera never moves ~whatsoever~ within a scene! Compounded with the black & white, the result is something that looks something akin to security camera footage. As a security guard, I've seen enough security camera footage. When I watch a movie, I want to be entertained.
The music is fairly well executed, but the selections are hardly what one would expect to find on a "Best of..." compilation. With perhaps two exceptions, I can say that these pieces are in no way Bach's finest work.
For the record, this film is a procession of live music performances by people dressed in period garb, intermittently overdubbed by readings from Anna Magdalena's diary. That's all it is. If you're looking for a real drama about the life of J.S. Bach (a la "Amadeus"), this is ~not~ what you're looking for.
I really don't like being critical of artistic endeavors, but in this case I feel that this film is being misrepresented to the public."
It's About Music, Not Entertainment
Giordano Bruno | Wherever I am, I am. | 09/21/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The gaunt, cerebral Gustav Leonhardt makes an utterly implausible Johann Sebastian Bach, until he sits down at the keyboard. Then there is something ineffably touching about watching him project his empathy with the long-dead composer who has dominated his own musical life. Leonhardt couldn't act but he surely could play.
I saw this movie at least thirty years ago, but I remember the impression it made on me vividly, which is perhaps the most ardent praise I could confer on any movie. I'm amazed and pleased to discover that it's been re-released.
The reviewer who complains that it's boring has to be taken seriously. I think that if you're not fanatically committed to the music of Bach, you will find the whole thing colorless and slow. And I know enough about Bach--his life, his family, his community in late Baroque Germany--to declare that this is hardly an accurate biographical portrayal. It is what it is, an eloquent expression of the director's and the performers' obsession with the greatest composer of history."