A film by Jean-Marie Straub, Danièle Huillet
1967, 93 minutes
No. 145

Johann Sebastian Bach and his wife Anna Magdalena endured the successive deaths of 10 of their young children, a grief we can scarcely fathom any more than we can articulate the beauty of Bach’s music, at once an expression of his earthly anguish and his joyous faith in divine love.

Nonetheless, Straub-Huillet attempt to capture Bach’s ineffable artistry in one of their most sublime films. The seemingly musical structure is based on recitations of Anna Magdalena’s intimately domestic, yet fictionalized, letters to her husband, and on performances in period clothes with period instruments and orchestrations — a radical conceit for the 1960s — of Bach’s cantatas, sonatas, and Passion According to Saint Matthew in the very rooms and churches where he composed and conducted them.

“With the Bach film,” Straub said, “we have almost entirely a documentary reality — the actual music and actual manuscript pages, real musicians — and only one seventeenth of fiction, and despite it all, the totality becomes very nearly a novel…. [There is] no divorce in Bach between art, life and intellect, sacred and secular music.”

Official Selection, New York Film Festival

"The net effect is not having seen a film but having lived a real moment, in the presence of monumental music. Is this a documentary, or a biopic, or something else we've never named?" - The Village Voice

"The result feels like a window into the past — a time and place which seems unfamiliar, but whose art has endured into the present. It achieves something rare: a film that allows the music to stand on its own (it helps that the performances are excellent throughout), while acknowledging that the world that created it now seems remote, fragmented by patchy historical records." - Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, The AV Club

"Chronicle uses lengthy takes and a static camera to document the performance of Bach’s music in period costume with period orchestration. The experience is both transcendent and material." - J. Hoberman, The New York Times