59 of 60 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
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.