For the iPod generation, this is the ultimate throwback to simpler times: when music was a communal experience and the greatest musicians didn’t play for large audiences.
Imagine a biopic dedicated to the routine of a subject’s life and none of the drama that movies usually savor. That’s what Jean-Marie Straub and Danielle Huillet created in The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach, which almost exclusively features live performances of Johannes Sebastien Bach’s compositions and voice-over narration taken straight from the letters of the Bach family.
While the musicians are impressive, the film is intriguing primarily in concept. In some ways, Straub and Huillet seem to have achieved a new level of authenticity for the biopic genre. The only events shown in The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach are events we know happened, and Straub and Huillet present them without an ounce of drama, the most reliable way to assume that they happened. The result is a series of stationary vignettes that drive home both how quotidian performance was in the lives of the Bachs and how society’s perception of professional musicians has changed.