Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach

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ando
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Re: Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach

#26 Post by ando » Sun May 16, 2010 9:19 pm

Ian Aitken presents a cogent and explicit description of Chronicles here.

Initially, I thought that Straub was merely asking us to consider the inner development of Johann Sebastian Bach, the artist, through the presentation of musical selections alongside brief biographic facts, alone. But, apparently, every element of the film attempts to convey what the medium itself implies about human expression and its history. And as Aitken argues in his study, Straub goes quite beyond Bresson in this regard, indeed. Nevertheless, I don't think Straub's command of the language is as successful as Bresson, depite being more challenging. From what I've gleaned the universal response is that Chronicles puts the average filmgoer off quite early.

It has inspired me to break out Glenn Gould's Goldberg Variations, which I haven't listened to in years. Gould's take on Bach (notorious as it is) seems to me far more emotional - much more freely interpretive than Gustav Leonhardt's (the musician who plays Bach in the film) approach. Different schools, I suppose, though Gould seems to have abandoned traditional approaches to Bach altogether.

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Re: Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach

#27 Post by ando » Tue May 18, 2010 9:40 pm

I wish I had more than a passing familiarity with German. There's an entire dimension of the film that is lost on me because I'm at the mercy of subtitles. I also feel that one can't look at the film too directly or the activity becomes absurd. It's like obliterating the focal point when observing a 3D puzzle - once your gaze softens heretofore unseen musical and visual patterns begin to emerge.

Bach is portrayed, among others things, as something of a quiet maverick; criticizing banal trends in orchestral scoring and outmoded ideas from complacent court post-holders. He's even able to improvise and develop ideas suggested by musically inclined nobility (brings to mind scenes from - dare I mention it - Amadeus, though aside from this point and the period costuming the two films are worlds apart).

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Svevan
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Re: Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach

#28 Post by Svevan » Wed May 19, 2010 2:13 am

On the subtitles front, let me say that the subs present on the R1 DVD are so literal as to be incomprehensible. And Gary's DVDBeaver review calls them solid or something such. Ack! There's an offchance that these subs are accurate since I don't know anything about German. Anyone want to pipe up?

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Re: Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach

#29 Post by hangman » Wed May 19, 2010 11:26 pm

Given how Class Relations was subbed by the German Filmemuseum I'd say the odd subbing is pretty much the result of how the dialogue is, and it may actually be closer to what the directors would have intended. Looking at other works by Straub, which have been subbed either officially by a company or by fans, their work simply does not lend itself well to translations or subtitles (especially given how distracting it can be from the image at times). So I wouldn't take it too much against the DVD company.

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zedz
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Re: Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach

#30 Post by zedz » Wed May 19, 2010 11:34 pm

hangman wrote:Given how Class Relations was subbed by the German Filmemuseum I'd say the odd subbing is pretty much the result of how the dialogue is, and it may actually be closer to what the directors would have intended.
Those Class Relations subs (notoriously partial / incomplete) were Huillet's, not the Filmmuseum's, apparently, so you're right about directorial intentions. Straub / Huillet were big on the integrity of texts, so translation is always going to be a problematic issue with the films - the more problematic the better, perhaps.

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Re: Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach

#31 Post by hangman » Thu May 20, 2010 1:21 am

zedz wrote:
hangman wrote:Given how Class Relations was subbed by the German Filmemuseum I'd say the odd subbing is pretty much the result of how the dialogue is, and it may actually be closer to what the directors would have intended.
Those Class Relations subs (notoriously partial / incomplete) were Huillet's, not the Filmmuseum's, apparently, so you're right about directorial intentions. Straub / Huillet were big on the integrity of texts, so translation is always going to be a problematic issue with the films - the more problematic the better, perhaps.
Ah yes thats what I mean, given how Huillet translated the film the more 'literal' or as she had put it just the gist of the text to grasp the basic idea. Another difficulty of translating the films, from a question I had with New Wave Films, also stems from trying to capture the speech rhytms of the films (Sicilia! was the film noted). Which doesn't lend itself well with being translated to a natural or polished english translation.

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Svevan
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Re: Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach

#32 Post by Svevan » Thu May 20, 2010 1:31 am

Well, let me say that I found it a detriment to my enjoyment of the film. Was it the directors' intention that I be terribly confused the entire time? Is it more important that I read the literal translation from German, watch the images, or understand the plot? Do these things have to compete? I had to pause and rewatch certain sentences since their grammatical structure was so poor and came at lightning speed. It seems Straub/Huillet were concerned with the "integrity of texts" as well as the integrity of the image, but for anyone who doesn't speak German these two will be at odds. Ironically, if the German text were streamlined into a readable (preferably accurate) English, I would probably be able to watch the images more. As it is, I think I read most of this film instead of watched it.

I dug up some examples, but if you want to check it out, go to Netflix and stream the thing.
And after he had helped him to Sangerhausen, in the hope a more civilized way of life and genteel patron would stir the misled son to other behavior, the father had to learn with utmost dismay that Bernhard had once more borrowed from here and there and had even absented himself without letting him know where. Since no admonition nor living care could longer help, the father had to bear his cross in patience, leaving the son to God's mercy, not doubting, it would hear his sorrowful plea and effect that he should learn how conversion is to be attributed solely to the Divine Goodness.
This example has, for the most part, correct grammar, but watching it yourself you'll see that it comes far too rapidly to clarify the convoluted structure. The monologues in the film are made up of run-on sentences, so the first sentence in this paragraph comes in six separate subtitles. This is not the most confusing example I could find, I just picked it. I'm pretty sure there was a part of the film where I had literally no idea, even after pausing, what the words meant. Later in this same section, Mrs. Bach says "I was a great amateur of gardening" and that her new bird "did particularly well in singing."

Of course, I detest the hipsterization of dialogue that occurs on almost every Criterion DVD. The Ozu Eclipse sets seem thankfully free of it, but their mainline Ozu and many French releases practically pat you on the head and say "don't worry, this is the gist of it." Neither is ideal to me.
Last edited by Svevan on Thu May 20, 2010 11:21 am, edited 1 time in total.

hangman
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Re: Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach

#33 Post by hangman » Thu May 20, 2010 2:44 am

Svevan wrote:Well, let me say that I found it a detriment to my enjoyment of the film. Was it the director's intention that I be terribly confused the entire time? Is it more important that I read the literal translation from German, watch the images, or understand the plot? Do these things have to compete? I had to pause and rewatch certain sentences since their grammatical structure was so poor and came at lightning speed. It seems Straub/Huillet were concerned with the "integrity of texts" as well as the integrity of the image, but for anyone who doesn't speak German these two will be at odds. Ironically, if the German text were streamlined into a readable (preferably accurate) English, I would probably be able to watch the images more. As it is, I think I read most of this film instead of watched it.
I wouldn't say that the text and the images are necessarily in competition, rather they never catered their work for subtitling so to speak. Hence, subtitles and image compete, its not the text(i.e. dialogue) and image. Michael Brooke noted this in the dvdtimes with the review, and it is confirmed with the piece written by Huillet on subtitling. Simply put they were as Michael Brooke posted:
Apparently Straub and Huillet hate the very thought of their images being interrupted with text, to the extent that they've even refused to permit subtitling one or two of their films. In this case, Huillet unbent sufficiently to allow a very basic palimpsest of what's actually being said, but anyone in search of nuances should either forget it or learn German.
Not that I'm saying the New Yorker DVD had Huillet subtitling the film (did she?) but just driving the point that their films are really not translation & subtitle friendly. Furthermore, if you're going to ask wouldn't subtitling be more preferable to dubbing, that too was asked in the dvdtimes review and again...
anepheric: Surely subtitling's preferable to a dub? What a bizarre position to take.
Michael Brooke: That's not the position they're taking. What they're actually arguing is that the viewer needs to learn the relevant language (usually German) before tackling their work, as they're not happy with the notion of providing an onscreen translation.
Unfortunately yes the text will go VERY fast at times because of the rhythm of the German language which ifIweretogiveanideawouldbethewayIwrotethethisstatementtogether, there is little pauses with the words and most are bunched up together. I can understand your frustration, I recall my exposure to their works through Class Relations and I was quite frustrated by the way it was translated to be quite literal and at times would not even bother to translate everything (in retrospect watching the other films which did have everything translated I ended up agreeing with Huillet's decision to not translate everything as precisely you end up reading more than watching). All you can do is either a) learn German or b) re-watch the work, which is what I did, and try to catch more of the text yourself (I wouldn't really advise the whole pause and re-wind for the first viewing).

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Re: Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach

#34 Post by ando » Thu May 20, 2010 4:08 am

All that said (and put well, I might add), I do find Gustav Leonhardt's delivery of most of the text to be unusually stiff. It's obvious that he's not a professional actor but the continual deadpan easily rivals any of Bresson's "models". Admittedly, Straub and Huillet relegate his delivery of text to readings of official documents or professional exchange (shop talk) like the pompous retort to the school official about the consequences of his own career or the curious admonishment of a student named Kitler for some minor infraction (I suppose the infraction is important on a symbolic level but the move is hardly subtle).

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Re: Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach

#35 Post by otis » Thu May 20, 2010 5:45 am

ando wrote:I do find Gustav Leonhardt's delivery of most of the text to be unusually stiff. It's obvious that he's not a professional actor but the continual deadpan easily rivals any of Bresson's "models".
Bertolt Brecht wrote:Instead of wanting to create the impression that he is improvising, the actor should rather show what the truth is: he is quoting.

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ando
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Re: Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach

#36 Post by ando » Thu May 20, 2010 7:57 am

Isn't quoting exactly what we want to avoid when we want to convey a truth of a particular situation? Is referencing the most effective way to get there? Is it unavoidable?

One of the most effective (and memorable) scenes in the film is an early sequence of Anna Magdalena Bach playing from a clavier book while to her left "the daughter" is completely absorbed with dressing and undressing her doll. The juxtaposition is fascinating because within the child's seemingly sponteneous play she has already begun "to quote". When I first viewed the scene I thought the child was showing early signs of neurosis, absorbed as she was with the minutea of the activity which seemed to have no end. This is juxtaposed with the mother, composed, completely aware of form and, who is able to bring her activity to a conclusion. But the more vital figure is the child whose attempt to ape the form of what is undoubtedly her mother's daily activity provides the most effective counterpoint in the entire film. Her presence, in fact, is beyond the narrative of the film - it is beyond quoting, although integral to her activity is a form of quoting. This kind of epiphany almost never happens again in the film.

Perhaps Bach didn't really seek the epiphany, anyway. Perhaps he wanted to convey the divine through order and structure alone. But if the divine doesn't happen (and I'm certainly not implying that it's easy to convey), what's the point?

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Re: Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach

#37 Post by zedz » Thu May 20, 2010 8:34 pm

hangman wrote:Furthermore, if you're going to ask wouldn't subtitling be more preferable to dubbing...
I'm no S/H expert, but I believe the merest suggestion of dubbing would have Daniele spinning in her grave, as the integrity of the soundtrack and the 'performances' was paramount to the filmmakers as well, to the extent of preserving uncorrected wild sound, even when dialogue was inaudible.

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Re: Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach

#38 Post by MichaelB » Sun May 23, 2010 5:20 am

ando wrote:Ah, so who here has watched it? Completely? A friend let me borrow his copy and I do confess that I nodded off at the second or third long-held close up on a piece of sheet music (it was 3 am). The scene brought to mind a scene from Into Great Silence, a film of seeming rigor and spiritual meditation, where a monk, alone in a cell, blithely flips through pages of scripture, at which point I felt the film to be going through the motions of a "meditation". Chronicle, on the other hand, has the rigor I admire in a film and the participants are actually involved in their activities, but it doesn't seen terribly dynamic. But it may be a premature assessment; I'm completing my viewing tonight and just wondered if anyone was able to get through it.
I've watched it three times (once on Channel 4 in the 1980s, twice this year), every time in one sitting. It probably helps that I'm a massive Bach fan, though - I actually think the scene in which the opening of the Mass in B Minor is juxtaposed with Bach's original manuscript is one of the most powerful in the whole film.

But I suspect prior knowledge of the work and its importance helps: the problem with excerpting the opening fugue, as I noted when I reviewed Christopher Nupen's otherwise outstanding We Want The Light, is that you really need to hear the full 10-11 minute argument to make full musical and architectural sense of the piece. But short of making a film lasting several hours, I don't think either Nupen or Straub/Huillet had much choice.

And I don't have a problem with Leonhardt's line readings - as I said in my S&S review, he's more than eloquent when it actually matters.

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Re: Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach

#39 Post by david hare » Sun May 23, 2010 5:36 am

Michael have you ever met Leonhardt?

He is as thoroughly charming as his readings, phrasing and articulation of the scores. He lives for the music. And there is nothing "dead" about his Bach peformances, as you eloquently relate.

Anyway I think you strike the chord for everyone here when you say that the movie requires some "preknowledge". This is true of every single Straubs movie, and it's been a barrier to so many people, Ithink simply because it's never discsussed. So people just aren't quite ready.

Im very grateful you've actually raised it, because the movies themselves are an ongoing, living work, by a great director whose closest formal ally, and still alive indeed , is Godard.

I know Straub's a toughie, but this is a good place to start. And just as you say, one needs an acquaintance with (ideally) Bach's Kunst der Fugue, but at least Bach himself, you alaso need some notion of Racine or Brecht or the Oracles.

The History lessons, and le Streghe? Next for BluRay BFI? What a fabulous idea!

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Re: Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach

#40 Post by ando » Sun May 23, 2010 12:04 pm

david hare wrote:Anyway I think you strike the chord for everyone here when you say that the movie requires some "preknowledge". This is true of every single Straubs movie, and it's been a barrier to so many people, Ithink simply because it's never discsussed. So people just aren't quite ready.
Bah. Not ready? I don't mean to dismiss your perspective or to be simply contrary, but I strenously disagree with this notion of preknowledge. Take the film for what it is. All the elements required to understand a film should be contained therein. You may be able to derive a deeper appreciation (in this case - of Bach and his music) because of a prior aquaintance with the material, but in my eyes, if preknowledge is required in order to understand a film the director has utterly failed.

Frankly, I feel repeated viewings reveal more about a film, the director and his or her intentions than anything outside of them.

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Re: Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach

#41 Post by otis » Sun May 23, 2010 2:00 pm

ando wrote:I wish I had more than a passing familiarity with German. There's an entire dimension of the film that is lost on me...
ando wrote:...I strenously disagree with this notion of preknowledge. Take the film for what it is. All the elements required to understand a film should be contained therein.
Isn't there a contradiction here?

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Re: Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach

#42 Post by Peacock » Sun May 23, 2010 3:29 pm

ando wrote: but I strenously disagree with this notion of preknowledge. Take the film for what it is. All the elements required to understand a film should be contained therein. You may be able to derive a deeper appreciation (in this case - of Bach and his music) because of a prior aquaintance with the material, but in my eyes, if preknowledge is required in order to understand a film the director has utterly failed
This is ridiculous, that means every film about Vietnam has to show all the facts and events relevant to the story. I think people should read more about many things, historical, philosophical, and then watch movies and see how much more then understand. Your statement would imply all of Godard's late work is a failure.

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Re: Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach

#43 Post by Fiery Angel » Sun May 23, 2010 3:43 pm

Peacock wrote: Your statement would imply all of Godard's late work is a failure.
Maybe that's what he's implying.

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Re: Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach

#44 Post by Svevan » Sun May 23, 2010 4:16 pm

ando wrote:Frankly, I feel repeated viewings reveal more about a film, the director and his or her intentions than anything outside of them.
Firstly, directorial intentions, when it comes to reading and "understanding" a film, are very often beside the point - let's not confuse directorial intention with "the answer" to a film. Perhaps you're just using the phrase as shorthand for "the director's art/aesthetics" or something. That's fine I guess. But as written, your statement assumes that we must find a director's intentions, but that we must not use outside sources to do this. I find that a bit backwards - I don't often care what the director's "intentions" are, but I do find outside sources help illuminate aspects of a film I could never have noticed without assistance.

Which brings me to my second objection: this strikes me as a severely anti-intellectual approach, as if any person can understand a film wholly by just watching it over and over. There are critical approaches and aesthetic nuances (not to mention historical details and source material) that I can't just conjure up into my brain. Correct me, but this seems to be the tabula rasa school of art-criticism: someone who has never seen a film will be the best judge because s/he isn't "tainted" yet. Any outside knowledge is a detriment rather than an aid. I find that absurd. To make a finer point, if you cared about directorial intention at all, you'd read and know everything you could about Bach before watching this film.

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Re: Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach

#45 Post by kekid » Sun May 23, 2010 4:55 pm

Peacock wrote:
ando wrote: but I strenously disagree with this notion of preknowledge. Take the film for what it is. All the elements required to understand a film should be contained therein. You may be able to derive a deeper appreciation (in this case - of Bach and his music) because of a prior aquaintance with the material, but in my eyes, if preknowledge is required in order to understand a film the director has utterly failed
This is ridiculous, that means every film about Vietnam has to show all the facts and events relevant to the story. I think people should read more about many things, historical, philosophical, and then watch movies and see how much more then understand. Your statement would imply all of Godard's late work is a failure.
I would not call a work of art a failure if it requires pre-knowledge, but if it cannot be enjoyed without pre-knowledge, it has only a niche appeal. (This should be distingished from works of art that can be enjoyed without pre-knoledge, though pre-knowledge may add extra dimension to them). Such works can acquire a cult status if those in the niche are passionate about them. I think late works of Godard fall in this category. I do not wish this statement to be taken as a value-judgement on Godard's work, but a recognition of the type of work it is. Of course there is room for debate as to whether his late works can be enjoyed without necessary background ("pre-knowledge"); for me personally they cannot.

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Re: Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach

#46 Post by MichaelB » Sun May 23, 2010 5:00 pm

ando wrote:Bah. Not ready? I don't mean to dismiss your perspective or to be simply contrary, but I strenously disagree with this notion of preknowledge. Take the film for what it is. All the elements required to understand a film should be contained therein. You may be able to derive a deeper appreciation (in this case - of Bach and his music) because of a prior aquaintance with the material, but in my eyes, if preknowledge is required in order to understand a film the director has utterly failed.
Not at all - it depends entirely on the film and the filmmaker's intentions. To cite three films about composers/musicians, Miloš Forman made Amadeus for beginners (he actually relied on their historical ignorance, in fact!), François Girard made Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould for people who at least had a broad prior idea who Gould was, while Straub/Huillet are clearly assuming fairly considerable prior knowledge of Bach's life and work. All three approaches are entirely legitimate.

In any case, it's patently absurd to say that a film has "utterly failed" when it showcases so many self-evidently magnificent performances of Bach's music - if you don't respond to those, then what was the point of watching the film at all?
Frankly, I feel repeated viewings reveal more about a film, the director and his or her intentions than anything outside of them.
Depends entirely on the film. If you know nothing about a film's social, historical and cultural context, and the filmmaker was assuming at least some familiarity with that context, it's unlikely that any amount of repeated viewing is going to help much. I watched Gary Oldman's Nil by Mouth with someone who lived a few blocks away

To give one example of a director whose work I've been watching a great deal of over the last two or three years, a complete ignoramus would probably pick up on the fact that Andrzej Wajda has an eye for a powerfully symbolic image and a sweepingly effective set-piece - but no amount of repeated viewing is going to compensate for the lack of a basic knowledge of Polish history which he assumes his (mainly domestic) audience possesses from the start. I actually asked him about this when I interviewed him a couple of years ago, and he confirmed that he makes his films primarily for his fellow countrymen, and if anyone else responds to them that's a bonus - but it's far from essential. As he put it:
Andrzej Wajda wrote:I want to speak to everybody and to be understood everywhere. But a long time ago Goethe stated that whoever wants to understand der Dichter, the poet, must visit his land.

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Re: Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach

#47 Post by david hare » Sun May 23, 2010 7:24 pm

Ando, I would like to agree with the notion that the film itself contains all the "Answers" up front. but the whole challenge of the Straubs is a basic requirement that you have, for instance read or are at least aware of Pliny and Roman history contemporary to Julius Caesar to even begin to comprehend the texts recited by the perfromer playing Caesar in History Lessons. And then the formal relationship/discourse that opens out from the texts to reflection of contemporary life.

Or the Pavese source for the recitations of the women in Le Streghe and the players in Quei loro Incontri. I'm far from comfortable with this, in fact, and for years resisted what I consider anyway to be extracinematic dimensions to the Straubs films, such that I resisted approaching them. But reacquaintance with Godard's sixties work of all things has lit the spark for more Straub.

But I find it totally misguided to think that anyone at all - in this age of total dumbing down? - can just land into a Straub film "cold", and then obtain a maximum benefit from it, even after several viewings. The films are in part challenges to the viewer to amplify their own knowledge, as though Straub is commending all of us as viewers to the status of members of the enlightenment.

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Re: Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach

#48 Post by ando » Mon May 24, 2010 12:31 am

otis wrote:
ando wrote:I wish I had more than a passing familiarity with German. There's an entire dimension of the film that is lost on me...
ando wrote:...I strenously disagree with this notion of preknowledge. Take the film for what it is. All the elements required to understand a film should be contained therein.
Isn't there a contradiction here?
No. I understand the film well enough without being fluent in German. But, obviously, my reception of the film would deepen considerably if I knew the spoken language better. Cinema is first and formost a visual medium. So the spare subtitles fulfill what I meant by "elements" contained therein.
Peacock wrote:
ando wrote: but I strenously disagree with this notion of preknowledge. Take the film for what it is. All the elements required to understand a film should be contained therein. You may be able to derive a deeper appreciation (in this case - of Bach and his music) because of a prior aquaintance with the material, but in my eyes, if preknowledge is required in order to understand a film the director has utterly failed
This is ridiculous, that means every film about Vietnam has to show all the facts and events relevant to the story. I think people should read more about many things, historical, philosophical, and then watch movies and see how much more then understand. Your statement would imply all of Godard's late work is a failure.
Well, I'm certainly no fan of Godard. And there is absolutely nothing ridiculous about what I said. Every film must have all the elements within it in order for it to be understood. I shouldn't have to go anywhere else in order to follow a film.
Svevan wrote:Correct me, but this seems to be the tabula rasa school of art-criticism: someone who has never seen a film will be the best judge because s/he isn't "tainted" yet. Any outside knowledge is a detriment rather than an aid. I find that absurd. To make a finer point, if you cared about directorial intention at all, you'd read and know everything you could about Bach before watching this film.
Now that is absurd. I only need to read and know everything I could about Bach if I were writing a biography. But watching a film that concerns his life is its own experience.
MichaelB wrote: In any case, it's patently absurd to say that a film has "utterly failed" when it showcases so many self-evidently magnificent performances of Bach's music - if you don't respond to those, then what was the point of watching the film at all?
Where did I say that Straub's film failed? I SAID that if any film REQUIRED prior knowledge in order for it to be understood then it fails.
MichaelB wrote:
Andrzej Wajda wrote:I want to speak to everybody and to be understood everywhere. But a long time ago Goethe stated that whoever wants to understand der Dichter, the poet, must visit his land.
I appreciate the quote and the wisdom contained therein. But, with all due respect, why should I give a damn what Goethe said? Are we all second and third hand receivers, interpreting the interpreters? Endlessly quoting? There's not a more absurd situation that this, surely.
david hare wrote:Ando, I would like to agree with the notion that the film itself contains all the "Answers" up front...
But I never said that. What does that mean - to have all the answers up front? I said, simply, all the elements that one needs to understand a film should be contained therein. That's all.

If you think about your favorite films - the ones you really enjoy watching - the "references" to anything outside of the viewing experience are secondary. I don't know of anyone who has said that they love watching a particular film because it referenced something else outside of the experience. Knowledge may inform and deepen one's enjoyment but it's not integral to the experience. Didacticism for it's own sake has it's pleasures but it's an adjunct of the film experience, not its center.

None of this applies to Chronicles, though. The film works beautifully. It even approaches the transcendent in moments. But those moments happen within the experience, not because of anything I bring to it other than simply being attentive (despite my slim knowledge of Bach).

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Re: Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach

#49 Post by MichaelB » Mon May 24, 2010 6:25 am

ando wrote:I SAID that if any film REQUIRED prior knowledge in order for it to be understood then it fails.
Plenty of great films require prior knowledge of some kind in order to be appreciated on more than the most superficial surface level, and the notion that you can merely watch them over and over again in a vacuum in order to achieve better understanding is wishful thinking at best.
Andrzej Wajda wrote:I want to speak to everybody and to be understood everywhere. But a long time ago Goethe stated that whoever wants to understand der Dichter, the poet, must visit his land.
I appreciate the quote and the wisdom contained therein. But, with all due respect, why should I give a damn what Goethe said? Are we all second and third hand receivers, interpreting the interpreters? Endlessly quoting? There's not a more absurd situation that this, surely.
One of the reasons I picked Wajda as my example is that unless you're Polish and - ideally - someone with a first-hand memory of life in that country in the mid-twentieth century, you're inevitably going to be at one remove from his ideal viewer. Only part of this is due to artistic inclination, of course - as a filmmaker in a Communist country, he had to rely on his audience's advance knowledge of a particular situation out of necessity, since stating certain things outright was politically impossible.

An early example: in Kanal, there's a very subtle reference to the fact that the Soviet Army was calmly waiting on the other side of the Vistula for the Germans and Poles to finish killing each other. If you get the reference, the tragedy of the film's final scenes is ramped up to the max. But if you don't, because you don't know the history of the Warsaw Uprising, no amount of repeated viewing will leave you any the wiser: you need a prompt from what in your terminology would be "a first-hand receiver".

I don't think there's anything wrong with this at all: on the contrary, I view the background research process, usually after a first viewing, to be extremely rewarding, especially as it inevitably means that my second viewing will be that much richer.
If you think about your favorite films - the ones you really enjoy watching - the "references" to anything outside of the viewing experience are secondary. I don't know of anyone who has said that they love watching a particular film because it referenced something else outside of the experience. Knowledge may inform and deepen one's enjoyment but it's not integral to the experience. Didacticism for it's own sake has it's pleasures but it's an adjunct of the film experience, not its center.
Russian Ark is a film whose (to me, intense) pleasures come almost exclusively from "referencing something else outside of the experience" - in fact, if you approach it with no knowledge of Russian history in general and St Petersburg history in particular, you'll almost certainly find it baffling and boring, as countless IMDB commenters will readily attest.

But do you seriously think that the film would have been better if it had footnoted all its many, many historical and cultural references for the benefit of the previously ignorant? For instance, instead of that fleeting, almost evanescent glimpse of Pushkin, and the narrator wondering whether he'd really seen him, we'd have been better off with an explanation of who Pushkin was and why Russians hold him in such high esteem? That to me would be far more didactic than what Alexander Sokurov actually did.

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Re: Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach

#50 Post by ando » Mon May 24, 2010 9:06 am

MichaelB wrote:
ando wrote:I SAID that if any film REQUIRED prior knowledge in order for it to be understood then it fails.
Plenty of great films require prior knowledge of some kind in order to be appreciated on more than the most superficial surface level, and the notion that you can merely watch them over and over again in a vacuum in order to achieve better understanding is wishful thinking at best.
Bullshit. Nor did I imply that having no knowledge of a film's subject matter beforehand was equivalent to watching it in a vacuum.
MichaelB wrote:Russian Ark is a film whose (to me, intense) pleasures come almost exclusively from "referencing something else outside of the experience" - in fact, if you approach it with no knowledge of Russian history in general and St Petersburg history in particular, you'll almost certainly find it baffling and boring, as countless IMDB commenters will readily attest.

But do you seriously think that the film would have been better if it had footnoted all its many, many historical and cultural references for the benefit of the previously ignorant? For instance, instead of that fleeting, almost evanescent glimpse of Pushkin, and the narrator wondering whether he'd really seen him, we'd have been better off with an explanation of who Pushkin was and why Russians hold him in such high esteem? That to me would be far more didactic than what Alexander Sokurov actually did.
My knowledge of Russian history is cursory. But I enjoyed watching Russian Ark without feeling the need to go out of my way to identify any of the charcaters portrayed in the film. I don't see how I'd be better off with any explicit explanation as to who any of the characters involved in the narrative were.
Last edited by ando on Mon May 24, 2010 9:18 am, edited 2 times in total.

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