Johann Sebastian Bach

Active - 1961 - 2008  |   Genres - Drama, Music, Comedy Drama

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Biography by "Blue" Gene Tyranny

Approximately 207 feature films have quoted from the works of this innovative genius of the Baroque era who refined previous musical forms and techniques, synthesized contemporary styles from other European countries, and created many advanced concepts.

The famous opening of the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565, with its clarion call opening followed by a descent into a spine-chilling low pedal point from which a massive diminished ninth dissonance builds like some Gothic monster rising from the depths only to scurry away in mysterious, quick figurations, has appeared in at least 12 films where it heightened enigmatic moments: from the classic horror of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), The Raven (1935), Rancho del miedo (1971) (aka The Fearmaker), Tales From the Crypt (1972), and A Refutation of Time (1998); to the sci-fi films 2+5: Missione Hydra (aka Star Pilot) (1965) and Rollerball (1975); to the psychological horror of Sunset Boulevard (1950); to the abstractions of Fantasia (1940) and Escape (1937) (aka Synchromy No. 4); to the surreal serio-comedy of Monty Python's the Meaning of Life (1983).

In The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), Bach's Italian Concerto is mixed (simultaneously) with the choral piece Mache Dich, Mein Herze, Rein (Purify Thee My Heart) from the St. Matthew Passion to metaphorically represent the two identities under which Ripley is living in Rome: his own and that of Dickie Greenleaf, the man he recently murdered and dumped into the ocean.

Excerpts from Bach's Goldberg Variations enhance such films as Wim Wenders' subtle study of bizarre behavior in postwar Germany entitled Falsche Bewegung (False Movement, 1974), the Portuguese drama O Ultimo Mergulho (The Last Dive, 1992), The English Patient (1996), and the terrifying The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and its follow-up, Hannibal (2001). Many of the variations are presented in their pure form in Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould (1993) and the short Blacktop: A Story of the Washing of a School Play Yard (1952).

The deeply soul-stirring, peripatetically disturbed motion of Bach's St. Matthew's Passion describes a similar emotion in such films as THX 1138 (1970) with its vision of a claustrophobic future; Offret (The Sacrifice, 1986); Zerkalo (The Looking-Glass, 1975); Pasolini's moving Marxist vision of the New Testament Il Vangelo secondo Matteo (The Gospel According to St. Matthew, 1964); Des Christs par milliers (1969); and Martin Scorese's gambling family crime film Casino (1995). The entire work was filmed as Passione secondo San Matteo (1949).

Bach's music complements and elevates such films as the touching and mysterious Schlafes Bruder (Brother of Sleep, 1995), about a wholly self-taught and cosmically inspired organist from an Alpine village; the award-winning Schindler's List (1993) which quotes the English Suite No. 2; Truly, Madly, Deeply (1991); Barry Lyndon (1975); Bergman's Hour of the Wolf (1968); Les Enfants Terribles (1950); Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975); The Godfather (1972); and Solyaris (1972) which ethereally integrates the Chorale Prelude in F Minor.

Aspects of the composer's life are revealed in Chronik der Anna Magdalena Bach (1968) and Friedemann Bach (1941).

Movie Highlights

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