Straub ran a local cineclub in his birthplace of Metz, and later worked in various assistant capacities for such directors as Jean Renoir, Abel Gance and Robert Bresson, all of whom had an enormous influence on his work. He and Huillet met in 1954 in Paris and immediately became artistic partners. In 1958 Straub, fleeing conscription into the French armed forces, moved to Munich, Germany, with Huillet, and they soon became involved with radical theater groups in that city. Among Straub's early collaborators was Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who appears as an actor in Straub's short film, "The Bridegroom the Comedienne and the Pimp" (1968), which combines the story of the murder of a pimp (Fassbinder) with a drastically condensed theatrical piece and a lengthy tracking shot from an automobile of prostitutes plying their trade on an ill-lit German thoroughfare.
Perhaps the couple's most famous early film is "Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach" (1968), which the director shot on the actual locations of Joahnn Sebastian Bach's life, featuring Gustav Maria Leonhardt, the renowned harpsichordist, as Bach, and instruments borrowed from various museums for a more accurate sound. The film almost collapsed before production: Straub insisted on recording all the sync-sound on location, eschewing the use of any post-dubbing, to get the most natural and authentic performances from the ensemble of excellent musicians he had assembled. This horrified the original backers, who withdrew their funding at the last moment. Jean-Luc Godard came through with emergency funding, but the film had to be shot in black-and-white rather than in color, which Straub would have preferred. Nevertheless, it was a surprise hit at the 1968 New York Film Festival and remains a stunning artistic achievement.
In "Chronicle", as in all his works, Straub insisted upon lengthy takes, which were used virtually without editing in the final film; some shots of nearly ten minutes duration appear in "Chronicle". Coupled with the use of natural lighted austere sets and subdued performances, this minimalist shooting technique results in a an extraordinary sense of "place," as if one is watching the incidents of Bach's life as they occur, rather than a re-creation of them.
Other early successes include an adaptation of Heinrich Boll's "Billiards at Half Past Nine", which became the astoundingly rich and perverse film, "Not Reconciled or Only Violence Helps Where Violence Rules" (1965). By the late 1960s and early 1970s, Straub preferred to function more as a producer than a director; often working in 16mm film, Huillet and Straub created such films as "Othon" (1971), "History Lessons" (1972), "Moses and Aaron" (1975), and most recently "Class Relations" (1984), based on Franz Kafka's "Amerika".
In all these films, Huillet and Straub demand a great deal from the viewer, refusing to create films of easy visual reconstruction. Given the proper attention, however, Straub-Huillet films remain among the most haunting and visually resonant of the German filmmaking renaissance. Certainly the two are worthy of wider appreciation, particularly in light of recent attention paid to the works of Fassbinder and Wim Wenders.
- Jean-Marie Straub: 2 (Cinema one)
- Jean-Marie Straub: 2 (Cinema one) [Richard Roud] on Amazon.
- Von Heute auf Morgen: Andreas Homoki
- Von Heute auf Morgen: Andreas Homoki
- Landscapes of Resistance: The German Films of Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub
- Fervently admired and frequently reviled, Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huilletwho have lived and worked together for almost forty yearsmay well be the most uncompromising, not to say intransigent, filmmakers in the history of the medium.
- Brechtian Cinemas: Montage and Theatricality in Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet, Peter Watkins, and Lars Von Trier (Suny Series, Horizons of Cinema)
- In Brechtian Cinemas, Nenad Jovanovic uses examples from select major filmmakers to delineate the variety of ways in which Bertolt Brecht's concept of epic/dialectic theatre has been adopted and deployed in international cinema.
Straub is an extreme, austere exponent of minimalist cinema. His work is an attempt to clarify the nature of his medium, and no task is as likely to unsettle or offend people who consider themselves familiar with the medium. Cinema has always adhered to its own reputation as a form of popular narrative entertainment for general audiences. But within that approach there have often been apparent inconsistencies: for instance, audiences actually respond as much to particular, recurring photographs of, say, Garbo, Gable, darkness, and skin, as to the stories in which they figured. What we think of as the story is invariably the effect of a chosen way of filming. The medium is intensely decision based, and thus there has always been an abiding formal element to it.