Studio execs shopping for tent pole biopic projects in the manner of Amadeus (1984), Ghandi (1982), Lincoln (2012) and The King’s Speech (2010) at the Cannes Film Festival this year will likely stop in their tracks when they see the promotional poster for Bach, an ambitious biography of the great German composer, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750).
Embossed over the imposing painting of the composer are the words “ORPHAN CONVICT REBEL GENIUS.” Although it seems like a crass Hollywood media spin on the life of a highly revered musician who spent most of his career as a church organist and composer of religious and secular works for royalty, town counsels, church authorities and children’s choirs, JSB was indeed all those things and more, says Bach co-producer and writer, Jeffrey M. Freedman. “Bach came from a long line of highly accomplished musicians and probably would have been remembered as just another dead, great Bach if it wasn’t for several remarkable events in his life,” says Freedman.
The short list includes:
- Being orphaned by the time he was ten years of age.
- Chronically complaining about employers he claimed underpaid him or didn’t supply him with enough able musicians and beer, which prompted the Duke of Weimar to have him thrown in jail when he threatened to walk out on a gig.
- Living larger than life in terms of several human appetites, which was partly responsible for his taking two wives, with whom he had twenty children.
- Re-writing the rules of composition so that music expressed the most personal and passionate inner life of the composer.
- Collaborating with the world’s first head-strong, irascible and extremely talented, cigar smoking, cursing, confrontational feminist librettist who put words to his cantatas and attended what Bach initiated as the first extemporaneous live jam sessions at taverns and cafes in Leipzig, Germany, which are still in operation today.
“Subsequent to a screenplay Freedman wrote about the Venetian composer, Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), rumored to be starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, he traced the steps and immersed himself in the life and times of J. S. Bach for two years. The outline for the film based on this research has already attracted Oscar winners Mark Berger (Sound, Amadeus, Godfather II, Apocalypse Now, Capote, Munich), Joel Harlow (Makeup, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest), Adruitha Lee (Hair, 12 Years A Slave, Dallas Buyer’s Club), and Oscar nominees Tariq Anwar (Editor, The King’s Speech, American Beauty), Sarah Greenwood (Production Designer, Sherlock Holmes).
Co-producer S. J. Evans said from Cannes that even before Bach set up shop at the prestigious Producers Network at this year’s festival, industry reaction to the biopic has been overwhelmingly positive. “In addition to development funding by Film Agency for Wales, Warner Brothers and Universal Studios have expressed interest in the project, as well as a number of German co-producers Jeff and I have spoken with.”
Asked about the director and actor slated to play the eponymous subject of the biopic, Evans is playing those cards close to his chest. “Much like the life and music of Johann Sebastian Bach, which Jeffrey discovered is replete with courage, grace, tragedy, crime, bravado, passion and the expansive beauty of the life and visual canvas of J. S.Bach’s inner and outer universe, we promise the choice of director and lead will be no less spectacular and fitting of the singular artistic genius of Johann Sebastian Bach.”
– Reel Life With Jane