While Nikolaj Arcel's film ultimately came through both tests with flying colours, Amadeus is only a partial success. It's an overly long film of two halves, which begins as silly and as frothy as one can get, and ends as something of a weighty, murky drama containing compelling ideas. It is as sumptuous as it is silly, and irritating as it is intriguing, but it does ultimately come through with the goods before it has completely overstayed its welcome.
Before we get to the meat and drink of Amadeus, it's worth taking a moment to address the issue of historical accuracy. It's something which can be boring to talk about, and which is often dragged up to discredit a film as it tries to garner awards. We can all think of examples of films which blatantly and consciously distort the truth, such as U-571, which credits the Americans, not the British, with cracking the Enigma code. But while capturing period detail should be praised on a technical level, historical accuracy is not a sign or guarantee of a good story. Film is a narrative medium, and with subjective allowances for taste and respect for an audience's intelligence, telling a good story is more important than getting the facts right.
In the case of Amadeus, we are confronted with a story which is at best a long-discredited theory and at worst an utter fabrication. There is little or no evidence to suggest that Antonio Salieri was responsible for the death of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the fact that he taught one of Mozart's sons would suggest that they were actually on friendly, or at least respectful, terms. But neither the film nor Peter Shaffer's play have historical accuracy as their prime motive. Both are more interested in telling a story about how rivalry manifests itself, and the relationship genius has with a world either not ready for it or unwilling to accommodate it.
The question that follows is whether Mozart's life is the right vehicle for this kind of story, whose ruthless, scheming character might be more suited to a political thriller. When The Iron Lady was released, the director Phyllida Lloyd said she had wanted to make a film about dealing with age - the obvious criticism being that she could have told that story without making a biopic of Margaret Thatcher. In this case, however, Mozart is the ideal topic or vessel for this kind of story. His reputation and character fit closely with our cultural notions of what genius is, allowing Shaffer and director Milo Forman to get on with the storytelling.
While the story itself is not problematic (at least not as a piece of entertainment), the storytelling in Amadeus is perhaps its biggest problem. The opening scenes look absolutely gorgeous: Miroslav Ond?í?ek, who worked with Lindsay Anderson on If...., pulls the audience in with a series of elegant, painterly images. But once the credits end and the action moves indoors, everything becomes very stagey. The framing device of the elderly Salieri, relating his story to a priest in the asylum, is not successful, and the film works better the less it is employed.
For most of its first hour, in either of its cuts, Amadeus is essentially a silly, frothy, overblown costume drama. It is far more interested in the costumes, the huge wigs and the pompous characters that wear them than it is in the creation of the music or the personalities behind it. The film employs broad comedy, usually in the form of fart jokes, and its recreation of opera is completely ridiculous. It doesn't have the grace or the understatement of Barry Lyndon, and makes you appreciate the comparative meatiness of The Madness of King George.
Matters aren't helped in this regard by the annoying nature of the central character. Tom Hulce, a graduate of Animal House, is a good actor who clearly threw himself into the part: having never played piano before, he practised for more than four hours a day upon landing the role. But while his skills are not in doubt, his Mozart is one of the most annoying and excruciating characters outside of an Adam Sandler comedy. Just as we aren't supposed to hate Salieri, so we are not expected to entirely like Mozart. But all his juvenile qualities are overplayed and repeated ad nauseum: it's not so much "too many notes" as too many laughs.
As a result of both the framing device and the juvenile tone, we spend the first hour distant from our main characters. We are distant from Mozart because he's an irritating little twit, and we are distant from Salieri because his narration keeps interrupting the action. As a result the jealousy and scheming on the latter's part feels like a deliberate plot device rather than a natural result of their relationship. The words are still pleasant on the ear, but you are left wishing that Shaffer could write more like his namesake Anthony Shaffer, creator of Sleuth.
About halfway in, specifically the section concerning Don Giovanni, Amadeus begins to pick itself up and grab its core themes by the scruff of the neck. The death of Mozart's father, and the composer's accompanying decline into illness, give the film not only a darker tone but a depth that it didn't have before. The serious reaction to a tragic event gives the film more credibility: by taking the matter seriously, it allows us to take the characters more seriously and for Salieri's subsequent actions to carry more weight.
The film merits a comparison in this regard with Rush, Ron Howard's thrilling drama about the rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda. Both stories concern a rivalry between two talented men, but this rivalry is initially presented in a broad, overly playful way; the film is still entertaining, but we are conscious of how little is going on between its ears. Then something dark or unfortunate happens to one of the men which gives the drama a stake and the rivalry a meaning. Going dark is by no means a guarantee of a good story, but in both cases it is just what the films needed.
The main theme which this dark turn enables to unfold is the conflict between genius and mediocrity, and how graceless the two can be. Mozart's genius is confronted by mediocrity on all sides - from Salieri, whose position as court composer is threatened; from the Prince, who has very limited taste; and from his courtiers who don't want their power to be undermined. Neither Mozart nor Salieri conduct themselves well, with Mozart foregoing all decorum to defend his compositions, and Salieri working behind the scenes to bring about his downfall. Mozart's lack of social grace is mirrored by Salieri's lack of morals.
The role of parents in Amadeus is a key one. Salieri's father discourages his son's ambitions, and his death serves as a (misplaced) vindication for Salieri, of both his Catholic faith and his musical ability. Mozart, by contrast, is spoiled rotten by his father, who recognises his abilities but struggles to contain them beyond presenting Mozart as a performing monkey. When his father was alive but out of the picture, Mozart is free to make a name for himself in a carefree manner - but with him dead, this carefree nature gives way to a desire for atonement, which leads him to work obsessively on the unfinished Requiem.
The film is also interested in Catholicism, specifically the role God has in meting out talent and answering prayer. Salieri's prayers go unrewarded since he is asking God for the wrong things in the wrong way, seeking to curse rather than love his enemies. At the end of the film, he comments that "God killed Mozart" rather than let him share in any part of his talent, including the transcription of the Requiem. While the film's theological understanding of gifts is not entirely sound, it is an interesting lens through which to view and depict jealousy.
Much of the success of Amadeus lies in its music. Even in its weaker first half the music is wonderfully produced, conveying to us how great Mozart was instead of having people simply state his greatness, as in Gandhi. More importantly, Forman does succeed in making the creative process of writing and composing both cinematic and exciting. In one really special moment, Salieri flips through Mozart's portfolio, and hears the music on the page perfectly formed in his head. It's a wonderful moment which F. Murray Abraham superbly executes, keeping his character on a tightrope between envy and euphoria.
Amadeus is a film of two distinct halves, with the virtues of its substantial second eventually winning out over the frothy excesses of its first. Once you get past the costumes, the wigs and the irritating laughter, it does become an interesting, memorable cinematic venture with a brace of pretty good performances. It doesn't quite deserve the reputation that won it the Best Picture Oscar, but among even that select group of films, you could do a hell of a lot worse.
It's about Mozart (Tom Hulce), but he's actually a very substantial supporting player to murderously jealous forgotten composer Antonio Salieri -the actual lead role (deserving best Actor Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham), Eclectic director Milos Forman deftly handles the intimate and emotional scenes as well as the big sweeping, sumptuous epic Viennese scenes.
The supporting performances are all wonderful, memorable and indelible, and I've seen this movie many times. Many viewers have complained about the American accents, especially those of Mozart, his spunky wife Costanze (the underrated Elizabeth Berridge, who acts her heart and soul in this role, flat American accent aside), Emperor Franz Josef (the stellar character actor Jeffery Jones), Mozart's grumpy controlling dad Leopold (Ray Dotrice) and Abraham himself. I say poppycock (I never actually say poppycock), why should original German speaking characters only speak with British accents? Perhaps more of an issue is that there is a weird mix of American and British accents among Viennese people.
The art direction and wardrobe is both lush and believably grungy, and Vienna, (Prague on location) feels like a real place where people live, both nobles and peasants. From a production point of view, this is as good as it gets.
I recommend the director's cut, there are huge story holes in the original studio version. Numerous story points are vague and unexplained in the official release, especially the coercive sexual relationship between Salieri and Costanze, which is only vaguely hinted at in the shorter version. Both versions are long, and the director's cut is longer, but you've got more than three hours to burn, right? The director's cut also has even more of Wolfgang's music, which is the only soundtrack, and the cues are expertly chosen and conducted by Sir Neville Marriner.
On the down side, the film is not historically accurate at all, and it's unlikely that Salieri 'killed' Mozart out of envy, though apparently he boasted of it in his confused senile final days. Playwright Peter Shaffer had some burning point to make about art, jealousy and desire, and the randomness of god in choosing his 'servant' but these points are more the driving force behind the play than the movie. It feels like he's setting up a 'straw man' in Salieri to make his thesis. To me, the theme is not that important. The character study in the movie is richer and stronger than the play. Some of the scheming of Salieri doesn't really make much sense, and Mozart seems too smart to be such a sap in reacting to the scheming. It's also really long. That aside, pop it in your Blu Ray player and crank up the symphonic delights on your surround sound.
F. Murray Abraham delivers one of the best male performances that I have seen. He steals every scene as Salieri. Even while he sits in his chair as an old man, he still gives a huge level of emotion. I truly was touched by his performance. Tom Hulce as Mozart also gives a very strong performance. Both actors received Oscar nominations for Best Actor, but only Mr. Abraham took home the coveted award, as he gives one of the best male performances ever.
The cinematography, art direction, costumes, makeup, etc. were unbeleivable. Each scene is real to the proper time period.
So much needs to be said about this film, but there are no words to describe this masterpiece. It's one of those films that you have to experience for yourself. It's perfect and one of the best of all time. I absolutely recommend it!
Firstly a wonderful performance by F. Murray Abraham, who was great throughout, also a good performance by Tom Hulce, who gave a quirky performance as the title character.
I'm not sure how true these events were, but they were very entertaining and gave a certain surprise to the presumed nature of Mozart.
Tantrums, childlike behaviour and every inch the genius, this was surely the making of a legend, who would believe today that he'd been a struggling artist.
From the concerts to the operas, the composing of the music and the very art put into this film, on a production level, it really was quite something and for an almost 3 hour film, this was a continual piece of entertainment.
If you enjoy Mozart or any other classical music (Mozart happens to be my personal favorite) see this movie...not only is it enjoyable to what the performances and listen to the music but this movie truley is a work of art and does every thing a movie should make you do. Laugh, Cry, and most importantly FEEL for the characters. If you havent seen this movie yet you are really missing out.
The incredible story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, told in flashback mode by Antonio Salieri - now confined to an insane asylum.
"Amadeus" is based on the play of the same name by Peter Shaffer. It portrays a fictionalized account of the life of famous classical composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, emphasizing an intense rivalry between him and composer Antonio Salieri. The film creates a great sense of period with lavish sets and elegant costumes.
Tom Hulce leads the cast as Mozart with great energy and he creates a memorable character. Mozart is portrayed as a man whose vices and juvenile conduct are only exceeded by his genius in creating music. My favorite performance of the film, however, is F. Murray Abraham's skillful performance as Mozart's rival, Antonio Salieri. He convincingly creates a Salieri that narrates the story as a conniving and bitter man, but manages to elicit sympathy when he laments that he can never be as prolific or well-known as Mozart. There are excellent supporting performances in the film, too, including Elizabeth Berridge as Mozart's patient wife Constanze and Jeffrey Jones as Emperor Joseph II with a matter-of-fact manner.
The rivalry between Mozart and Salieri is well-developed and the film never becomes tiresome despite its length. In addition to the characterizations, the film appropriately includes dazzling segments of classical music and representations of staged operas. The end narration of Salieri is very well-written and touching. Truly F. Murray Abraham's Salieri is a champion for mediocrity.