140 Character Movie Review – #140RVW
Peter Shaffer brilliantly adapts his own play, Director Miloš Forman delivers a masterpiece. 30 years later still one of the best ever made.
Spoiler-free Movie Review of Amadeus:
In 1984, after a summer of blockbusters and in the middle of an age obsessed with synthesizers, video games, computers, electronics and everything “new”, producer Saul Zaentz presented a two and a half hour movie about classical music composers that had been dead for almost two hundred years. That takes some nerve…
It helps that the film in question would be based on a successful play and was being written for the screen by the playwright, Peter Shaffer. Amadeus would also be directed by Miloš Forman, an accomplished and challenging filmmaker both in his native country (the former Czechoslovakia) and throughout the world. It was still a big risk, however.
Zaentz’s gamble paid off big, bringing in well over twice its budget and winning 8 Oscars including Best Picture. More importantly it is a tremendous movie that plays exactly as well as it did 30 years ago today.
The quality of the filmmakers is on display almost immediately, as the story opens with an aged Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham in his greatest role) shouting his confession that he killed Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, begging for forgiveness as he cuts open his throat. What a grabber! You can practically hear those who were dragged to the movie theater whispering admiringly to their spouses, “Whoa! I thought this was going to be boring music and people in wigs?”
The premise of the play and film is at once wonderful writing and complete nonsense. Salieri did not kill Mozart, he did not suggest that he killed Mozart, no serious people think that he killed Mozart. According to scholars of the men, the two may have had some rivalry between them, but nothing suggests the level of disrespect or hatred shown here. They were both competing for work and the favor of Emperor Joseph II, but there is plenty of correspondence signifying that they were respectful colleagues. It is true that Mozart complained in his lifetime that Salieri was more at favor and trying to obstruct his career, but this seems to be mostly based on Mozart’s complaints against the Italians in general, and there are other letters from Mozart implying a friendship.
What I didn’t realize before doing research for this review is that Shaffer’s play is actually based on a tragedy called Mozart and Salieri by Alexander Pushkin that was staged only six years after Salieri’s death. Rimsky-Korsakov would adapt it into an opera at the turn of the century. It was here that the apocryphal tale that Salieri, filled with jealousy at the musical superiority of an “idle” man, poisoned Mozart were first aired. So there were rumors, but none that were taken seriously. What we really have here is a clever writer taking a fascinating bit of history and fictionalizing it dramatically to make for an entertaining tale about genius and jealousy.
The story is set in 1823, when Salieri, recovering in an insane asylum from his suicide attempt, narrates his tale to a priest who has come for his confession. The film plays out over a number of years through flashbacks, but mainly focuses on the ten year period from 1781-91 in which Salieri and Mozart were colleagues in Vienna.
The story is captivating, with whip-smart dialogue and a brilliant narrative that, along with Forman’s expert direction, leads to an engrossing picture whose pace is more engaging than a 153-minute movie has any right to be. The tale ebbs and flows and there’s a diversity of scenes and emotions that make the film always seem fresh and never long.
The acting, of course, is wonderful. Abraham delivers a best in show performance as Salieri, with a range of emotion and subtlety that is a perfect match with the complex score. Tom Hulce is charismatic and mesmerizing as Mozart, greatly humanizing such a legendary figure. Both were nominated for Best Actor and while Abraham justly was awarded the statue, I feel Hulce was robbed by not being classified as Supporting Actor.
Elizabeth Berridge put in a great performance as Mozart’s wife Constanze, though a lot of her work was left on the cutting room floor. (Restored with the 2002 Director’s Cut.) All of the supporting players are excellent, with Jeffrey Jones’ humorous turn as Emperor Joseph II standing out. Also exceptional is Simon Callow, who played Mozart in the original London production, as Emanuel Schikaneder, Mozart’s friend and author of the libretto for The Magic Flute.
It’s a quality production in all respects. The score is predictably brilliant, the costumes, makeup and art direction are award-winning and it’s really just a gorgeous picture. Forman invited choreography legend Twyla Tharp to work her magic on the picture. They had previously collaborated on Hair & Ragtime.
Amadeus is a captivating story and an amazing film. Enjoy it often…
The Representation Test Score: C (5 pts)
|Main Cast||F. Murray Abraham Antonio Salieri, Tom Hulce Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Elizabeth Berridge Constanze Mozart, Roy Dotrice Leopold Mozart|
|Release Date||Wed 19 Sep 1984 UTC|
|Genres||Biography, Drama, Music|
|Plot||The incredible story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, told by his peer and secret rival Antonio Salieri – now confined to an insane asylum.|
|Tagline||Amadeus. The man. The music. The magic. The madness. The murder. The mystery. The motion picture.|
|Writers||Peter Shaffer (original stage play), Peter Shaffer (original screenplay)|