Filmsite Movie Review
Amadeus (1984)
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Airplane! (1980) Amadeus (1984) was director Milos Forman's stunning, opulent fictional biography of musical prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, based on the Tony-winning Broadway play by Peter Shaffer (whose screenplay adaptation won him an Oscar). The 161 minute feature film was perhaps the director's grandest production - equaling his earlier Best Picture winner One Flew Over a Cuckoo's Nest (1975) and only challenged by his later film The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996). Other notable films by Forman included Hair (1979) and Ragtime (1981).

The Saul Zaentz-produced film was well-received by both critics and audiences alike with its lavish sets and period costume design (filmed on location in Prague), its accessibility and non-pretentiousness, the sampling of Mozart's greatest musical works, and its sly intelligence and musings over the capricious nature of "God-given" genius and talent. The title "Amadeus" (Mozart's middle name, literally meaning "Beloved by God" or simply: "Love God!") affirmed the film's premise, asserted often by the unreliable narrator, that Mozart was unfairly blessed with talent by God.

It was one of the most astute, indelible and memorable musical biopics from the 80s and beyond, when compared to Loretta Lynn’s Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980), Ritchie Valens’ La Bamba (1987), Charlie Parker's Bird (1988), Jerry Lee Lewis's Great Balls of Fire (1989), Tina Turner’s What’s Love Got to Do With It (1993), Ray Charles’ Ray (2004), Johnny Cash’s Walk the Line (2005), and Bob Dylan's I'm Not There (2007).

The visually and musically superior fictionalized musical epic focused on the character of the official royal composer Antonio Salieri (1750-1825) (F. Murray Abraham in an Oscar-winning performance) for Hapsburg Austrian Emperor Joseph II (Jeffrey Jones). The story was presented through the internal perceptions and eyes of the less-talented, intensely-envious Salieri, who eventually became deranged, was lost to oblivion and was confined to an asylum. His court rivalry and loathing, yet reverential relationship - a disputed historical fact - was to the great 26 year-old Viennese genius composer-prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce), who was simultaneously portrayed as flamboyant, spoiled, tortured, vulgar and talented (and a scatologically-obsessed buffoon).

Told in flashback, the mediocre Salieri was slowly consumed with distaste and driven insane as he recognized Mozart's incredible and transcendent musical genius, but was tormented with insecurity and jealousy - a Cain and Abel story. Amadeus was narrated with numerous flashbacks to a clerical Father by what appeared to be either a self-confessed murderer or a complete lunatic. The cold, calculating, recognition-hungry, jealous Salieri seemed obsessed with trying to write music for God. But it was only in Mozart that he saw a man being used by God in order to speak to people through music, and he coveted Mozart's talent so badly that it began to drive him mad and caused him to plot Mozart's death.

Salieri did not just grow to hate Mozart because of his musical God-given gift. He was also repulsed by what he considered to be a childish, vulgar, and irreverent man "with an obscene giggle." Salieri demanded to know why God would give this foolish little man genius, and the answer to his question rested at the heart of the film - innate questions of fate and fairness. There were many artful transitions from flashbacks of Mozart to Salieri’s priestly confessions - brought together in matching voice-over with perfectly-selected excerpts of Mozart's classical music.

Its tagline described its 5 M's:

"The Man... The Music... The Madness... The Murder... The Motion Picture...AMADEUS ... Everything you've heard is true."

In the awards year in which Amadeus was being considered, it was competing and contending against British director David Lean's epic A Passage to India (1984) that also received 11 Academy Awards nominations (with two wins, Best Supporting Actress and Best Original Musical Score).

Amadeus' 11 nominations included Best Actor (Tom Hulce), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, and it won 8 Academy Awards: including Best Picture, Best Director (Milos Forman with his second Oscar win), Best Actor (F. Murray Abraham with his sole career nomination and Oscar), Best Adapted Screenplay (Peter Shaffer for the transformation of his own Broadway/London stage hit), Best Art/Set Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup, and Best Sound. The opulent, historical epic/costume drama became the 7th film in Oscar history to win eight Oscars. And Abraham was the first actor of Arab descent to win the Best Actor Oscar.

[Note: Tom Hulce's casting as the title character was at first considered questionable, since Hulce's best known role at the time was as a fraternity pledge named Larry Kroger (aka Pinto) in (National Lampoon's) Animal House (1978). During a seduction scene with a passed-out naked co-ed (Sarah Holcomb), Larry debated (with a devil on one shoulder and an angel on another) whether he should have sex with her or not.]

The main criticisms of the albeit intriguing and highly entertaining film were mostly about the many substantial liberties taken regarding the historical Mozart with highly-fictionalized distortions of historical fact to create better drama, including - (1) the fabrication of an intense rivalry between Salieri and Mozart and the many attempts at sabotage to destroy his career that ultimately led to Mozart's premature demise, (2) the horrible American accents by many of the cast members, representing the vernacular German, (3) Salieri's portrayal as a mediocre composer (which he wasn't), and as a chaste bachelor although he was married and had eight children, and reportedly had soprano-pupil Caterina Cavalieri as a mistress, (4) the fact that Mozart had two surviving children instead of only one, and (5) the Requiem Mass was commissioned not by a disguised Salieri but anonymously by a vain, plagiarist - German aristocrat Count Walsegg-Stuppach (known at the time as the mysterious 'Grey Messenger'), and the completion of the unfinished Mass was by Mozart's assistant, composer/conductor Franz Xaver Süssmayr - it wasn't dictated to Salieri.

In 2002, an R-rated Director's Cut added twenty minutes of additional footage (actually, the footage was in the original final cut of the film, but was considered padding and superfluous to the main plot), including a scene in which Mozart's desperate but devoted wife Constanze undressed (and became half-naked) for Salieri, as a way to hopefully bribe the composer into recommending Mozart's work for a royal appointment, although Salieri was only interested in cruelly humiliating her.

Plot Synopsis

Salieri's Attempted Suicide and Institutionalization:

The film opened with a suicide scene in which envious, distressed Austrian court composer Signore Antonio Salieri (Oscar-winner F. Murray Abraham) was heard off-screen behind a closed door by his two servants (Vincent Schiavelli and Philip Lenkowsky). Driven by guilt, he was crying out an apology and asking for forgiveness:

Forgive your assassin! I confess, I killed you...Forgive me, Mozart.

He believed that he had killed rival composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Oscar nominee Tom Hulce). As they waited at the door, the two servants hungrily ate desserts before barging in - alarmed to observe the bloodied Salieri on the floor with a slashed throat and razor in hand.

Under the title credits (to the tune of the First Movement of Mozart's Symphony No. 25 in G minor), on a snowy night in the streets of Vienna in 1823, Salieri was carried away on a crude horse-drawn stretcher. The entourage passed by a fancy dance-ball in progress before arriving at the entrance to an insane asylum/hospital. The next day, the corridor of the asylum was filled with obviously mad and crazy patients wearing smocks, as the institution's priest-confessor and chaplain Father Vogler (Richard Frank) entered, wearing a black cape over his clerical garb. In Salieri's private hospital room as the Father entered, Salieri (with a heavily-bandaged neck) was seen sitting in a wheelchair playing a small forte-piano. Salieri wanted to be left alone, but the Father responded: "I cannot leave alone a soul in pain." He wished for Salieri to confess to his sin of suicide and to be granted forgiveness. Salieri offered to play two excerpts from long-forgotten scores that he had written during his glory days.

As he played a second tune ("This one brought down the house when we played it first"), he flashbacked to his conducting of an orchestra in an opera house in the 1780s, where his prized pupil and soprano Caterina Cavalieri (Christine Ebersole) was singing an aria on stage while descending steps. Salieri was distraught that the Father was unfamiliar with his work: "Can you recall no melody of mine? I was the most famous composer in Europe. I wrote forty operas alone." And then, Salieri played the first few bars of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik - one of the most immediately recognizable tunes that Mozart ever wrote. Salieri was non-plussed when the Father excitedly hummed along and exclaimed: "I didn't know you wrote that." Salieri was distraught by the misappropriation: "That was Mozart. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart."

The First Flashback: Mozart's and Salieri's Youth:

As the Father urged Salieri to confess to murder and find inner peace, Salieri engaged in a second flashback of the young six year-old, light-blue coated and blind-folded Mozart (Miroslav Sekera) playing a harpsichord for papal dignitaries:

(voice-over) He was my idol! Mozart. I can't think of a time when I didn't know his name! I was still playing childish games when he was playing music for kings and emperors. Even the Pope in Rome!

[Simultaneously, young Salieri (Martin Cavani) was outdoors in the square playing a game of Blind Man's Bluff with other children, while Mozart was indoors entertaining a salon audience of Pope Clement (Vladimír Svitácek), Cardinals, and his proud father Leopold Mozart (Roy Dotrice).]

The roots of Salieri's lifelong envy, rivalry, obsession and jealousy of the revered and talented Mozart began at a young age:

(voice-over) I admit, I was jealous when I heard the tales they told about him. Not of the brilliant little prodigy, but of his father, who had taught him everything. My father - he did not care for music. When I told how I wished I could be like Mozart, he would say: 'Why? Do you want to be a trained monkey? Would you like me to drag you around Europe, doing tricks like a circus freak?' How could I tell him what music meant to me?

In the same flashback, young 12 year-old Salieri was in a church in Northern Italy in the 1760s with his mother and father Francesco (Peter DiGesu), where a choir of young boys sang in the balcony. He recalled offering a devoutly-felt Faustian prayer toward the altar and a hanging Jesus crucifix - he promised to dedicate his celibate life to goodness, humility, and the industrious production of much-loved works of music, if only God would make him a successful, great and famous composer:

(voice-over) Lord, make me a great composer! Let me celebrate your glory through music - and be celebrated myself! Make me famous through the world, dear God! Make me immortal! After I die, let people speak my name forever with love for what I wrote! In return, I will give you my chastity, my industry, my deepest humility every hour of my life. Amen.

As the young boy was being served a cooked fish meal by his mother in an outdoor gazebo, he recalled: "And do you know what happened? A miracle!" His father violently choked on a fish bone and suddenly died.

Due to this fortuitous twist of fate, Salieri was directed onto the path he had prayed for. He was awarded for his piety - the study of music as the respected court composer for the bland, tone-deaf Emperor Joseph II (Jeffrey Jones):

(voice-over) My life changed forever. Of course, I knew God had arranged it all. That was obvious. One minute, I was a frustrated boy in an obscure little town. The next I was here, in Vienna, city of musicians, and Emperor Joseph II - the musical king! In a few years, I was his court composer. Wasn't that incredible? Night after night, I sat right next to the Emperor of Austria, playing duets with him, correcting the royal sight-reading. Actually the man had no ear at all. But what did it matter? He adored my music. Everybody liked me. I liked myself. Until he came.

Flashback: Mozart's Introduction During Concert for the Prince Arch-Bishop of Salzburg
(in the Salzburg Palace Residence in Vienna in the 1780s)

Now at the age of 31, the esteemed, well-off court composer Salieri wandered through the Prince-Archbishop's elegant salon, obsessed with locating or identifying Mozart in the midst of the crowd, before a performance of Mozart's music in the palace:

(voice-over) He came to Vienna to play some of his music at the residence of his employer, the Prince Archbishop of Salzburg. Eagerly, I went there to seek him out. That night changed my life.

As I wandered through the Salon, I played a little game with myself. This man had written his first concerto at the age of 4, his first symphony at 7, a full-scale opera at 12. Did it show? Is talent like that - written on the face? Which one of them could he be?

At that instant, an unidentified, giggling white-whigged gentlemen was viewed immaturely chasing a laughing, blue-dressed girl through the throngs of stately guests. Salieri followed four servants carrying large trays of food and sweets from the Grand Salon into a Buffet Room, and stealthily entered after they withdrew. He greedily eyed the many white-clothed tables of delectable confectionaries, pastries, and other decadent goodies, and snuck a bite from one of the dark chocolate balls arranged into the shape of a pineapple. When he heard giggling from the same young female as she entered and hid under one of the tables, he himself ducked down behind the trays of food to conceal himself.

The first adult appearance of 26 year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce) came during this voyeuristic flashback - with an immense build-up of anticipation to see what he was like. The arrival of Mozart himself was first seen only from the knees down -- the point of view of Mozart's buxom fiancee Constanze Weber (Elizabeth Berridge) who was peeking from under the table. The amorous, high-pitched giggling, childish musical prodigy grabbed her from behind and dragged her under the table with him. Mozart's entrance came as a shock to the astonished Antonio Salieri - and even within the Grand Salon where musicians had taken their places, there was also consternation when the Prince-Archbishop Colloredo (Nicholas Kepros) was bluntly informed by his Chamberlain, Count Arco (Douglas Seale): "Mozart is not here."

In hiding, Salieri watched the boisterously vulgar couple, and listened as Mozart, portrayed as amorous, crude, bawdy, and lecherous with a hyena-laugh, dragged her by the ankles, tickled her, and playfully spoke with her with lewd obscenities:

Mozart: Now we're going back...Listen, you don't know where you are. Here, everything goes backwards. People walk backwards and dance backwards and sing backwards, and even talk backwards.
Constanze: That's stupid.
Mozart: Why? People fart backwards. (high-pitched, giggling laugh) Ssa-ym-ssik! Ssa-ym-ssik! [Sounded like "Say I'm sick," but was Translated: "Kiss my ass" - backwards]
Constanze: Yes, you are. You are very sick.
Mozart: No! Say it backwards, shit-wit! Ssa-ym-ssik.
Constanze: Ssa-ym-ssik.
Mozart: Ssa-ym-ssik.
Consanze: (slowly) Ssik, Kiss, ym, my, ssa. Kiss my ass.

Then, when she refused to continue playing his naughty word games ("I'm not playing this game!"), he seriously proposed marriage to her ("Em-yrram!", translated: "Marry me"). She adamantly refused: "No, I'm not going to marry you" - and called him a "fiend." However, when he added his love: ("Uoy-evol-I-tub," translated: "But I love you"), she slowly approached to kiss him, but then he spoiled it when he told her to eat his shit ("Tihs-ym-tae," translated: "Eat my shit!") as he kissed her overflowing, bounteous cleavage. She labeled him a "filthy fiend!" as he let loose another giggle.

It was unnerving for Salieri to eavesdrop on the supposedly 'dignified' and virtuous musician drunkenly using lewd scatological humor while flirtatiously chasing after Constanze. Suddenly, Mozart's Serenade for Thirteen Wind Instruments was heard from a distance, and to Salieri's amazement and disgust, the young famed composer rose and frantically said: "My music! They've started without me!" Disheveled, he dashed back to the Grand Salon room at the start of his own chamber music performance. He took a low bow before the Prince-Archbishop, and then replaced the temporary conductor mid-concert, with both Constanze and Salieri following him back into the room shortly thereafter.

Reflecting back during the flashback, the older Salieri was noticeably offended by the lowly, boorish behavior of the genius musician and expressed his disgust and disbelief to the Father:

That was Mozart! That, that giggling, dirty-minded creature I'd just seen crawling on the floor...

Afterwards, Mozart was pleased, delighted, and radiant about his own performance, and congratulated himself as he strode along with Count Arco: "These Viennese certainly know good music when they hear it, don't you think?" But then finding himself in the presence of the Prince-Archbishop in his private chamber, the 18th century musician Mozart was reprimanded and chastised as insubordinate: "Why do I have to be humiliated in front of my guests, by one of my own servants? The more license I allow you, the more you take." Mozart turned deferential and suggested being dismissed, but was told to immediately return to Salzburg where his father would be waiting for him: "I have no intention of dismissing you. You will remain in my service and learn your place." [Note: The Prince-Archbishop was the employer of both Mozart and his father in Salzburg.]

As he strode away into the next room, Mozart was met with loud appreciative applause by the other concert attendees - he turned to 'show-off' the adulation and ovation that he was receiving to the Prince-Archbishop behind him - while he bowed and simultaneously 'mooned' the Archbishop (a clever visual pun).

As part of the continuing flashback, Austrian court composer Antonio Salieri returned to the palace's vast Grand Salon where the concert had just taken place. While scanning and examining Mozart's sheet music for Serenade for Thirteen Wind Instruments still resting on musical stands, he blissfully remembered how he was amazed by its genius - and then he rhetorically asked the film's central question about why God had given talent to such a creature: "Why would God choose an obscene child to be His instrument?":

(voice-over and in-person) On the page it looked nothing! The beginning, simple, almost comic. Just a pulse. Bassoons, basset horns - like a rusty squeezebox. And then, suddenly, high above it, an oboe. A single note, hanging there, unwavering. Until a clarinet took it over, sweetened it into a phrase of such delight! This was no composition by a performing monkey! This was a music I had never heard. Filled with such longing, such unfulfillable longing. It seemed to me that I was hearing the voice of God.

(voice-over) But why? Why would God choose an obscene child to be His instrument?

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