“This was no composition by a performing monkey! This was a music I'd never heard. Filled with such longing, such unfulfillable longing, it had me trembling. It seemed to me that I was hearing the voice of God.”
As I sat there breathless staring at my screen watching this astounding masterpiece while listening to its amazing soundtrack, I couldn’t help but relate to F. Murray Abraham’s Salieri in his admiration for Mozart and his genius, although my admiration was geared towards Milos Forman’s outstanding direction and not on the actual composer himself. What a unique experience this three hour film was for me. Amadeus was a movie I had been putting off mainly because of its extremely long running time and its subject matter: a biopic about a classical music composer, but what a pleasure it was to finally get to experience it for the first time. My concerns about this film couldn’t have been so far off because this was such a rich treasure to discover. Amadeus is a timeless film, directed in 1984, it could just as well have been directed today and you wouldn’t notice the difference. Everything from the art direction and the set pieces, to the costumes and makeup, to the cinematography could rival any film released this year. I still can’t believe this was made in 1984 because it is better than most biopics made today. Just as the central figure of this movie was such a creative and talented composer, Forman proved once again to be way ahead of his peers and was a prodigy director during the 80’s. I thought there was no way he could top his marvelous work in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but he just did. To say this is one of the biopics ever made is an understatement, because it is one of the best films period. Roger Ebert couldn’t have said it better in his review when he wrote, “the film is constructed in wonderfully well-written and acted scenes -- scenes so carefully constructed, unfolding with such delight, that they play as perfect compositions of words.” Winner of eight Academy Awards including Best Picture, the Oscars oddly awarded the more deserving film that year.
Amadeus couldn’t have a more suitable and meaningful title, taken from Mozart’s middle name which in latin means “loved by God,” the film explores the tormented relationship he had with Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham), the court composer of Austrian Emperor, Joseph II (Jeffrey Jones). Salieri was so passionate about music that he begged God to make him the best composer the world had known by promising to remain chaste and devoted to Him. We learn this during a confession he is giving to Father Vogler (Richard Frank) after having attempted to commit suicide and confessing to being responsible of Mozart’s death decades ago. The film is told in flashback as Salieri narrates what an impression Mozart had made in Vienna during his youth. He was eager to meet this prodigy who God had blessed with such an immense and unique talent, but when Mozart (Tom Hulce) is finally invited to perform at the Emperor’s court, Salieri is shocked by what he discovers. Mozart is a childish and vulgar fellow with an obscene giggle that only seemed to mock everything he believed about God’s immaculate and pure music. Feeling betrayed and confused as to how God could allow this hideous being to be blessed with such an amazing talent, he makes it his personal vendetta to defy God and bury Mozart’s career.
The film centers on themes of artistic genius and creativity as well as professional jealousy and uncomprehended talent. The universal theme of man against God is also tackled throughout the three hour runtime. These themes are perfectly explored and balanced with comedic moments scattered throughout, which allow the pacing of the film to move at a pleasant beat. Very seldom do you find such a perfectly balanced biopic that manages to remain comic and tragic at the same time. Some of the success of Amadeus must be attributed to the gorgeous location in which the movie was filmed. Choosing Prague to depict the mid 1700’s Vienna was a perfect choice and the stages where the Opera scenes where performed were simply mesmerizing. Forman also allowed his actors to retain their American accents which was another intelligent choice. There is no need to give the actors silly English European accents if you are going to have them speak in any other language other than the original. The screenplay adaptation of Peter Shaffer’s Award winning stage play was also a hit because the dialogue in this film is truly inspiring and I can recall several great quotes from it.
The two lead performances in Amadeus are incredibly powerful. F. Murray Abraham took home the Oscar for best lead actor and he will forever be remembered for his role here as the frustrated and jealous Salieri. The inner conflict he experiences as he easily goes from admiration and bewilderment to hatred and jealousy while listening to each composition is outstanding. Tom Hulce is just as great playing the titular character. Never in a million years would I have cast him in a role like this, but it only added to the underlying theme of looks and talents not always going well together. Hulce’s cheerful and giggly demeanor slowly grows on the audience as he is first presented as an irritating figure, but gradually begins to appear more sympathetic, and our initial alliances with Salieri begin to turn while he grows darker. These are now two of my favorite all-time performances. I could go on writing about this amazing film, but I feel no matter what I have to say about it, it’s simply going to be another mediocre review of an incredibly masterful film. There are no words that can justly describe this film, so by all means if you haven’t seen this masterpiece go check it out.
“All I wanted was to sing to God. He gave me that longing... and then made me mute. Why? Tell me that. If He didn't want me to praise him with music, why implant the desire? Like a lust in my body! And then deny me the talent?”