A Review of Amadeus

He was a musician. He was an enormous fan of bizarre sex and controlled substances. He died young, at a time in which people were slowly turning against him. He had many enemies who were afraid of what he stood for.

He is not Oliver Stone’s Jim Morrison. He is Milos Forman’s Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Maybe that is why the film has remained so popular. Most people shun classical music, saying that is the music of snobs. Yet the people did not consider it such. To them, it carried the same weight as the pop music of today. Amadeus acknowledges this, in fact, it may have been the first film to do so. Mozart was the proto rock musician, and (as so many do), he collapsed under the fame.

The film is told from the perspective of composer Salieri (F. Murray Abraham, who won an Oscar), who tells the story of how he murdered the brilliant Mozart (Tom Hulce, who was in Animal House). Salieri apparently envied Mozart, not just for his genius, but for his boorish behavior.While Mozart flaunts convention and defies the emperor (Jeffrey Jones), Salieri tries to find a way to undermine Mozart’s accomplishments.

It should be explained, up front, that the film is not about Mozart. Indeed, he is almost an ancillary character, who remains distant from the main characters. The film is about Salieri’s own hubris. Unlike most people who suffer envy (who cannot see any merit in their rival’s actions), Salieri has nothing but respect for Mozart. Salieri frequently stands in awe of Mozart’s ability to improve his own music, and states that Mozart’s music was “dictated by God.”

The problem is that Mozart’s personal character does not meet his expectations. Instead of being a genius, Mozart presents himself as nothing more than a hedonistic fool, constantly giggling at the end of every sentence and having the audacity to argue with the emperor. Of course Mozart was correct. But no one dared admit it.

That is why it is hard for me to determine which performance I ultimately like better. Salieri gets all of the memorable lines, but Mozart’s performance is far more shocking. It really does have to be seen to be believed. Yes, I have used the words “boorish” and “hedonistic” to describe his character, but something like that has to be examined properly. Tom Hulce is often not taken seriously. Maybe that is because he was in Animal House, I don’t know. But the casting was actually perfect here. No one else could play THIS Mozart.

There is a lot to admire about this film, from the costuming (which also emphasizes the theme of Mozart as an outsider – his wig is always disheveled) to the lighting (which kind of reminded me of Barry Lyndon). However, the crux of the film is still the examination of jealousy. I think of it in terms of, yes, Othello, so well written is it. Abraham and Hulce would never be better, and neither would Milos Forman after this (although he did come close).

A film like Amadeus would not be made today. What modern audiences would pay to see a three hour film about music that they have already snubbed. In that regard, Amadeus deserves some revitalization. It did bring some sophistication to film, and to Forman. I wish more historical pieces like this would get the recognition they deserve. Who knows? Maybe that time is coming back. I hope sooner rather than later; we need more films like this.

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