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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Amadeus (1984)

Such passion, such  hatred, such pain. Those are the feelings that haunt Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham), the protagonist and tortured hero of Amadeus. The film begins with a man (Salieri) screaming, he is begging for forgiveness for killing Mozart. When his servants enter the room they see him attempting to commit suicide by cutting his throat. Next you see Father Volger (Richard Frank) walking into a mental hospital and he meets Salieri in his room, at first Salieri wants nothing to do with the Father, but he quickly opens up and tells him his confession. He was just a man with one dream: To be able to dedicate his life to and make great music. As a child Salieri is plagued by his strict father who wants his to get into business. His father chokes and dies during a meal, an event that Salieri calls a "miracle", with his father dead he is taken to Vienna and able to fully dedicate himself to music. Next the films jumps to him being an adult, also he is a court composer for Holy Roman Emperor Joeseph II (Jeffrey Jones) which he is content with being. Next is the arrival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce), a praised young composer who Salieri is a major admirer of. But when Salieri finds Mozart to immature and "vile" for his taste the loathing begins.

How does a three-hour film (180 minutes precisely) about a virtually unknown composer who has a violent jealousy of the great Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart work? After I finished this film I took a little time to myself and thought that question over. What thrived most for me in this film is two different things: 1. The magnificent job Abraham and Hulce did at portraying their fascinating characters. That was a people simple reason. 2. The music!! Oh, the music!! Never has music taken over a film so much. Amadeus features more music than a musical with the music being from one of the greatest composers ever. That mix itself could create greatness, but Milos Forman wouldn't make the music work all alone. Milos Forman's masterpiece is widely considered One Flew Over The Cuckoos' Nest (1975). The film won 5 Oscars and is considered one of the great classics of films. I must respectfully disagree, One Flew Over The Cuckoos' Nest is a very, very good film but what keeps it from being a classic is the constant comparison it will get with the book of the same name by Ken Kesey. If it wasn't a book the film would easily be a classic, but since it is a book and you must always compare a film with the book and the book is so much greater. Ken Kesey's classic novel allows much more insight that the film, his book is able to have much deeper meanings that the film just didn't have the abilty to reveal.

Milos Forman's beautiful direction is perhaps and even stronger part of the film than Abraham and Hulce's performances. Forman is able to work with a time period thats beauty has a mind of its own. The outfits are outrageous, the women are gorgeous, and most of all the music was at a level that has never been matched. Fans of plays and musicals with be at home with Amadeus, Forman doesn't leave out any of Mozart's great work, he risked the film being too long so that he could rightfully direct the at times lengthy operas and that decision is one of his greatest. Amadeus features actual opera stars who are featured in the musical numbers, and how great those numbers are. Never have I ever had much interest in attending operas, maybe plays, but not operas. Now thanks to the great direction of Forman and the revolutionary music of Mozart I have finally been shown the truth about how wonderful operas can be when they feature such great music.

Mozart is one of the most known and praised composers of all time, his music is loved with such intensity worldwide. Never has his music left the world, its featured in movies, plays, and adapted into the ever changing music of today, but what most people know nothing of is Mozart's appearance or personality. His appearance and personality are nothing to remember, it is music that took him to immortality. As Amadeus rightfully shows us Mozart was a small man, thin and pale with a high-pitched obnoxious laugh. It is Mozart's laugh that truly haunts Salieri the most, it would haunt me also if I had to hear it continuously. My point is that unlike so many other films, plays etc. Amadeus doesn't portray Mozart as this handsome ravishing man who had no flaws, but instead shows how he appearance and personality had many flaws. Never has Mozart's music been used so wonderfully, Forman uses care and his love for the music to create a film that does nothing but good for his subject's music. The world can thank Milos Forman for helping bring Mozart and his music back into the spotlight, adding to his never fading popularity.

Tom Hulce as Mozart is a match made in film greatness. Yes, it is F. Murray Abraham as Salieri that gets all the attention (Abraham won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance). It is Tom Hulce that had the challenge of  portraying Mozart, the man, the myth, the legend. What Hulce does with his character is remarkable, he makes him outrageous, but without being goofy or awkward feeling. Most of all he shows Mozart's passion and dedication us a the viewer are able to see what Salieri never is able to throughout the film. We see his endless working and love for the music he makes. Hulce also received an Oscar nomination for his performance, but it just wasn't meant to be. Although, just like the film his performance has aged very well, everyone that I know that has seen the film-- with is just about everybody-- absolutely loves the performance. The easiness and joy in his performance works very well with the dark, tortured performance by Abraham.

Now on to the performance that remains one of the most respected even 27 years later. F. Murray Abraham is Antonio Salieri, a man who is tortured by his mediocrity compared to the greatness of Mozart. Throughout most of the film we see Mozart from Salieri's point of view, his hatred for both the success and lifestyle of the young genius. Salieri is a passionate believer in God and God's ways. Us a viewers can relate to Salieri, because most of us are constantly trying to understand His ways, when wonderful things happen in our lives it is almost second nature for us to thing that God, in some way, made it happen. Maybe I am just thinking that my mind is like every one elses, but that is how I see most people's minds working. Abraham shows us Salieri's painful obsession with such sympathy that it i hard not to sympathize with him. Films run on being able to evoke strong emotions about their characters, ironically what makes Abraham's portrayal of Salieri is the lack of strong emotions. Salieri's plots against Mozart and his obsessions would usually make a viewer frustrated or maybe just make them consider him an insane man. If that happened viewers would not look into his character anymore and with his character being the heart of the film that would have hurt Amadeus tremendously. We know that none of that happened, Abraham does a wonderful job showing Salieri's obsessions while also showing him as a person, as a man who is a good person tortured by evil thoughts.

I know I have done some terrible rambling on the two star performances, but that is for very good cause. Both performances deserve endless praise, but I will take some time to talk about a couple smaller roles that had such a great effect on this film. Not much is known about Constanze,  the beautiful, dedicated wife of Mozart. She was with him through all the ups and downs of his life and career. She is portrayed with care by Elizabeth Berridge. Her character loves Mozart to no end, none of his vast amounts of flaws ever strain her love for him. Constanze is the one character who has gotten a look at the true Salieri, she knows about his very hidden darkness. Jeffrey Jones as Emperor Joseph II is a minor role that has such an importance for the film. He is the authority figure over both Mozart and Salieri. He is the cause for both joy and anger on both of their parts. Jones' performance as the Emperor is both agressive and understanding. Lastly their is a performance that went unnoticed, but to me had a major impact on the flow of the film. That performance is Richard Frank as Father Volger. He has very few speaking lines and is only on screen for a few minutes total, but it is his facial reactions to the confession of the older Salieri that are a very powerful part of the film. Those reactions of a young religious figure hearing a story that would shock the world. That mere performance shows us how the smallest of roles can have such a powerful impact on a film. Acting in Amadeus is so wonderful that I am tempted to call it perfect, but I won't because I tend to get ahead of myself. When or if you finally see this film every part will touch a little something inside you, but the acting is what allows you to truly feel and understand those vast feelings.

If you are intimidated by the 180 minute run-time don't be. With two fascinating characters, great direction, and entrancing operas the time quickly drifts away. This is more of an opinion, but of the two main characters of the film it is Mozart--portrayed by Tom Hulce--that fascinated me the most. Unlike everyone else who just adored Abraham's role, don't get me wrong his performance is wonderful, very much worthy of the Oscar. But Amadeus is one of those rare films where both there lead actors deserved an Oscar, it got all the awards it deserved but the one that should have gone to Tom Hulce. Maybe that's why his performance took over me so much more, he didn't win the Oscar and is much overshadowed by Abraham. Ironically it's the complete opposite in this film.

Milos Forman has some God given talent to be able to show such great beauty in such dark themes. Amadeus should be required viewing for film makers, there is not one flaw in the entire film. Milos is able to show each emotion from each character in its whole not just in limited points of views, but in ways where you can truly know the characters feelings. Amadeus stars like it will just be solely in the view of Salieri, but instead you see both Salieri and Mozart in ways where you get to truly understand and connect with them.

Very loosely based on the lives of Antonio Salieri and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, historical accuracy is not of any real imortance. No Salieri did not murder Mozart, the risks this film took are unprecedented, Milos Forman shows why he is a legend to the industry.  Each scene in the film is acted to perfection, not a scene is put in without purpose. This si the film that has solidified Forman has a directing great. He had had some rough times since One Flew Over The Cuckoos' Nest, but now he has two films that are among the most celebrated in film history. F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce have great unforgettable performances, while Milos Forman's direction is considerate to the characters and passionate.


  1. Great review. This is one of the absolute best films I've seen; a favorite.

  2. ahhh....sadly this is still on my bucket list of films to see. I shall always remember the annoying kid in "Last Action Hero" telling Arnold not to trust F. Murray because he killed Mozart.