Release Date: September 19th, 1984 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Milos Forman Actors: F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge, Roy Dotrice, Simon Callow, Christine Ebersole, Jeffrey Jones
rom the first few seconds of the film, it’s evident that the music will guide “Amadeus” to cinematic perfection, elegantly narrating every powerfully moving moment and transitioning masterfully to the hysterically comedic ones. Films so delightfully aggrandized by orchestral scores are tragically infrequent – perhaps equivalent to the rarity of Mozart’s own incomparable skills. The layering of instruments complements the multi-leveled overlaying of sequences that compose much of the editing, especially as the film draws to its thundering “Lacrimosa” climax, full of subtle revenge, the acceptance of mediocrity, and emphatic insanity.
Father Vogler (Richard Frank) goes to an insane asylum to hear the confession of a guilt-ridden, suicidal old man, Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham), who claims to have murdered Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce) in 1791. He recounts his tale of music, passion, and jealousy, introducing one of the defining elements of their upbringing: Salieri’s parents cared nothing for music, did not support him, and thought of the art as the work of trained monkeys. Mozart, on the other hand, was playing for kings as a little boy and fully backed by his indulgent father Leopold (Roy Dotrice). Thanks to the miraculous sudden death of his father, Salieri is able to pursue his dream of writing operas. In short time, he finds himself in Vienna as the court composer for Emperor Joseph of Austria (Jeffrey Jones). At the palace of the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg, Salieri sees Mozart for the first time, recognizing that the musical genius is just a lewd, insolent, childish fool with the most annoying, high-pitched little chortle. Why would God choose this pathetic vessel through which to give the world such beautiful music?
When Mozart is asked to appear before the emperor, Salieri is officially introduced to the brazen virtuoso. Upsettingly, the maestro’s march for ushering in the boy is memorized after only a single listening – and reworked and improved on the spot for the sire. The disgraceful “creature” is commissioned to write an opera, which stars Katerina Cavalieri (Christine Ebersole), the songbird that Salieri lusts after. Mozart is engaged to Constanze (Elizabeth Berridge), despite his ingeniousness attracting Cavalieri’s romantic interests. Salieri becomes obsessed with the notion that God is testing and torturing him, allowing Mozart to be effortlessly proficient, while Salieri toils endlessly over mediocre compositions.
While the unprincipled, spoiled, conceited brat is bestowed the gift of interpreting the voice of God, Salieri solidifies his view of that deity as supremely “unjust, unfair, and unkind.” He makes it his mission to thwart Mozart’s advancements at every turn, ceaselessly disrupting the boy’s connections and ruining his employment. This envy-driven motive is embellished with sharp editing, well placed humor (most riotously with spontaneous inspiration from the nagging of his mother-in-law), superb acting (both Hulce and Abraham were nominated for Best Actor Academy Awards), makeup (which won the Oscar), and brilliantly lavish costuming (with plenty of towering wigs, feathered hats, and oversized masquerade pieces).
Director Milos Forman, working from a script by Peter Shaffer (adapted from his own successful stage play), was worried about the appeal of a nearly three hour film dealing with classical music, the metamorphosis of a banned play into an opera, and a devious ploy to off the famous musician in a non-graphic, nontheatrical manner. But his anxiety was misplaced, as “Amadeus” spoke to its audience with such passion and artistry that it went on to win dozens of accolades, including the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Actor (F. Murray Abraham). While the theatrical version moves more smoothly, the “director’s cut” contains numerous worthwhile additions for fans of the subject matter.
– Mike Massie