(United States, 1984)
Amadeus is one of those films whose greatness eluded me until I had been a critic for some time. I first saw the movie in the late '80s, and, while I was impressed, it wasn't something I had a burning desire to see again (despite the fact that I was something of a classical music buff during those years). Then, in the mid-'90s, a deluxe special edition laserdisc version of Amadeus was released. At $100, it was pricey, but I bought it because I thought that, as a self-respecting film critic, I should own a copy. Watching it for a second time on laserdisc is when I became hooked on the film. So it was with delight that I greeted a chance to see it in a theater during 2002 when the director's cut received a limited release, and then to buy it on DVD. Occasionally, I am asked whether I prefer the original cut or the extended version. It's a surprisingly difficult question to answer, since some of the added material in the longer version adds depth to the story, but there is also some filler. I think the 1984 movie is a little better paced. Both come with my highest recommendation, but, if I was forced to make a choice, I would cast my vote in favor of the original. Mozart was never my favorite classical composer, either before or after seeing Amadeus, but I admit to having a much greater respect for his music in the wake of seeing this film. Years later, I recall hoping that Immortal Beloved would do for Beethoven what Amadeus did for Mozart, but that was not the case. Immortal Beloved was an inferior movie; nothing before or since has been able to equal Milos Forman's speculative biography.
Plot Summary (Spoilers Possible):
Amadeus covers the last 10 years of Mozart's life, time that was spent primarily in Vienna. From 1781 until 1791, the film chronicles the composer's triumphs and failures, as viewed by Salieri (F. Murray Abraham), the Court Composer to Emperor Joseph II (Jeffrey Jones). Amadeus actually begins in the 1820s, with an aging Salieri, now confined in an insane asylum after attempting suicide, offering his confession to a priest. His tale forms the bulk of the movie's narrative. In 1781, Salieri is in awe of Mozart (Tom Hulce) - until he meets him. A mediocre composer with a limited reputation, Salieri recognizes greatness in Mozart's music, but is horrified to find that the man he admires is a childish rogue who chases women, drinks heartily, and has little or no respect for the manners and morality of decent society. Salieri's repugnance for Mozart grows as he gets to know him and witnesses further acts of degradation. Believing God to have placed his favor upon an undeserving individual, Salieri views the situation as a rebuke from God, and becomes determined to strike back at the Almighty by silencing His instrument. Thus, Salieri plots Mozart's downfall. But, at the same time, even as he seeks to destroy the man, he is held enraptured by the music.
Most movies about artists (painters, composers, authors, etc.) tend to be dull and uninspired, rendering the subject of the film far less interesting than his or her work. Amadeus is an exception. In fact, it is arguably the best motion picture ever made about the process of creation and the creator. By electing not to progress in the direction of a traditional bio-pic, director Milos Forman and screenwriter Peter Shaffer have crafted an amazing portrait of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, filled with rich details, powerful drama, and a commanding score. Not only is Amadeus a fascinating character study, but it also features a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions in the twisted triangle of Mozart, Salieri, and God. No movie before or since has so effectively woven music into the tapestry of the motion picture. Many films treat sound as an adjunct to the visual aspects; Amadeus views them as equals. Amadeus is an achievement, and was deserving of every one of the eight Oscars it captured on that late March night in 1985.
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