Amadeus review by Tom Blain

The standard biopic formula is pretty simple. You take a man or woman, great or not, and begin respinning their life from start to finish. The stories are often told in an A->B step by step progression, and either sometimes told in 3rd person or in an autobiographical nature. So Aviator would be an example of the former and Chaplin would be an example of the latter. What I liked most about Amadeus was its atypical approach to story telling. This is not a standard biopic on the life of W.A. Mozart. In fact its hard to tell if its namesake is even the main character. Amadeus is more about one mans obsession with the wunderkind composer as he lives jealously in the shadow of his greatness.

Now to give you some background information (most of which can be found on the DVDs featurette section)... Antonio Salieri was a successful composer in Austria around the late 1700s; around the same time Mozart was working in Austria. The two knew each other personally, and many of Salieri's acquaintances claimed he had a deep hatred for the brash young Mozart. W.A. Mozart died at the young age of 35 and no one really knows why (although his fast paced party like a rock start life style probably had something to do with it). In his later years, Salieris mental health began to deteriorate and he made numerous claims that Mozarts early exit from this world was his doing. This was said at least three times. Nobody can has proven whether this is true or not, but many suspected it could very well have been. Historically it is one of these grand legends that even writers/poets such as Alexander Pushkin have used in their creative work. Director Milos Formans Amadeus is a re-telling of this myth through the words of the possible assassin.

In Amadeus Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) is a flawed, mediocre man whose only aspiration in life is to create great and wonderful music. From a young age, he proclaims his jealousy of the musical prodigy named Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce). He prays do God every night hoping to be talented and famous and play his music for all to hear. In return he offers his chastity, industry, and humility to God. Then one day, in what he calls a miracle, his foreboding father dies; paving him a path to become what he has always dreamed.

As an older composer, he lives in a world where he is acknowledged, respected, and applauded by common folk and royalty alike. He does, however, know his own limitations and in his world that is ok because no one else seems to know. The prodigy from Salzburg, Mozart (Tom Hulce) enters the royal court in Vienna and gains immediate attention for his talents.In Mozart, Salieri sees a musical genius wrapped in the skin of an uncultured buffoon. How could a man so talented be so crass? Even as Mozart's talents are realized, he isn't widely popular for his music is too complex for the average man to understand.

Salieri's opera's are given far more applause, but he gains little admiration from the one man whos opinion he would truly respect, his peer Mozart. At the same time, he is cursed with the knowledge to understand that it is the under appreciated Mozarts music that should be praised and not his own. Pride for his own music and jealousy over the gift that Mozart seems to waste away with alcohol and lewd behavior lead Salieri into a personal insanity in which he plots vengeful destruction of God's gift.

There are a number of themes in this movie that play very out very well. The first is the sense of successful musicians versus true artists; a theme that holds even more water in contemporary culture. Salieri (whether it is fair or not) is portrayed as a composer of the common man. He never composes anything too complex or challenging. Because of this his music is accessible to people like Emperor Joseph (Jeffrey Jones), whom Salieri confesses, has no ear for music. Mozart on the other hand was no appreciated for art at the time of its creation. In the movie, Don Giovanni (known today as one of the greatest operas ever constructed), is given little applause on its opening night. The Emperor himself even notes that Mozarts music contains too many notes. Popularity, however, does not have the longevity of true genius. Salieri is obviously far more forgotten 200 years later, and Mozart is highly regarded worldwide. Even 20-30 years later, a dying Salieri realizes his music is all but forgotten while Mozarts pieces are still recognizable.

The other theme that grows throughout this film is Salieris gift from God becoming a deal with the Devil. He morbidly associates the untimely death of his father as a blessing that allows him to follow his dream. As he interacts more with Mozart, he is constantly humiliated for his musical mediocrity. What he struggles to produce music-wise, Mozart effortlessly creates (like Bach everything was composed in his head and written on paper only once). Instead of being thankful for whatever musical talent he has, Salieri rejects God and vows to vengefully destroy Mozart.

Amadeus is a great film, filled to the brim with many of Mozarts most beautiful pieces (focusing more on his operas than his many symphonies, however) and shot on location in scenic Vienna and Prague. Forman directs possibly his greatest epic to date in this 1984 Oscar winner. But the strongest component in this film is Peter Schaeffers telling of Salieris insanity. Whether the legend is true or not, the medium for storytelling exposes the audience to the greatness and madness of W.A. Mozart while at the same time, not boring us with what feels like an instant replay of his greatest moments.




9 out of 10 Jackasses
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