Movies Everybody Should See – Amadeus
Once a week here at TWBT we will be discussing a movie we agree everyone should see at some point in their lives. For the most part we will try to avoid the really obvious choices (The Godfather, Citizen Kane, Die Hard, etc) as their reputations are such that if you are at all interested in film you’ll already have seen them, or you will be aware you probably should. In certain cases an obvious classic may be discussed if we think we have something new to say, or just really want to talk about it, but by and large we are looking at films the casual film fan may not have seen. This list will run the gamut as we’ll be looking at older films, foreign films, genre films, cult films, exploring the whole diverse world of the movies.
This weeks entry is…
Director Milos Forman is a genius. His career is littered with accomplishments. The performance he coaxed out of Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is an all time great. His ability to get us inside Andy Kaufman’s head, who for all intents and purposes was an alien, in Man on The Moon is a minor miracle. But his most impressive feat is the fact that he made a near three hour movie about Mozart that is neither stuffy or dull, but is rich and alive, and at times, an absolute hoot.
He manages this (with help from writer Peter Schaffer) by presenting the character of Mozart as a wild child. He introduces us to the world of the 18th century Vienna, and it is almost exactly as we’d expect it to be. High society, elaborate wigs, bodices, curtsies, detailed embroidery, etc. In fact, it is presented as even more over the top than it every actually was. The elaborate wigs lean towards the ridiculous, the dialogue heightened to the point it almost takes on a musical rhythm. But it is all very prim and proper. Noted court composer Salieri fits into this world very snugly. He talks the talk, walks the walk, and knows how to behave around Joseph the second, the Holy Roman Emperor. And then in walks Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a drunken, often petulant, over sexed buffoon with a perverted sense of humour, and a nails on a chalk board giggle. He doesn’t talk the talk, he doesn’t walk the walk, and better yet he doesn’t care. He dresses like hes making a mockery out of the world he lives in, his ridiculous light pink wig contrasting against the pristine whites of his peers.
He talks to Joseph the second and makes inappropriate jokes, which he then laughs at, highly amused by himself, and much to the court’s surprise, Joseph is charmed by him. His personality is big and brash and he comes across as a stilted man child, but then he plays some music and the depth of his talent is revealed. This is no moron. This is a once in a generation artist.
The crux of the film revolves around the contradictions of Mozart’s talent and personality, and how he compares with Salieri. Salieri is our viewpoint character and we first meet him as an old man in a mental institution as he tells his story to a priest. His whole life Salieri wanted to be a great composer. His life was music. He worked hard at it, but not just at composing, at how to fit in with the world that would allow him to play it. After years of graft he worked his way up. And until he meets Mozart he believes himself talented. Then he hears Mozart’s work, and witnesses the ease with which it comes to him, and compares it to the hours and hours of effort that go into his quaint little ditties and he falls apart. An envy that will devour him from the inside forms and consumes his entire life.
To some genius comes easy, and others will have to work extremely hard just to be average. It is a truth Salieri cannot accept. He looks at Mozart and sees a fool undeserving of his gifts. Salieri blames God, and vows to destroy Mozart.
The themes at work here are on their own compelling, but what elevates Amadeus into a masterpiece (and it is one) is everything that works in service of those themes. The production design is sumptuous. Every location looks like an exaggerated dream of 18th century opulence. The music is, obviously, fantastic, and is used perfectly. The opera scenes, stories inside of the story, are so good they could be watched on their own. The surprising amount of humour in the film is very welcome. Jeffrey Jones as Joseph the second is subtly hilarious, his continued use of the phrase “Well, there it is” gets funnier every single time. But above all, it is the performances that stand out. Tom Hulce as Mozart at first seems a little off. His accent doesn’t sound right, he is playing broader and bigger than a lot of the characters, and he doesn’t seem to fit into the world the same way the other actors do. And then you realise that is very much the point. Then as the film goes on and Mozart’s health begins to fail him, exasperated by visits from his dead father, you see the subtly in Hulce’s portrayal. The pain behind the clown smile and girlish laugh. But the most impressive performance is F. Murray Abraham as Salieri. The grief, pain, and poisonous envy he hides behind a forced smile is magnificent. In every scene Abraham completely sells the contradictory feelings in Salieri’s heart, his hatred for Mozart the man, and his love for Mozart’s music.
Amadeus is a film about art, God, talent, jealously, disappointed fathers, self fulfillment, ambition, obsession, celebrity, legacy, and music. It is rich and alive, funny and bold, and is definitely a movie everybody should see.
Further Viewing – If you liked Amadeus you should check out…
Man On The Moon. Another Milos Forman classic and in my opinion the best performance of Jim Carrey’s career. Here Carrey plays former Taxi star and all round weird dude Andy Kaufman. Kaufman was all about exploring the act of entertainment and he enjoyed pulling and prodding at the confines of stand up. His act was more often than not painfully unfunny, and obnoxious and the film doesn’t sugar coat this at all. There are prolonged sequences where you just want him and the film to stop, but it goes on and on. And it’s great!
Come back next week when we’ll be discussing another movie everybody should see with American Graffiti.