Amadeus (1984)

Directed by Milos Forman

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We see Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart through the eyes of a contemporary, Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham), a man full of envy and awe.  Framed through his immense jealousy, the film is big, broad and cutting.  It makes Mozart (Tom Hulce) a juvenile virtuoso with a unique laugh and builds a Stepbrothers-like rivalry between him and Salieri, though mostly on the latter’s part.

From what I can tell this movie is grossly disconnected from truth, getting wrong many of the details of the two artists’ lives.  That being said, it’s only disconnected if it means to be accurate, which Milos Forman’s movie seems to have no interest in.

Instead this is a film about the emotions behind envy and ambition.  Salieri is a comic figure, one who as a child preys to God to make him an esteemed composer.  When his father, who looked down upon his musical ambitions, dies, Salieri takes this to mean that God has heard his prayer.  He has promised God his chastity, and now he seeks to maintain it.

Salieri is someone who understands all too well what he has had to sacrifice to make such a career happen.  Mozart, on the other hand, seems to have it all.  He’s a young skirt-chaser who doesn’t seem to appreciate his own gift, precisely because it comes so easy.  He’s not the Mozart we might expect, not just from what we may know about him but from the sensibilities of the time, where everything and everyone seemed proper, even if it was a repressed kind of proper.  Instead Mozart has more in common with Johnny Utah.

This blend of a period piece drama and a modern sense of humor reminded me most directly of Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, a movie about real characters which presented them as surprisingly contemporary figures.  Though they dressed the part for the time, the ways Marie and her friends interacted felt like it was taken straight from a late night drunken conversation among Silver Lake Bohemians.

There is certainly more widespread appeal to such a dynamic, I imagine, and throwing out the rule book makes the story feel much more alive and edgy, much like Mozart’s music might’ve sounded at the time?

At the very least this movie helped revitalize, at least for a time, Mozart’s music, making it popular as just that, music, and not just something to be studied and deconstructed.  From today’s standard Mozart is a a mythical figure, but at some point in time he was just the most popular contemporary artist.  Amadeus takes this setting and these characters to tell a fairly timeless story about ambition, genius both perceived and sincere, and about envy.

There are far fewer Mozart’s in the world than Salieri’s.

Up Next: The Two Escobars (2010), Minding the Gap (2018), The Ice Harvest (2005)

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