Monday, June 20, 2011

Amadeus (1984)

The "Man", The "Music", The "Madness", The "Murder"(?), The "Motion Picture" goes the tagline....but we can add some more....the "Miracle", "Mozart" and last but not the least, "Milos" Forman! The man behind "Amadeus" goes all out in his attempt to "motion picture"-ise Peter Shaffer's play of the same name. The result is one of the most ambitious and dazzling period dramas, built on a grand scale...but is it as magnificent as it has been made out to be?! Well...almost!

Told through a series of flashbacks, (and shifting occasionally to the present) narrated by an old and decrepit Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham), "Amadeus" tells the highly fictionalized story of 18th Century famous Composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce) and his supposed "rival" who loathed him... Antonio Salieri himself. Both great musicians of the time, yet, Mozart being Mozart seemed to outdo Salieri, one of the greatest composers of the time, making more conspicuous, Salieri's so-called (often by himself) "mediocrity"! Salieri, the court composer lived in his own sweet shell of ignorance about talent around him. Enter Mozart and things changed for Salieri as Mozart began to get in the good books of the Emperor Joseph II (Jeffrey Jones) with his clearly superior command on music and his ability to create "magical" notes...just like that!

Salieri despised Mozart from the first sight of him! After all, who could imagine the great Mozart having a very dirty mind and an outrageously vulgar tongue and a highly annoying "obscene giggle", as Salieri puts it! And if that's not all..this is a man who is highly immodest and vain about his own music. He has absolutely no regard for other composers and thinks and even admits out loud that he is the greatest!

So thus it begins, the battle of the musicians, with Salieri admitting to be the "bad guy" in the entire state of he wished to God that Mozart would vanish...out of, even back to Salzburg, his hometown! Salieri tries all the low-down schemes his evil mind could think of to hinder Mozart's progress and try and put him down.

The entire film chronicles these crafty ways of Salieri, his gradual loss of faith in God, for he believes, Mozart is literally "Amadeus", "the beloved of God", sent down by God himself to make Salieri aware of his "lack" of talent! And then there are the ups and downs in Mozart's life, his bloated ego, his alcoholism and his eventual demise....and amidst all this, is the miracle that is music!

That's right, music is one of the important aspects of this picture, since music drives many of the scenes in the film (apparently there are longer Opera sequences in "The Director's Cut" which I have seen). Mozart wrote some of the finest music on this planet and it shows in this film, with almost all of the music used being originally composed by Mozart. Of course for the film it was performed by Academy of St. Martin in the Fields and conducted by Sir Neville Marriner. It is rather exhilarating to see and listen to the operas performed to the music of Mozart in this picture; the passion and the sheer spirit of it further elevated by the characters of Mozart and Salieri as they conduct these operas. The background score is not far behind, with some tremendous melodies being used in some key portions of the film that make the scenes come alive!

And then there is the acting! While the supporting actors are there and they do a decent job, this review will restrict itself to the two key players.

Tom Hulce, who plays Mozart, brings a kind of despicable quality to his character...and hell, it does take talent to make the audience loathe you at one stage with some very impish demeanor and then throw in surprises and make the audience want to reach out to you and embrace you! Tom Hulce scores big time with his extraordinary display of a multi-dimensional character, a passionate and gifted musician, ultimately let down by his own vanity!


And there is F. Murray Abraham, who is almost unrecognizable in his older avatar as Salieri in the scenes in the present in which he narrates the "tragic" story of his life to the priest, Father Vogler (Richard Frank)....And my goodness, how long has it been since I've seen a performance like that! What sheer grace to the performance, what an arresting screen presence and what outstanding theatrics...words are not enough to describe this larger than life performance that won Abraham the much coveted Academy Award! Just watching him mouth those cleverly written lines of dialog with his exuberantly passionate acting on display keep your eyes glued to the screen! What makes it even more commendable is how different the younger Salieri and his older self look and behave...adding so much depth to his character..but don't be is the same actor indeed! This is a performance that has to be seen to be believed!

Which finally brings us to the film itself! Now I am the kind of man who is usually not in favour of screenwriters/filmmakers using artistic license and taking cinematic liberties with true stories featuring real life characters from history. But normally a few minor changes here and there are still acceptable. With "Amadeus", they transform everything into almost 80% fiction, which is a big disappointment! I mean, just because you want to make an interesting story with some "bite" which will pull the audiences in, you can't turn all the characters on their heads. The film shows that Salieri despised Mozart, whereas some evidence in the form of written letters suggests they shared a friendly relationship and Salieri didn't really hate Mozart. As a matter of fact he was in awe of him and admired him a lot. As for Mozart's behavioral traits, there is almost no evidence suggesting that he behaved like a clumsy idiot that he has been portrayed in the film! Just watch the film and you will be shocked to see that a much revered musician like Mozart would act and talk like an absolute clown with an atrocious sense of humour, ultimately rendering the character unrealistic! Why would you really look up to this man, an arrogant, vain musician, even if he makes some Godly music? I mean, you couldn't stand the man...hell, I don't blame Salieri! This of course leads to some comic relief throughout the film in the form of some other characters acting like buffoons, including Mozart's mother-in-law and even the Emperor says "well..there it is" and walks away even after this mother-in-law character faints on stage!

That said, the film succeeds in all other technical aspects, including cinematography, editing, great sets and costumes, attention to detail and the whole lavish spectacle that this motion picture is! Full points for capturing that era, that atmosphere, that Vienna..there is no question about it. Narrative-wise the pacing somewhat falters with the long opera scenes in the second half. But if you like the music and aren't averse to watching lengthy operas, you wouldn't feel the slack in pace.

But at the pinnacle of this whole venture, is the lead actor, F. Murray Abraham and the magic he performs on screen and holds us, the audience, spellbound with his mesmerizing Antonio Salieri act! I will mention this again....this is a performance that has to be seen to be believed! And if you just want one reason to watch "Amadeus", F. Murray Abraham is a reason big enough, because ultimately, in this case, the performance is much bigger than the film itself!

Rating: 8.5/10


  1. This is one of the greatest films I've seen. I gave it a 4.5/5. It's just a fantastic film. Abraham gave such a perfect performance that he almost blew me out of my seat. This is a good review, man. Great to know you liked it.

  2. Hmmmm. I'll check it out some time. Well written!

  3. Can't wait to check this one out :)
    Been hearing good things about it. Terrific review.

  4. @Jericho: Abraham is fucking awesome..some actors are so unlucky they get forgotten!..if only he had been blessed with more such meaty roles after "Amadeus"..oh..what could've been!