A Wacky Mozart in “Amadeus”
I love watching historical movies about famous artists. And one film I never tire rewatching is Saul Zaentz’s 1984 production of Amadeus.
Though I have never seen the stage version written by Peter Shaffer, I must say that the film is good enough, since it obviously presents a more elaborate 18th century setting.
I have studied how many writers - who use the flashback style - achieve success in their storytelling. Shaffer, I believe, has done just that. At the start - after old Antonio Salieri is rushed to an asylum for attempting to kill himself - the film formally opens with him seated by the piano, narrating to a visiting priest about his experiences with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. I am impressed by the way the writer employs the time element in this story. It takes place in one night until the morning when Salieri is wheeled away from the priest.
F. Murray Abraham
To me, the character of Salieri stands out more than Mozart. F. Murray Abraham (who plays Dar Adal in the TV series Homeland) delivers a superb performance, especially in playing the old Salieri. He truly deserves the Best Actor award.
He had simply written down music already finished in his head! Page after page of it as if he were just taking dictation. And music, finished as no music is ever finished. Displace one note and there would be diminishment. Displace one phrase and the structure would fall. It was clear to me that sound I had heard in the Archbishop's palace had been no accident. Here again was the very voice of God! I was staring through the cage of those meticulous ink-strokes at an absolute beauty.— Salieri, on Mozart’s score
Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) looks at Mozart’s original copies.
A different image of Mozart
When I first saw this film, I was surprised to see a Mozart totally different from what I learned from my history classes. Here was a famous composer who was giggly, drunk, and vulgar.
But the acting of Tom Hulce (who voiced Quasimodo in Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame) is really amusing. I loved the way he would do his high-pitched laughter!
Still, I believe Hulce succeeded in performing his role well, as he showed great talent in the delivery of his lines (“It’s the best opera yet written!”), in the conducting of his orchestra, and in his animated games. He definitely adds a comic touch to the story!
Forgive me, Majesty. I am a vulgar man! But I assure you, my music is not.— Mozart
The funny scenes here include Salieri watching Mozart (Tom Hulce) and Constanze (Elizabeth Berridge), Mozart’s first opera, and Mozart aping Salieri.
A weak leader (“Well, there it is!”)
Even if Shaffer had made an extensive research on Emperor Joseph II (played by Jeffrey Jones in the film), I was still surprised to see this character portrayed as a weak leader.
This is evident in the scenes where he critiques Mozart’s opera for having “too many notes”, and for awarding Salieri’s mediocre piece as the “Best Opera”. Furthermore, he is easily taken in by the poor advices of his two subjects in charge of the theater - Count Orsini-Rosenberg (played by Charles Kay) and Kapellmeister Giuseppe Bonno (played by Patrick Hines).
Emperor Joseph II (Jeffrey Jones): "Too many notes!"
No doubt, the opera scenes heighten the quality of this film. Yet, I will mention two scenes I like most. One of these is where Mozart meets the Emperor for the first time. When the young composer is challenged to play Salieri’s March of Welcome, he sits at the piano immediately and plays the piece with much ease - even if he had heard it just once! What delights me is how Mozart embarrasses Salieri by enhancing his composition.
Mozart impresses the emperor and his subjects by enhancing the march composed by Salieri.
Then, there is that popular dictation scene where Salieri - all through the night - assists the exhausted Mozart in finishing the notation of his Requiem. I find this the most dramatic part of the film because the Requiem is fittingly played in the background, and ends in the scene where Mozart finally dies in the morning.
Dictation scene with Mozart and Salieri
For lovers of historical movies and followers of opera, I would truly recommend Amadeus. Everything in this film is just excellent – from the costumes to the script, to the music, to the acting. Indeed, it deserves the Best Picture award.
Here are great materials to keep :
Saul Zaentz’s superb production of Peter Shaffer’s famous play!