Monday, July 02, 2012

"Amadeus" (1984)

"On the page it looked nothing. The beginning simple, almost comic. Just a pulse - bassoons and basset horns - like a rusty squeezebox. Then suddenly - high above it - an oboe, a single note, hanging there unwavering, till a clarinet took over and sweetened it into a phrase of such delight! This was no composition by a performing monkey! This was a music I'd never heard. Filled with such longing, such unfulfillable longing, it had me trembling. It seemed to me that I was hearing the very voice of God."

Composer Antonio Salieri is caught trying to kill himself and is sent to a mental institution, confessing to killing Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. A priest hears his confession and as Salieri speaks, we are taken back in time to when he was court composer to Emperor Joseph II. All his life, he had wanted to compose and all is going well until Mozart comes to town. Salieri imagines Mozart in his mind but is confronted by the real man, a vulgar, highly-sexed man-child with a strange laugh who speaks with the voice of God through his music. Salieri becomes bitter and jealous that God should choose to bestow such magnificent musical genius on an undeserving man while Salieri, a chaste and charitable man, finds his talent lacking. As his hatred grows he decides he must destroy God's chosen composer, through whatever means possible.

One of the best parts about this movie is the music. We both get to see and hear Mozart's music and at one point even go inside his head as he's composing. My favourite scene from the movie shows Salieri and Mozart working together on a piece of music. It's absolutely amazing to see Mozart at work and to watch Salieri's realization that he's unable to follow the man's ability.

We also see how different their childhoods were and their resulting musicianship. It's somewhat sad to see how unequal the talents are between the two. For example, Salieri composes a welcome march for Mozart when he visits the emperor. We actually see him working on it and Mozart, upon hearing it once, plays it back by ear and then improves upon it, seemingly with no effort at all. This accidental mocking eventually flowers into full blown purposeful degradation at a party, further driving a wedge of one-sided jealousy between the two.

Both men are interesting characters. Salieri has had a desire to create his entire life but only passing fair talent to pull it off. He went against his father's wishes and became a composer. He is seemingly adored by the Emperor and other men in his musical court but when Mozart appears, Salieri is instantly filled with hatred for this little man who makes masterpieces. Only Salieri can see the music for what it really is while everyone else finds Mozart an unorthodox upstart. He challenges current tradition and questions everyone's musical taste. Salieri, obsessed with his hatred for Mozart, attends every one of his musical performances while actively working to get them cancelled.

Mozart, shoved into the role of composer by his father, finds the job easy and his talent only thwarted by those who can't comprehend his abilities. He also has some serious daddy issues as his father seems to haunt his every step, judging and condemning. Mozart is also arrogant but still looks for approval and appears upset when no overwhelming praise is forthcoming, possibly an effect of his father's influence. Mozart is very childish and childlike. He laughs like a child, delights in the smallest of things and acts unprofessionally at times. He takes such joy in life that it makes me wonder if he didn't do all his living at the beginning of his life. As the film continues we see Mozart physically deteriorate, Salieri's influence made manifest. Mozart's demeanor, his hair and his clothing change as does his relationship with his wife and the appearance of his house. Every aspect of his life is tied into his music which Salieri is trying to drive into the ground. Mozart, unaware of this, continues to work and we see the toll it takes on him. At one point he tells his wife that the Requiem Mass he's writing is killing him.

Apart from the music the sets and the costumes are perfect. I'm a sucker for costumes films but this one gives you a real sense of the era. The ostentation practically overflows from the film. And the hats! Look out for the ridiculously big hats.

This movie also goes the extra mile when it comes to authenticity. When they show the opera Don Giovanni, the building they shot the scene in is where the actual opera was first performed. More than 200 years later that building is still standing. Also, the actor who played Mozart, Tom Hulce, practiced four hours a day to make it look like he was actually playing the piano.

I knew basically nothing about Mozart before this film, apart from he was supposed to be some musical genius. While the film isn't an entirely accurate portrayal of his life, his music plays throughout which is what interested me. I'm far more intrigued by the man and his music now and plan to make a concerted effort to pick up a biography or at least listen to a variety of his works.

Rating: You own this film and rewatch it often, it's that good. Yes it contains classical music and is a biopic but the story is amazing. The film runs long at three hours but the time is needed to create that one-sided rivalry and introduce us to these men and their music. It's no wonder that this film won Best Picture in 1984.

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