Review: Amadeus (1984)

mozart

Genius and all that it entails!

Screenplay By: Peter Shaffer
Directed By: Milos Forman

Genius is a sight to behold, or a sound to become enticed by as the case may be, in every possible field. I can’t claim to understand musical genius, because for as much as I love music and may proclaim certain musicians to be geniuses, I can’t make that label with any profundity. I can relate to the idea of genius though, I think everyone can. Whether it is in your profession or a hobby there is something you partake in where you know that no matter what you do you will never be able to compare to “insert name here.” Most of the time it’s just because they are better than you, but every once in a while it’s because they are a genius. It is amazing to witness genius, but it’s also frustrating. I get insanely frustrated when I see a Master on the jiu-jitsu mat and I know that I will never be as fluid as they are or know how to transition like they do, no matter how hard I work, because they are geniuses and I am not.

The funniest things about geniuses themselves is that more often than not they don’t recognize their own genius. Most of the people I know who are geniuses are in fact quite humble, down to Earth and are decidedly not like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. While Amadeus may not be one hundred percent historically accurate, there are people like him, like I said, most are down to Earth, not all. There are those who are smug in their genius, those who know they are better than everyone else and have nary a care in the world as a result except for how to further show off their genius. That is where we can relate to the character of Salieri. We may not be quite as infuriated and spiteful as he is, but we can relate with genius that is not in the proper place. There are people who don’t seem fit for the level of genius that has been bestowed upon them and it is maddening to see that such a low class of person with such a magnificent gift. But that is the way of life and we learn to trudge on and do the best we can do. And that is why we can relate to Salieri but aren’t insane like Salieri.

Where the concept of genius is used in exquisite fashion in Amadeus is in the moments when Mozart is at work. When his wife and father are arguing and we see a light bulb go off in his head and on the spot he is once again composing greatness. He is near death and yet still capable of composing intricate works that others composers can’t even hope to comprehend. Watching Mozart discover the basis for his work, seeing how easy the ideas come to him and how debilitating it is for him to carry out the final product is exhausting for us. This extends to Mozart the person as well. Amadeus pegs him as a tiring person to be watch, with his brand of humor, his over the top nature and his insane ways he wears us out over time. Never in a bad way, but in a way that leaves us delightfully spent.

I don’t see much need to talk about the music in Amadeus, because it speaks for itself. I will never claim to have a sensitivity for classical music or a deep liking for the art form. I can appreciate great classical works when I hear them, albeit even with Mozart it is important to note that greatness is in the ear of the beholder, and my great may not be your great. But, I digress, the music in Amadeus is a pleasure to listen to, but it also works with the film. It carries the emotions of scenes, sets in motion turns in the narrative and helps guide us down the pathway of the genius in Amadeus.

I do see the need to talk about the acting in Amadeus, because it is superb across the board. F. Murray Abraham gives the performance of his career as Salieri. He is small and petty compared to Mozart, but that’s how he needs to be. He is spiteful and full of hate, he is a bit insane, but he brings forth the right emotions and always does so in a reserved, staid manner. Tom Hulce isn’t far behind as Mozart. He is everything Abraham can’t be, he is completely insane, funny, loud, obnoxious, crude, vulgar, full of conceit and a louse. Yet, Hulce manages to also show us Mozart as the genius, never wavering from a strength of conviction in his character, he believes Mozart is a genius and we believe in him. The rest of the cast is well rounded out and well fitted for their roles, but Amadeus was clearly the Abraham and Hulce film.

Amidst all this glowing praise, I did have two gripes with Amadeus. The first is in the outrage Constanze shows Salieri when she arrives back home to return to her husband. I understand this is explained in the director’s cut, but in the theatrical cut it seems sudden and doesn’t fit into any context within the film. My other problem is a big one and that is the nature of the narrative. Amadeus establishes a recollection narrative and spends the vast majority of the film entrenched in this style. It is after all a narrative that has been structured around an old man recalling to a priest what he knows through his own personal observations and anecdotal evidence provided by the maid he employed in the Mozart household. The film does take trips outside of this recollection style and it never feels true when it does so. None of the scenes where it does as such are integral to the story and for me it was a departure from the narrative that rang false.

Don’t let that last paragraph fool you, I may have a had a few problems with Amadeus, but it is still quite the film. It handles genius and petty jealousy in august fashion. The story goes to places that could have been dreadfully boring, but the music, the acting and the pace of the film keep a lively tone throughout. Most of us will never reach genius ourselves, Amadeus gives us the chance to witness true genius and hear it in action, a rarity or the soul that should never be missed.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

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