Movie Project #33: Amadeus [1984]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

Amadeus [1984]

Amadeus [1984]
Director: Miloš Forman
Writers: Peter Shaffer (original stage play)
Country: USA
Genre: Biography/Drama/Music
Starring: F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge, Jeffrey Jones
Running Time: 160 minutes

Reason for inclusion: This is considered one of the all-time great music films, and it has appeared on countless lists (and won numerous awards).

Accolades: 53 award nominations with 40 wins, most notably 8 Oscars (including Best Picture), four Golden Globes and four BAFTA Awards, #95 on IMDB Top 250, #53 on AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movies

For a film named Amadeus, it’s a bit surprising that legendary composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart isn’t entirely the focal point of the story. In fact, the film is less of a biopic than it is a tale of jealousy combined with an overwhelming love of music.

The envious party is Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham), a fellow composer who has earned respect as the court composer for Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II (Jeffrey Jones). In the film’s opening scene, we see an elderly Salieri attempting to commit suicide by slitting his throat, all while screaming about how he killed Mozart. His attempt is unsuccessful, and he ends up in an insane asylum. When a Father (Richard Frank) visits him to take his confession, Salieri begins a long-winded spiel recounting his days as a rival of Mozart (Tom Hulce), all of which we see through flashbacks.

Salieri’s recollection mainly covers Mozart’s time in Vienna, essentially the last ten years of the young composer’s life. Salieri’s first glimpse of Mozart is rather amusing, and immediately it shreds any pre-conceived notions about classical artists we might have. Wolfgang (or “Wolfie” as he is later affectionately called) is childish, chasing a busty blonde throughout the palace, eventually even getting down on all fours to pull her out from underneath a table. A unique first impression, that’s for sure.

And then he laughs. Oh, what a laugh. Mozart’s obnoxious, high-pitched giggles catch many of the patrons off-guard. While shrill, his distinct laugh perfectly fits his offbeat demeanor.

Amadeus [1984]

In many ways, Mozart’s life is parallel to that of a modern day rock star. He rises to fame, gets married (to the aforementioned blonde, played by Elizabeth Berridge), keeps an unkempt home and then falls into a life of booze and erratic behavior in order to keep up with the pressures of his work. It’s interesting to see that even though the music has changed drastically over the years, the performers really aren’t that different.

The jealousy kicks in when Salieri realizes that he will simply never be as talented as his rival. Mozart is able to come up with bombastic pieces seemingly at whim, not even needing to make adjustments to what he writes down. It doesn’t help that upon hearing one of Salieri’s pieces for the first time, Mozart quickly tweaks it into something far superior, giving it little to no noticeable thought. Also, Salieri is deeply concerned that he will be forgotten throughout history, whereas Mozart will be fondly remembered (he was right — at least until this film came out).

F. Murray Abraham is tremendous as Salieri, and his performance demonstrates the burden of a man so stricken with jealousy that he will do anything to gain satisfaction. His smile as the Emperor yawns during one of Mozart’s extended plays is masterful, and you can’t help but empathize with his pleasure, however misguided it may be. Tom Hulce’s take on Mozart is the perfect complement, as the two men could not be any more different.

Amadeus [1984]

Although I enjoyed the focus on the rivalry, I can’t help but wish that we got to learn more about Mozart the man. Early on, shortly after getting married, his wife is shown as being pregnant. Not soon after that, a toddler appears, meant to be their son. No recognition is really given to his son — in fact, we never learn his name. It turns out that Mozart actually had six children, of which two only survived infancy (only the one is ever shown in the film). Perhaps a little more background on Mozart could have been given rather than including a lengthy vaudeville performance near the film’s final act.

Still, minor quibbles aside, Amadeus truly is an impressive piece of filmmaking. The attention to detail is astounding and true to the period, and the performances, especially Abraham’s, are phenomenal. As someone who knows little about classical music, I still found the film to be very engaging. If you enjoy classical music and/or operas, well, you’re bound to *love* this film.


23 thoughts on “Movie Project #33: Amadeus [1984]

  1. C. T. Murphy says:

    Amadeus is my favorite movie of all time, and one of the very few things I don’t question. In other words, I am biased.

    While I don’t completely disagree that more Mozart would’ve been nice (and that the kid is a complete throwaway), the movie isn’t intended to be about Mozart. It’s about Salieri, his jealousy, but also his love of Mozart. In other words, it is Mozart shown through the eyes of one of his most passionate fans.

    I think that’s why they picked the name Amadeus rather than Mozart. The film is about Salieri’s obsession with Mozart as a ‘beloved of God’, despite being an impious cretin.

    • Eric @ The Warning Sign says:

      “In other words, it is Mozart shown through the eyes of one of his most passionate fans.”

      That’s spot on, man, and I agree with what you’re saying. Like I mentioned in the review, I did enjoy the whole rivalry angle, and I thought that was very well done, but it just felt strange to completely gloss over major life events such as having a son and losing multiple children during infancy. Still, a really enjoyable movie overall, and Abraham’s performance is out of this world.

  2. CMrok93 says:

    Great movie, especially since Abraham is so damn good. Shame the rest of his career didn’t pan out to much, although I always love seeing him when he randomly shows up in stuff. Good review Eric.

  3. ruth says:

    I saw this years ago and I agree it’s a great biopic! F. Murray Abraham was excellent indeed as Salieri, he was nominated wasn’t he? Definitely Oscar-worthy!

  4. The Blog of Big Ideas says:

    An awesome film, definitely one of my all-time favorites. F. Murray Abraham’s role as Salieri also ranks in my top 10 male performances, if not top 5.
    I can’t say I agree with your comment about the film needing a bit more Mozart. In fact, I never even thought about it. I think the film was clearly not about him, but about the man who envied him and the tension between the two personalities.
    Back when Milos Forman and the studio that backed him announced they were making a film about Salieri and his relationship with Mozart, it’s like everyone in Hollywood knew it was going to be a great success. The part of Salieri was heavily contested and some big names showed interest. Thankfully, Forman stuck to his initial idea for the film and insisted on casting a relatively unknown actor, a common-looking person, and he could not have picked a better man to fulfill this role.
    Nice review!

    • Eric @ The Warning Sign says:

      Interesting bit of trivia there, Niels. I wasn’t aware of the casting frenzy. It does seem that Forman had the right idea to go with an “unknown” — Abraham is incredible in this.

      But yeah, perhaps I should have worded that particular paragraph better. I really liked the focus on the rivalry between Mozart and Salieri; I just found it strange that such major events of Mozart’s life were glossed over. It threw me off a little to even introduce his son to the film, especially as we never even learned his name.

      • The Blog of Big Ideas says:

        You may have a point about the need to introduce a son into the equation when it obviously did little for the story as a whole. Perhaps it was done to make Mozart look like more of a tragic figure, whose desire to be good was overcome by the weight of his genius and lack of character. Having a son automatically makes the stakes higher and his collapse all the more calamitous.

  5. SDG says:

    I haven’t seen it in over a year but I think you mirror most of my concerns. While I was impressed with most of it, especially their rivalry, music involved in it, set design and costumes, they touched on many topics never to go back to them again, as you mentioned his son.

    Yesterday, I heard someone say that basically the film should be called Salieri, not Amadeus and I have to agree. He is far more interesting character and at least is made out to be. I don’t know the truth of it but I am also not sure about how I like portraying a genius like they do in Amadeus.

    • Eric @ The Warning Sign says:

      Yeah, Salieri was a very interesting character, and I liked that we got to see things from his perspective in the film. I guess when looked at that way, it makes sense that some major topics would be glossed over, but I think in the context of the film they could have been avoided altogether.

  6. atmyrenaissance says:

    i remember watching this movie when I was really young, like 10. I will say there are two versions, the regular version and one with a few extended scenes. The regular version that everyone has seen and the other version that has a few extra scenes where let’s just say you can see why there is anger from Mozart’s wife towards Salieri near the end of the movie. Salieri comes across as a darker individual.

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