Amadeus (1984), or Musical Chairs

16 11 2009

One of the most celebrated films of all time, Amadeus has always been a single inch away from my play-list, and it took a fellow lover of film named Jacob to suggest it to my face for me to actually get off my duff and watch it. And am I ever glad I did! Amadeus really is a must-see; now that I’ve seen it, I rue the years spent living without having seen it. It’s a very beautiful film about the aching, sorrowful differences between the unreachable heights of true genius and the rolling, lame slopes of mediocrity, and how that can lead to enmity that shouldn’t have existed at all.

It begins with an attempted suicide and a tearful confession. An old man in 1823, the famous Italian composer Salieri to be precise, is in a mental institution for trying to kill himself after confessing to the murder of Mozart. A priest comes in to talk him out of his horrible malaise, and advises that perhaps confessing will ease his heart. Salieri confesses for nearly a day and a half, setting a scene that recounted the contentious relationship between he and fellow composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He recalls his youth as a devoutly God-fearing man who believed that his life as a composer was a blessing from the Lord himself. He lived under the patronage of the Austrian Archbishop of Salzburg, and made very pretty music that suited the age and his peers. But when Mozart bursts into his patron’s palace to play a piece, everything changes. Salieri regards Mozart’s music as magical, miraculous, but when he sees him off-stage and hears how inappropriate and lewd he is, he doesn’t know what to think. He slaves to write Mozart a March of Welcome, which Mozart, upon receiving it, improvises upon and makes it better! This creates a conundrum for Salieri; he believed that Mozart was somehow touched by God and given a voice to create wonderful music, but now that he has seen Mozart, he feels that God has forsaken him. He hatches a plan to get back at both God and Mozart that is both insidious and cunning, and it requires him to do things he never would have even considered before that damn Mozart came into the picture. Will Salieri’s envious heart and devious mind end up costing him his very soul and Mozart his life? Or are these merely the ramblings of a senile old man?

This was such a splendid piece that my spirits were lifted for the rest of the day after I left the TV screen. Its scope is grand, its vision is elegant and truly gorgeous, and its emotional strength is bolstered exponentially by some of the greatest music ever recorded. It’s a movie that has its roots in the darkness of the human soul, but doesn’t forget to make us laugh. And would you believe that a movie called Amadeus really isn’t about Mozart? This is a story about jealousy, a jealousy that is inspired by Mozart’s incredible talent, and the man himself, while featured prominently, is really more of a source of ire for Salieri rather than a main character.

Directed by Milos Forman, famous for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and, well, THIS movie, Amadeus is exultant in its amazing look at the Classical period in European music created by a man who surely understood its power. Forman transports us to a time of a life at court, composing for the wealthy and educated, a time in music that changed the world forever, breaking away from the Baroque in a way that would pave the way for composers throughout the next 200 years. Forman’s greatest achievement, as a director, though, is getting the larger-than-life stories of these two men on the screen and squeezing it in to a tasteful 181 minutes. The tumultuous relationship between these two geniuses is nothing short of phenomenal, and it must be said that with everything that happens, it certainly doesn’t feel like a 3 hour film (unlike the recent 150 minute debacle of 2012).

The leads here were so good that the Academy Awards gave them a rare double nod for Best Actor. F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce are Salieri and Mozart respectively, and each plays their characters like true acting powerhouses. F. Murray Abraham never really got the break he deserved in Hollywood, and I think this should be his Exhibit A for getting a second chance. His Salieri is so good that I can’t really separate the truth from the fiction now. If someone told me that Salieri didn’t act so cavalier and didn’t hold a grudge like a champ, I don’t know if I would believe him. And Tom Hulce… Tom Hulce is incredible. He gets every nuance about Mozart that anyone ever wrote about him. His high-pitched weird laughter, his relationships with his friends and family, and even his unexpected love of poop and fart jokes! That’s right, both in real life and in this film, Mozart thinks farts are the funniest thing since Chuck Norris! He brings it up a few times, and if you don’t laugh when Mozart lets one rip, I will officially question your humanity.

It’s a timeless, wonderful film set in the most extravagant time in Western Europe, and I don’t think anybody’s DVD collection would be complete without it. If you have a sensibility that is classy with a tinge of weird, you have one major priority right now; go see Amadeus! It’s well worth the time you put into it; it might be the wisest investment of exactly 181 minutes you’ll ever make. The two leads are phenomenal, the director is extremely invested, and the music is some of the best of all time! You’ll never look at classical music the same way again! I give Amadeus 10 Mozart farts out of 10! My highest recommendation!

Tomorrow we give the site a shot of the classical sauce again with Tenacious D and The Pick of Destiny! Until then!