Most people can name a few key composers; Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, some may toss in Wagner. However, few people have an interest in classical music. To make a film about an 18th century composer is almost certain financial destruction, unless it has a rambunctious and saucy energy like Amadeus. Nearly three hours of powdered wigs and composing symphonies would not be met with happy modern faces, unless Mozart was a man we could love and identify with. Most viewers will love him, not because of his dedication to finishing his Requiem or his stunning operas, but because he can giggle like a mad man, crawl on the floor after busty women and wear a pink powdered wig like he’s a rock star with true musical genius.
The film, directed by Milos Forman, is told in flashback, narrated by Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham), old and confined to an asylum. All his life, he wanted to be a great composer, “All I ever wanted was to sing to god.” He works dutifully, sacrificing all other things in his life just to write great music that will make him immortal, but with his keen ear Salieri knows he’s mediocre at best. Before he meets Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce), he has already heard of his grand reputation. To his dismay, Salieri first sees this young musical genius giggling, crawling under tables and talking about farting backwards. Recognizing the grandeur of Mozart’s music, Salieri is filled with envy and rage to see that this “vulgar creature” has such tremendous and natural talent for writing music. What boils him over is how carefree Mozart can write these amazing symphonies so easily and joyfully. Salieri then dedicates himself to destroying Mozart’s career.
The kicker to Salieri’s dastardly plot is that Mozart innocently considers Salieri a colleague and friend until the very end. As he struggles financially, finding pupils to teach and getting his new operas to the stage, he confides in Salieri, respecting his work and opinions in their field. Of course, the miserable Salieri enjoys this irony and uses it to his advantage, scaring Mozart with images of his domineering father and planning to take credit for his last symphony, his Requiem.
The entire film is visually beautiful in every way. Some of these shots look like paintings you would find hanging in the Louve with the same furniture you can find there as well. The lighting is always so rich, giving everything from the large ornate rooms to elaborate wigs and costumes such realism and depth. And though Mozart’s apartment is modest compared to most of the other scenes, it portrays his personality and lifestyle perfectly. The place is haphazardly cluttered, with no real thought put into where the furniture has been place. Hands of cards are left faced up on a table, several wine glasses are scattered about and on the piano. My favorite detail has to be that Mozart does not use a desk, but does most of his work bent over a pool table, casually rolling a ball as he writes. The best part is that room does not look large enough to comfortably shoot pool.
Amadeus is one of those rare, stunningly beautiful films that can engage a wide audience in a subject that people normally reserved for high class intellectuals. It’s almost like feeding the audience healthy vegetables, but they think it’s candy. This was a joyous treat for my eyes and ears, filled with hearty laughs for my spirit and a compelling narrative for my mind. Who could have imagined the booming depths of Mozart’s Requiem pairing so well with his giddy laughter?
“Forgive me, Majesty. I am a vulgar man! But I assure you, my music is not.”