DVD Review Of Amadeus
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 4/22/07
In all the years since its release, Iíd never seen the 1984 Oscar winning best film Amadeus, partly because classical music did not interest me, and partly because I have an aversion to Ďperiod dramasí, and all their costumery. As the years have gone on, and my wife has nagged me to see this favorite of hers, I finally gave in and bought the two DVD Directorís Cut version, released in 2001, of this biopic on the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who along with Beethoven is considered one of the two greatest composers of all time. This version is almost forty minutes longer than the original, and clocks in at nearly three hours.
I found that the film was not at all as I expected- a staid Merchant-Ivory type production mixed with a hint of Masterpiece Theater. This was both good and bad. On the positive side is the very dramatic structure of the film, being told from Mozartís inferior rivalís, Antonio Salieriís (F. Murray Abraham), point of view. On the down side is the over the top performance by Tom Hulce, as Mozart, especially with that pointlessly distracting guffaw. Also, as the DVD delineates which scenes were altered, extended, or added in toto, it becomes obvious that director Milos Formanís original cut was the superior, as none of the added scenes adds palpably to the thrust of the film. Yes, I liked the added scene of Mozartís wife, Constanze (Elizabeth Berridge), getting naked to try to sexually please Salieri, to advance her husbandís career, for Berridge was certainly a major hotty with the body back then, but, despite my prurient interest, the scene is pointless.
In the commentary track by Forman (who also directed One Flew Over The Cuckooís Nest) and playwright Peter Shaffer (Equus), whose play the film was adapted from by him, itís clear that Shaffer found many of the additions unnecessary and had more than one disagreement with Forman. Forman, however, makes an excellent point when he states that he always wants to make sure his minor characters are played by memorable actors, to enhance the realism of the film. This is a tack that very few writers realize, as most minor characters in even better works of fiction are merely throwaways. The music, of course, is top notch, as is the staged choreography by Twyla Tharp. But, this film really is a showcase for Abrahamís version of Salieri, for which he won a Best Actor Oscar, beating out Hulce, the only time Salieri ever bested Mozart. The film, shot in Prague, but set in Vienna, opens in the 1820s, three or more decades after Mozartís death. Salieri attempts suicide, and when a young priest (Richard Frank) comes to shrive him in the asylum heís been living in, he apologizes for killing Mozart.
Although this is clearly a metaphor, the priest is troubled, and listens to Salieriís discursion. Salieri loved music, but was denied it, till a miracle occurred, and his father died. He then rose to Court Composer for the King of Austria, but always felt dogged by the child prodigy Mozart. We learn of Salieriís revulsion for the vulgar Mozart, who mocks Salieriís music with farts, and his fascination with him. Salieri took vows of chastity so that he could have the gift of music, yet Mozart whored about, and could write far greater music with almost no effort. Thus, his vow to destroy The Creature, as he calls his rival. In the end, he concocts a Byzantine plot to drive Mozart mad with visions of his dead and demanding father, after attempts to squelch his career in other ways failed miserably. This leads to Constanze leaving him, taking their child, and Mozart falling into decadent despair. He ends up ill, and collapses at a vaudeville performance of his work. Salieri then takes him home. Will he finally murder Mozart?
No. Instead, he writes down the dictated final piece of music, the Requiem Mass, that will be Mozartís last. When done, Constanze returns, only to find Salieri with Mozart. She hurls accusations, but Mozart defends him, then expires. Salieriís life is then one of a slow fade to forgotten mediocrity. As he finishes telling this tale to the priest, Salieri is carted through the asylum, where he blesses the insane, defending them as his people, as he is the Saint of Mediocrity.
Unfortunately, in either version, this is nowhere near a great film. Itís a fun, solid romp, but the American accents and slang that infiltrate Eighteenth Century Viennese society are just too much, as is Hulce as Mozart. No, a staid portrayal of the man would have been dull, but a genius as idiot savant, or a step above, is not worthy of this dramatic treatment, either. That it only heightens Salieriís frustration is dramatically defensible, but since the whole notion of Salieriís envy and hatred of Mozart is a historical fiction, there really was no reason to go so over the top in the first place.
The rest of the cast does fairly well. Berridge as the clueless wife, Jeffrey Jones, as Emperor Joseph, is a dolt with a heart, who doesnít understand how to run his own life, much less a nation. On the second DVD there is an hour long documentary that has some insights, but Iíve seen better and more informative ones. Had the DVD been issued in the last year or two it would have been on a single DVD, for there really no need for two DVDs nowadays. All in all, I would recommend the film, but as a light diversion, not a serious inquiry in to art nor the artistic mindset. That film has yet to be made.
[An expurgated version of this article originally appeared on the Hackwriters website.]
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