Skip to main content

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #136: Amadeus

I will never go to the opera, but I consume movies like food so watching Milos Forman’s Amadeus (1984) is probably the closest I will ever get to spending a night at the opera. There have been plenty of biographies about singers and artists, but most of them are about rock musicians who ascend to greatness before crashing and burning because of their drug addiction. The life of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart doesn’t feature any cocaine-fuelled downfalls, but it still has plenty of drama courtesy of a scheming competing artist straight out of a Shakespeare play.

The movie was a massive critical hit when it was released in the 1980s and made a star out of F. Murray Abraham as the man planning Mozart’s downfall. It also had the unfortunate side effect of having him be pigeon holed as a villain for many movies to come, something that was referenced in the action movie parody Last Action Hero. In that meta movie within a movie the young protagonist tries to warn Arnold Schwarzenegger’s action hero about Abraham’s character by telling him he killed Mozart, which was a bit of a spoiler since I hadn’t seen Amadeus yet and did not know about the story. I got caught up on the whole thing last year when the director’s cut became available on Netflix, and fortunately there is a lot more to the story than a simple murder.

The story does open with composer Antonio Salieri (Abraham) attempting suicide in 1823 for his guilt over the murder of Mozart. Taken to an asylum a priest (Richard Frank) tries to offer him comfort and their conversation eventually veer into Salieri’s confession and life story. In a way it all has to do with fame, since the priest cannot identify any of Salieri’s music, but he has no problem with anything made by Mozart. Yet by all accounts Salieri tried to do everything right to be a great composer by devoting himself to God, avoiding all distractions in life, and working hard. His work was rewarded with respect, money, and a job as the court composer for Emperor Joseph II (Jeffrey Jones) in Vienna.

Unfortunately his hard work becomes overshadowed by the arrival of Mozart (Tom Hulce) whom Salieri at first admires and thinks his music is a gift from God. Upon meeting Mozart he believes God must be toying with him since Mozart is a buffoon, running around like a child after his gorgeous wife Constanze (Elizabeth Berridge), and has a squeaky laugh that would make The Joker proud. Despite his lack of good manners, decorum, and fear of God, there is no denying that Mozart is a musical genius since he can memorize a march after hearing it only once and is able to compose incredible operas as though they were flowing from his fingers. Seeing an idiot be able to easily create what takes the average person hundreds of hours to perfect is enough to shake your faith in a higher power, which is exactly what happens to Salieri.

However Mozart like all people is flawed. Unlike Salieri he is not good with money and eventually finds himself in financial difficulty. His stern father (Roy Dotrice) does not approve of his lifestyle and his death leaves Mozart emotionally unstable. Salieri sees this as his way to destroy his rival and possibly claim some of his compositions as his own. Through lies and manipulations he worsens Mozart’s situation and inserts himself in his life pretending to be his friend. This is not exactly Mark David Chapman shooting John Lennon, but in a way it is worse since Salieri is taking months to kill his victim.

There are two obvious great performances here. As the titular composer Hulce gets the showier role since Mozart is always the centre of attention whenever he gets into a room, but his performance gets more nuanced and tragic as Mozart gets obsessed with work and falls ill. Then there is Abraham who is not just a villain, since from the beginning we see he feels guilt over his actions. It’s hard not to feel some sympathy for a man who was working hard for his work, but then felt jealousy over a rival who seemed to operate on another level than most human beings.


The gorgeous period costumes, set pieces, and the music give the audience the impression they are actually watching an opera, which is greatly helped by the tragic nature of the story. At 160 minutes this makes for a long story, but even if you hate operas you certainly won’t be bored by Forman’s film.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #70: Stand by Me

Another clear influence on Stranger Things, Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me (1986) portrays American kids from a lost era in which they could go on an adventure away from home. Nowadays if children go missing for more than an hour parents try to locate them using cell phone apps, but in the story written by Stephen King four boys in 1959 Oregon go walking in the woods during a long weekend to look for, of all things, a dead body. Their lives are sometimes at risk, they have no way of communicating with their parents, but they will definitely have a story to remember for the rest of their lives.
For many North Americans adults this movie fondly reminded them of a time in their childhood despite the inherent danger. Not so for me since, first of all, there was no time in my childhood when I could possibly go out of the house for more than three hours without my mom getting in her car to go look for me. The there is the fact that I spent a good chunk of my childhood living in Chile and Peru, an…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #364: Natural Born Killers

Natural Born Killers (1994) is not so much a movie as an American nightmare come to life. Loosely based on a story by Quentin Tarantino, starring some of the wildest actors in Hollywood at the time, and boasting a level of violence that unfortunately inspired copycat crimes, it is the textbook definition of controversial. In all fairness there are important messages amidst all the violent mayhem, but director Oliver Stone throws so much content at the screen that these messages can sometimes get lost in the carnage.
Even though the movie came out more than two decades ago it still has a legendary status, which I learned about while reading a chapter in a book about Tarantino’s career. The book, Quintessential Tarantino, contained a lot of interesting facts about the making of the movie and also spoiled the ending, but reading a few words that describe a killing spree is very different than seeing it portrayed on screen. A few years ago the director’s cut became available on Netflix, wh…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #29: Die Hard

This year I have been going all over the place with this Greatest Movies List, sometimes reviewing the next movie on the list, sometimes reviewing one I saw a few weeks ago. Since I am playing fast and loose with the rules, and since this is the Holiday season, why not skip down the list to what is arguably one of the all time greatest Christmas movies, Die Hard (1988)? Some people like to spend the Christmas season watching an angel get its wings, some like to watch a millionaire learn the meaning of Christmas, I like to watch Alan Rickman read the words “Now I have a machine gun. Ho. Ho. Ho.”
After five movies I think even the most die-hard fans (wink) would agree this franchise has gone on for too long, but the first three movies are some of the best action movies of the 80s and 90s. I actually watched them out of order, starting with the second one, followed by the third and eventually making it to the one that started it all at Nakatomi Plaza on Christmas Eve. Watching those movi…