Mainstream success brings money and fame. But for many artists this not only is insufficient, but also somewhat disgraceful. After watching Milos Forman’s Amadeus, one must ask themselves, was Forman satisfied with his newfound success in Hollywood? Forman uses the life of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his quite possibly fictional, and most definitely one-sided, rivalry with fellow composer Antonio Salieri, as a backdrop to explore his own insecurities as an artist. To explore the film in this manner, one must first put Forman in the role of Salieri. This may seem absurd since Forman is very talented and should not be jealous of anyone, but it is important to remember that this is a reflection of his insecurities, not the facts. The three main struggles of Forman shown in Amadeus are becoming a commercial artist, jealousy of other artists, and the fear of mediocrity.
The first artistic concern Forman confronts through the film is his worry of becoming too commercial or mainstream. Forman was born in Czechoslovakia, and until 1973 he was a Czechoslovakian filmmaker. Films such as Loves of Blondes and The Fireman’s Ball made him an art-house sensation, but in 1975 with his film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest he became a whole other type of sensation. The film won the Oscar for Best Picture, and he won for Best Director. The film’s great success officially made him a Hollywood filmmaker. This of course isn’t a bad thing. Cuckoo’s Nest is an incredible film, but it is clear that Forman was not so sure about where he was artistically. There is a scene in the film where Salieri’s newest opera is declared by the emperor as “the greatest opera that ever was”, but Salieri knows this isn’t true. No matter how many people come to see his music, and how few go see Mozart’s Salieri knows in his heart that Mozart is much better than he. Any praise he gets just frustrates him. Salieri longs to switch places with Mozart, and be the one who is poor and unliked, but most importantly talented. Salieri, like Forman, wants to be a true artist.
The next insecurity shown by Forman, jealousy of other artsists, is not so much insecurity, but more of a result of his other artistic insecurities. This is not special for Forman, but something that almost all artists face. Everyone wants to be the best, and wants there work to be soon. When another artist is superior it causes them to worry about their own ability. The plot of the film revolves around this issue. Salieri is so extremely jealous of Mozart’s talent that throughout the film he continually tries to sabotage Mozart, be it advising the emperor against Mozart’s wishes, or his final scheme, which eventually leads to the death of Mozart. Salieri’s actions are downright evil, but yet it is hard not to sympathize with him. He just wants to be a talented composer, and he sees Mozart as the one preventing him from this. If he can just lower the bar, maybe he could jump over it. This shows Forman’s (and almost all artist’s) secret desire for others to fail.
The final worry of Forman’s shown in this film, is the fear of being mediocre. Sadly being passionate and strong willed are not enough to make an artist truly great. An artist needs to have talent. Talent is something that you are born with, so the lack of it is really the only thing stopping a persistent artist. Sadly Salieri had very little talent. This frustrates him to the point of madness. He continually curses God for his misfortune, and dreams so dearly that he could no longer be so mediocre. He is not a bad composer, but he is not, he is not great, and he is definitely not Mozart. Forman is most definitely not mediocre, but without a doubt the fear of being mediocre was in the back of his mind. All Salieri can do is destroy those who are not mediocre, because there is no way around mediocrity, and Forman knew this.
In his film Amadeus, Milos Forman confronts his mental demons as an artist, by using the much-embellished story of rival composers Mozart and Salieri. The three main insecurities he explores are the worry of losing artistic integrity when becoming commercial, the jealousy and envy of other artists, and the terrifying idea of having little or no talent. It is somewhat ironic, and most definitely beautiful, that while confronting his artistic fears, he created his very best work of art.