Amadeus is an extremely well written story, covering the last ten years of Mozart’s massively prolific yet unusual life. I have read much that it paints a rather inaccurate picture of the genius’s life, and yet I am not dissuaded from ranking this film as one of the greatest made. The historical problem should be addressed first, because it draws the most criticism. I would advise anyone to shut out the self-righteous whining of those people who fancy themselves as Mozart experts, when they really have little solid evidence for their assertions. History is only seen by us in fragments, be they documents or eye witness accounts. These fragments certainly do not amount to a full picture of events, and so Milos Forman and Peter Schaeffer are perfectly entitled to form their own story of genius.
This issue aside, the picture is one of fantastic colour and scale, crammed with lavish costumes and wonderful architecture. This keeps the eyes occupied, but the ears get the biggest reward. The film uses a large amount of Mozart’s music, and does so in a way which is carefully considered. For example, when the insane and enfeebled Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) reminisces on the sheer beauty of Mozart’s compositions, we hear music to match his words, “And there… an oboe, high and unwavering… until a clarinet takes over, and forms a phrase of such longing…” The effect is deeply moving. Examples of this collaboration of music and picture are many; when Mozart (Tom Hulce) swaggers through the streets of Vienna taking swigs from a bottle of wine, we hear a jolly piano concerto; and he is hurled into a mass grave to the sorrowful Lacrimosa of his requiem mass. The music should move any viewer, however much they confess to hating anything classical. If you haven’t seen this film, watch, or rather listen, for the scene where Salieri inspects samples of Mozart’s music. The originality in switching the music as he turns the pages is profound. The acting is superb, particularly from Abraham. Hulce’s cackle provides comic relief, and his wonderfully child-like mannerisms are testament not only to his acting skills, but to Forman’s exceptional direction and vision. On the other hand, we are shown two moments of antithesis, namely when he is composing at his billiards table (his face taking on a look of such mature concentration), and when he is dictating his Confutatis to Salieri. Yes, we do get to see Mozart compose, and talk about tonic, dominant, second measures, etc. I would have preferred to have seen more of his thought processes though, because Forman’s glimpse of how Mozart applied his genius is extremely exciting to watch, but short lived. Characterisations are brilliantly engineered. Salieri is scheming and yet outwardly indifferent to Mozart. We can see that he loves the music of his superior, and yet is torn apart by his own inadequacy. Inadequacy is a fitting word for Salieri’s skill as portrayed by Forman, who wanted to give the greatest contrast possible in terms of the virtuosity of the two men, without making Salieri look like a complete cretin. He is, after all, known as maestro Salieri. Constanze Mozart (Elizabeth Berridge) is on first appearances a giggling girl, and yet through the course of the film we are shown that she is very shrewd, and is ruthless when dealing with finance. Roy Dotrice’s Leopold Mozart has a masterful air, and maintains an oppressive paternal hold over his son even after his death, the analogy being the use of an enveloping cloak. The cloak is used as part of Leopold’s street wear, but is also part of the costume of the statue in the first showing of Don Giovanni, where Salieri is certain that the imposing figure of the giant statue represents the recently deceased Leopold. In short, Forman presents us with a marvelous psychological essay on weakness and power, both superficial and real. This is obviously no average biographical motion picture, but a film conceived with an intelligence nearing that of it’s subject. We are shown Mozart’s virtuosity several times, which again provides wonderful excitement. He not only plays variations of his music thought up on the spot (at the party scene) but plays them in the styles of other composers, upside down. He infuriates Salieri by arranging a welcoming march actually written for Mozart (and taken to be wonderful by the Italian up to this point), showing off his outstanding skills whilst looking around at the assembled courtiers and cackling with glee. Those who have watched this scene with me have either laughed or smiled in sheer wonderment at a majestic combination of music, acting and direction. This film is a gem, combining sometimes ridiculous comedy with deep tragedy. On the negative side, it would benefit opera buffs more than concert goers, because opera is the dominant musical genre of the movie. (Specially designed opera productions have been woven into the film; greatly extending it’s length but adding that extra colour and vibrancy). The film becomes heavy and slow moving as it nears its astonishingly refreshing conclusion at the lunatic asylum, noticeable largely due to the contrast with a lighter beginning. This may test the patience of some viewers, but once the credits roll, I guarantee that the majority of those who have watched Amadeus will be struck by the passing of such a wonderfully colourful and rewarding masterpiece, and will not want to move from their seats until the tranquil piano concerto fades away. The film deserves all its eight Oscars, and I believe that this is the only best film of 1984.