Director: Milos Forman
Screenplay: Paul Shaffer
Stars: Tom Hulce, F. Murray Abraham, Elizabeth Berridge
Original Release Date: 19 Sep 1984
Oscars: 8. (Picture, Director, Actor – F. Murray Abraham, Editing, Screenplay, Costume Design, Art Direction, Cinematography)
Critics and Users
Rotten Tomatoes: 95% Berardinelli: 4.0 , #22 all time Top 100
Metacritic: n/a Ebert: 4.0 #1 movie of 1984
IMDB Top 250: #90
“This movie is on the altar of my love for the cinema”. Dan Burjoski
Well, that was actually Roger Ebert . But the way he feels about The Third Man is the way I feel about Amadeus. I can tell you the story of when I saw it, why I saw and where. I still vividly remember my reaction to the movie: I left the theatre and for the first time thought to myself “this is the best movie I have ever seen”. It has been at or near the top of my list for many years.
Murray Abraham plays Antonio Salieri, court composer to Emperor Joseph II of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The movie starts with the aging Salieri, confined to an asylum, confessing to a young priest. The old man seems hardly insane but he tells the young clergyman that he murdered Mozart. The movie then takes us in flash backs to their parallel lives. Salieri was a man of considerable taste but mediocre talent. He could recognize the genius of Mozart, the ease with which he composes as if “he was taking dictation from God.”
F. Murray Abraham’s brilliant Oscar winning portrayal of Salieri. His make up for the scenes of him as an old man took four hours a day.
Let’s forget its historical accuracy or lack thereof. The movie is true to the nature of the relationship and is a great historical reproduction of how and opera came to be in Mozart’s time. But moreover, it is homage to a genius and a study of the seething jealousy of a man who can see it but not emulate it. Mozart’s very existence is a reminder to Salieri of his extreme mediocrity.
Director Milos Forman filmed the movie in his native Prague, which better suited the recreation of 18th century Vienna. The movie rightfully swept the technical Oscars as well as the major awards. In addition to being entertaining, compelling, fun and amusing, it’s a visual feast.
The movie’s title, which is Mozart’s middle name, means From God. It plays into Salieri’s belief that Mozart, a vulgar, perverted, immature man, was God’s chosen composer, while he, a chaste man of deep religious beliefs, was cursed with second rate talent.
Mozart is not portrayed as a burdened tortured genius but rather a fun loving puerile drunkard whose genius comes all to easy to him. When asked where an opera is that is supposed to start rehearsal in a week, Mozart says “Here, in my noodle. The rest is just scribbling and bibbling”. He had it written in his head.
In the movie’s final climatic great scene, Mozart, ridden with disease lay dying in bed and he is essentially dictating music to Salieri, music Salieri intends to steal as his own for Mozart’s requiem mass. We see and hear the music build, layer over layer and Salieri in complete awe of what is streaming forth from Mozart’s fertile brain. It’s one of my favourite scenes in all of film.
Amadeus holds a unique place in cinematic history. It is a Oscar winning best picture that never cracked the Top 5 in weekly box office. It is at the same time a sweeping epic, but yet approaches comedy at times. It spawned an unusual international #1 pop song and its soundtrack is amongst the best selling classical albums in history. It takes incredible risks and pulls them off with confidence. It could easily top my list.
For me, it represents everything a great film should be.
Salieri: Mediocrities everywhere… I absolve you… I absolve you… I absolve you… I absolve you… I absolve you all.
The performance of Don Giovanni was filmed on the very stage where it was first performed.
A young Cynthia Nixon who later gained international fame in Sex and the City, plays Mozart’s maid.
Tim Curry and Mark Hamill both vied for the role of Mozart. Both went on to play the role on Broadway. Mel Gibson and Mick Jagger were also considered for the role.
Director Milos Forman chose an all American cast and insisted they do no use accents. This was so they could concentrate on the character rather than the accent.
Prague was still under communist rule at the time of filming. This made it ideal since things like asphalt and TV antennas were very rare. As a result, almost all sets are Prague of 1984. Only four sets had to be built for the entire three hour film.
During the Oscar ceremony, an aging Sir Laurence Olivier awarded best picture. He simply read the winners name, Amadeus and forgot to list the other nominees. When he accepted the award, Producer Saul Zaentz, with great subtlety and class, acknowledged the other four nominees.