AMADEUS

(1984)
With F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge, Simon Callow, Roy Dotrice, Christine Ebersol, Jeffrey Jones
Directed by Milos Forman
Reviewed by JB

     As decades go, the 1980s is sometimes maligned as a vapid, era of feelgood movies (I don't agree, but the reputation stands).  Yet, looking at it from the even more vapid perspective of 2010, it seems amazing, almost unbelievable, that there was a time when a film about a rivalry between classical composers could be one of the biggest box office hits of the year.  AMADEUS, the highly fictionalized story of the life and death of the great Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, was the twelfth most popular release of the year, beating out such films as THE TERMINATOR, FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER (yeah, right) and BACHELOR PARTY.  It won Best Picture of 1984.

     While AMADEUS should not be used as research for a term paper on the life of Mozart, it is an engrossing character study of a man who is in a moral quandary. Composer Antonio Salieri, who had devoted his life to music, discovers that it is Mozart, not he, who has been touched by God.  Salieri worships Mozart's music, but is driven to thoughts of murder because he cannot accept that God would have passed over him and given such talent to a complete horse's ass, a "boastful, lusty, smutty, infantile boy" as Salieri describes him  F. Murray Abraham won a well-deserved award for Best Actor for his portrayal of the envious yet worshipful Salieri.  The film is framed by Salieri's confession to a priest late in life, as the elderly composer, consigned to an insane asylum, relates the entire tale from when he first met Mozart to the day of his funeral.  His close to the vest performance is counterbalanced by Tom Hulce's freewheeling, intentionally irritating turn as Mozart himself. as a spoiled man-child given to profanity, scatological humor and drunkenness, yet still able, indeed devoted, to composing some of the most incredibly beautiful music of all time.

    It should be noted that the legend of Salieri killing Mozart is merely that - a legend.  In real life, Salieri and Mozart were cordial, if not exactly best friends.  As in the film, Salieri was an enthusiastic supporter of Mozart's music.  Also, as in the film, Salieri's work went out of fashion and was forgotten.   However, as much as this film trashed Salieri's character, it did at least bring interest back to the man's music.  He was a talented composer, though not on the level of Mozart.  Then again, aside from Beethoven and a handful of others, who was?

    Again - highly fictionalized, but still one of the best films of the 1980s. 4½ - JB

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