Movie Reviews

Movie Review: Amadeus – Rock Me Amadeus

Written by Peter Shaffer
Directed by Milos Forman

I confess that the year I graduated high school I probably wasn’t paying all that much attention to what I would term the more “cerebral” films which were released. I was laughing with my fellow graduates at offerings such as Bachelor Party or cringing at C.H.U.D. an. it’s commercials I still recall to this day. A film such as Amadeus simply didn’t make it onto my radar.

Twenty-two years later, I finally managed to view the film for the first time and I was stunned that I hadn’t seen it before now. I guess there’s something about being a teenager and being more concerned about the next installment of the Indiana Jones series.

Amadeus is told as a flashback by rival composer Antonio Salieri (portrayed by F. Murray Abraham) after he is confined to an asylum in the later years of his life. He tells of his intense jealousy and obsession with the man he sees as a rival, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (portrayed by Tom Hulce). Salieri claimed to have killed Mozart through poisoning, a claim that has never been proven to be true nor false. The story is from Salieri’s point of view, so that might color the story somewhat, but it is still a brilliant story of two musicians, one a genius and the other always in his shadow.

Mozart was a “pop” musician before they knew what that was. He was attached to the court in Salzburg and created an impressive volume of work. The problems facing the musicians of that time were much the same as I’ve heard from musicians of today, as the palace “A&R man” decimates his music a la Richard Marx’s “Don’t Mean Nothin’”:

The producer says, “let me change a line or two”
And a little bit of something can look awfully good to you And you want to scream, but you gotta keep it all inside. When you’re trying to make a living,
There ain’t no such thing as pride…

This is also seen when he is screamed at for “too many notes” in the opera he has composed. It is a brilliant piece of work that goes over the head of those around him who must find something, anything to criticize as if it somehow makes them better than him. Musicians were expected to compose on demand and satisfy whatever the whims were of their current patron, be it the Royal Court or other members of the aristocracy.

Tom Hulce is brilliant. His portrayal of Mozart as he goes through what would seem on the surface to be a charmed life is incredible. He makes all the facets of Mozart believable, from the public to the private side. He portrays Mozart as conceited, juvenile, rude, and loud – all of the characteristics which seem to drive Salieri crazy. Mozart doesn’t conform to society’s rules and seems all the more embraced by it.

F, Murray Abraham won an Oscar for his portrayal of Salieri and rightfully so. While Hulce might have had more fun with the impetuousness and unrestrained portrayal of Mozart, Abraham had a lot more to deal with. Right from the start, he knows Mozart has the talent he will never have, and the intensity of Salieri’s feelings toward the man he considers a rival is never overt, but Abraham pulls it off. Mozart never realized how Salieri feels about him, but viewers of the film sure do.

Amadeus is filmed beautifully. I loved the lighting as it came across as more natural in the settings used from the actual places Mozart once roamed in Austria. Overall the cinematography is stunning and worth appreciating in its own right. Of course, the music is terrific. Although I never took any formal music courses in his music, it’s easy to feel an appreciation for the brilliance of his work as well as its volume. It’s performed in the film by Academy of St. Martin in the Fields and they do a brilliant job.

Credit also goes to Director Milos Forman. He brought together a cast of virtual unknowns at the time and resisted the urge to use a big-name orchestra. The combination came together under his direction quite well. I think well-known actors would have taken away from the production rather than adding to it.

If you don’t think you’d like a movie like this, I urge you to give it a try. I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. The acting is terrific, the story is interesting ad surprisingly relates well to the music business today. The performances by the two leads are outstanding.

Special Features:

” Cast & Crew Biographies
” Behind the Scenes
” Casing
” Musical Notes
” Salieri and Mozart
” A Mozart Chronology
” Locations
” Awards
” Alternate Music-Only Track
” Theatrical Trailer

9 replies »

  1. Poor Antonio Salieri. He might not have been a Mozart, but he wasn’t as mediocre a composer as both the stage play and the script by Peter Shaffer suggest. In fact, as both Shaffer (who died in 2016 at the age of 90) and Milos Forman (who died in 2018 at the age of 86) admitted “Amadeus” was a “fantasia on the theme of Mozart and Salieri.”

    Interestingly, the notion that Mozart and Salieri were rivals was concocted much earlier by Russian dramatist Alexander Pushkin in his play “Mozart and Salieri.” In that melodrama, Pushkin didn’t even subtly suggest Salieri killed Mozart by poisoning him; he had his anti-hero kill Mozart on stage. Nevertheless, the rivalry between the two composers was fictitious, both in 1830 and in 1979, which is when Shaffer wrote the stage version of “Amadeus.”

    Salieri was a respected composer and music teacher. He wrote operas in three languages, and his music was a powerful influence on contemporary composers. In addition, Shaffer – for dramatic reasons – chose to portray Salieri as a dour bachelor who takes a vow of chastity, like a priest, in exchange for God’s favor in his musical endeavors. In truth, Salieri was married and had eight children.

    I love “Amadeus,” and I enjoyed the review you wrote. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to point out that Salieri, in the words of my college humanities professor, got a bum rap due to idle gossip, a play by a Russian playwright, and the sad fact that his music faded away not by mediocrity, but by the fickle ways of the music repertoire.

    • This is Hollywood and you know there has to be drama! It’s like watching all of the films about King Henry VIII and his many wives and thinking it’s gospel. I just finished with The Spanish Princess and that is going through my head as I’m watching – how do they know how these events occurred? Of course,t hey don’t so they fill in the blanks as they desire and add some Hollywood to it.

      Unfortunately, too many people see these films and take it as the truth. It’s one of the reasons I don’t like the mantra “it’s just a movie.” Too many people aren’t taking things that way, whether they realize it or not.

      • Speaking as both a film critic and a screenwriter, I heartily agree with you.

        Historical dramas are a staple of my video library; per my account’s breakdown of my collection, History is the eighth most common genre and makes up 3.4% of my collection. Biography (I don’t have a lot of biopics) is relegated to the Other Genres section. Amadeus is cataloged in four categories (Drama, Period, Biography, and Music, although it’s weighted more toward Drama than to the other three genres since, of course, it’s fiction and not a true biopic).

        When I was a lad (between the ages of 9 and 14), I understood that movies with historical settings came in two flavors: fictitious and adaptations of non-fiction books such as The Longest Day and A Bridge Too Far. It took me a while to understand that even movies based on non-fiction books must change things for dramatic purposes. It’s part of the devil’s bargain when you decide to dramatize something for a film intended to entertain and with only so much running time in which to tell your story. In fact, 1977’s A Bridge Too Far was the first war film based on a non-fiction book where I noticed the discrepancy between the story told on film and the literary source. Composite characters or fictitious names must be created, some events left out totally, and – of course – dialogue must be invented in situations where we don’t know what was said during the real event being depicted.

        Of course, in many ways I am not the average moviegoer. I seriously doubt that many of the people who watched A Bridge Too Far in the Dadeland Twin Theaters with me 44 years ago read Cornelius Ryan’s best-selling book from 1974. Some might have; I don’t believe I was the only one in the audience who had read A Bridge Too Far, which was a bestselling book in 1974. I do think, though, that many viewers did not and think the movie was 100% accurate. (It is not. I would estimate that at best, the film is 80% accurate compared to Ryan’s book.)

        And here’s the rub with films like Amadeus. When I watched it during its post-Oscar re-release in 1985 to get extra credit for my humanities class, I knew in advance that it was a work of fiction. My humanities professor was (and still is) a musician (he plays several instruments, including the glass harmonica) and taught Music Appreciation. He told us students that Amadeus was a fine drama and a showcase for Mozart’s music, but that Salieri was not as mediocre as Shaffer and Forman (and F. Murray Abraham) portray him. And since he later was music teacher to Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart after W.A. Mozart’s death, it is unlikely that Salieri had adversarial relationships with what my professor called “the rock star of the Classical Era.” (Fun fact: Salieri was also one of Beethoven’s music teachers in Vienna. So much for the ‘Salieri was a mediocre composer’ myth.)

        You and I both know Amadeus is fiction, albeit a beautiful, artistically superb one. Yet, since most Americans get their history from popular entertainment, there are many of them who, having watched Amadeus, probably believe it is a biopic and is at least 80% accurate. Shaffer and Forman are on record explaining that it is a fantasy, a tale told to entertain an audience, but definitely not a true story.

        Heck, if you look up Antonio Salieri’s image on Google, he looks nothing like F. Murray Abraham!

      • It’s one of the reasons I get so upset at the conditioning the public is getting for films to only be concerned about certain characters. Disaster movies – which I love as a genre – increasingly disturb me as I see the audience being conditioned to feel happy at the end because certain characters survive and not think about the millions of people killed throughout these events. I think it’s served to reinforce the selfish tendencies of our society where we only care about a select few. I know Hollywood is supposed to be “liberal,” but I think they have unwittingly encouraged a lot of what we are seeing now and why we are having so much trouble trying to get people to care about each other. They only cared about how to get the most profit, and didn’t see the larger picture.

        I’m not saying there’s a problem with movies and video games – other countries have them and do much better than us in terms of their sense of community. I’m saying it’s another contributing factor that is reinforcing seeing things only from a particular perspective; that what happens to the “main characters” is all that matters.

      • Hollywood is more or less conservative on the business end. The major studios are owned by huge corporations, many of which are multinational. As such, studio heads and boards of directors are interested in profit and keeping the stockholders happy.

        On the creative side, liberals seem to be in the majority, although there are quite a few well-known conservatives among the actors, writers, and directors who are the public face of Hollywood. Tim Allen, John Milius, Kelsey Grammer, Kirstie Alley, Jon Voight, Candace Cameron Bure and Clint Eastwood. Some get along well with their liberal colleagues and don’t make waves. Others are vociferous in their right-wing views and are so obnoxious that I can’t stand to watch their stuff. (Same thing goes for rabid left-wingers. I used to respect Oliver Stone as a director, and Danny Glover as an actor, but when they came out to support Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez before his death in 2013, I tuned them out. Extremism in either side is a big turn-off for me.)

        I get what you’re saying, though, and I agree with you. Disaster movies and even comic book movies often kill millions on-screen (I assume you are referring to films such as The Day After Tomorrow and Deep Impact, right?), and yet audiences are told subliminally that those deaths don’t matter much so long as “our heroes” prevail.

        Yep. I agree. It desensitizes us, little by little.

      • Yes, you are right about the films to which I am referring. The Marvel Universe attempted to address this somewhat in Civil War, but never really got to the core issue there.

      • As I understand it, Zack Snyder was criticized for showing much mayhem in the battle between Superman and Zod in Man of Steel without addressing the mass casualties in Metropolis that he had to address the issue in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

        More care needs to be taken by writers in this area, especially in genre movies where large numbers of people “die” onscreen.