The 1980s created a weird phenomenon in film: the popular films were very modern and geared at the young. While the 70s gave us more intellectually interesting films that were for older audiences (stuff like The Godfather, The Deer Hunter, and Taxi Driver), the 80s gave us popular films for teenagers, dealing with first-world problems and usually plotless (The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Sixteen Candles). The best films from the 80s (ET, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Back To The Future, THIS FILM) are, of course, timeless, but they seemed rare. The 80s were not a good time for serious cinema (cue me inbox filling up with people defending the films of the 80s). That makes Amadeus interesting as a product of it’s time, yet it never seems to be that. Amadeus is that rare film that sits outside of trends, tastes, opinions, and time itself and manages to create a work that can only be called genius.
Antonio Salieri is approached by a priest after a failed suicide attempt. Salieri confesses that he killed a man and proceeds to tell his tale. The man he killed was none other than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the child prodigy turned successful composer who may have been the most musically talented person who ever lived. However, Mozart himself was a rude and childish man who could not take care of finances and seemed to lack respect, etiquette, and humility. Salieri is a God-fearing man who was born with a gifted ear for music, but limited compositional talent. Seeing Mozart as an insult to him from God, Salieri plans to bring about his vengeance to both Mozart and God.
Despite the title, this is Salieri’s tale. We follow him as he learns who Mozart is and the envy he has for him. As such, the story does have an element of unreliable narration. And director Milos Forman (One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Man On The Moon, Hair, People Vs. Larry Flynt) loves that and uses it to create the best Mozart we could hope to see on film.
Tom Hulce’s performance as Mozart is not what many would expect a figure of the late 18th century to be like. He is childish, naive, like a “rock star” (Jim Morrison came to my mind while watching). He acts like a goofball because he is a free spirit. F. Murray Abraham’ Salieri is a sharp contrast: stuffy, religious, serious, and vengeful. These two act as opposites, but the most interesting aspect of the film is Mozart’s admiration for Salieri. It’s there and hard to ignore, since it creates a greater question: How would Salieri have turned out if he wasn’t envious of Mozart?
The film is either pure genius or a failure that turned in on itself to become genius. The fact that this was made in the 80s seems lost since it is, en every sense of the word, timeless. Few films can be as successful as Amadeus was and still is.
Directed by Milos Forman
F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge