Thursday, September 29, 2011

Amadeus (1984) DVD / a Milos Forman film based on a play by Peter Shaffer; starring F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge & Jeffrey Jones

"I heard the music of true forgiveness filling the theater, conferring on all who sat there, perfect absolution. God was singing through this little man to all the world, unstoppable, making my defeat more bitter with every passing bar."

Ever since he was a teenager, Antonio Salieri has been Wolfgang Mozart's biggest fan. When the then boy wonder Mozart was wowing the most respected audiences of Europe, Salieri himself had been ardently striving to achieve even an ounce of the majesty that the prodigy possessed. Now only a few years later and in a position to meet and procure the comradery of the Austrian genius, Salieri, himself a moderately successful court composer, is finally introduced to the world's most popular musician only to be horrified by the crude, insincere spoiled brat that is the young Mozart. The man they call the greatest maestro of them all, the man on whom God has bestowed such talent and the granted such an incredible magnitude of singular prowess is little more than a childish baffoon who flouts convention, spouts profanity and prefers tasteless jokes to well-mannered conversation. Even Mozart's own father, Wolfgang, Sr., disgusted at his son's garish antics and refusal to remain with him at home in Salsburg, has essentially let the boy (still in his early twenties circa 1780) alone to do his thing in Vienna where his talent and ingenuity will need to win over the Austrian Emperor and the other pompous court composers like Salieri.

And so he does. To no one's real surprise, Mozart not only wins over the court but the whole empire and indeed the entire world as, in the course of the next ten or so years, the composer revolutionizes music and European culture through his extraordinary repertoire of symphonies (25th and 40th of note), operas (The Magic Flute, Don Giovanni, The Marriage of Figaro, etc.) and assorted concertos, arias, sonatas and choral arrangements (i.e., The Requiem Mass). The only one not overwhelmed by such an epochal transcendence of musical genius upon humanity is Salieri who's simply incensed with the fates and with God himself ("from now on you and I are enemies") for gifting the irreverent Mozart with such skill. So enraged with malice is Salieri that he begins to plot the end of the man he once revered as a peerless master but now loathes with a recrimination so vengeful that he'd rather be committed to an asylum than have to listen to his music again.

Oscars aplenty for Best Director, Picture and Leading Actor (for Abraham, not Hulce) as well as for Sound and Costumes, enormous praise from the international community and a lasting impression of what a period piece should be are all wonderful but it's Mozart's laugh which makes this film a memorable one. A shamelessly off key cackle which breaks the stuffy serenity of all it encounters, it's the one and likely only aspect of the movie which registers at an atonal level. It's been claimed that the concept for it derives from correspondence written by second and third parties who characterize "an infectious giddy . . . like metal scraping glass" laugh which the composer possessed though little record of this has been substantiated. Employed as a dramatic device in the film, it brilliantly captures the mocking "laughter of the gods" which Abraham's Salieri hears in both the literal and figurative sense. Only 35 when he died in 1791, not by poison as the film speculates on but rather a likely rheumatic fever, Mozart remains immortal as a man who gave the world several lifetimes worth of resplendent music. (DVD AMADEUS) 

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