16 June 2008

73. amadeus

"why would god choose an obscene child to be his instrument?" -- salieri

the movie is about a man obsessed. not mozart. he is shown to work extremely hard at his music, but he is also shown to have his vices -- chasing women around when we first see him, but also trying on wigs, holding court at parties, and drinking, always drinking.

the man obsessed is salieri, and he is obsessed almost exclusively because he has no vices as mozart does. he see salieri doing nothing except music. he lives music, breathes music, loves music. the tragedy of his character is that he is merely mediocre at it, and therefore hates that mozart is a genius and that it comes so easily to him.

titles are important! and the title here gives an insight into what the movie is really about. "amadeus" is loosely translated as "god's love", and, in salieri's opinion, mozart has indeed received god's love, while he, salieri, was foresaken. and he is jealous. salieri feels that god has given up on him, so he tries his best to get back at god by giving up on religion, burning his cross, tempting mozart's wife to commit adultery. of course, all these schemes fail, just as his final plan to steal mozart's deathbed requiem, and later, his attempt to kill himself. and in the end, mozart has (literally) the last laugh.

"forgive me, your majesty. i'm a vulgar man, but my music is not." -- mozart

the acting in the movie is remarkable. the main thing this movie does well is that it creates a realistic period piece, and uses casting to make it seem contemporary and to humanize the characters. certainly we see this in the writing (mozart's scatological word games), but tom hulce makes mozart a living, breathing man with faults and charms, money problems and social foibles, and a ridiculous laugh. in other words, he was a man in the flesh before he became a legend in the memory.

f. murray abraham also gives a remarkable performance as salieri. he makes us understand, if not empathize, with a man teeming with jealousy and envy. after all, who hasn't done something we love but been bad at it? in salieri we have yet another character who is utterly reprehensible, butwe indentify. and abraham's acting is a model in restraint. his choices in making the character largely reactive were smart -- we see him squirm at almost every interaction with mozart while he silently seethes underneath the surface. and we see him shatter at the end when mozart forgives him on his deathbed, and then shatter ever more when his scheme to steal the work is locked up shut. even in his final looney-bin absolving, he plays the character small. many actors these days should take note to not always go over-the-top.

"is it modern?" -- emperor joseph

it is also directed so well. for one thing, since the movie is from salieri's perspective and the narrative is from his memory, everything is shown in either medium or long shots. we get almost no close-ups to speak of, and are always kept at a distance. salieri wants to get close to mozart's greatness, but he's always at arms' length. we also have graceful use of flashbacks, and flashbacks within flashbacks. always cut with great sound design and music placement, never jarring.

and most wonderfully, we see, in purely filmic terms from a juxtaposition of images and sound, how the creative process works, from inspiration to realization. watch as mozart is berated about his treatment of his wife, and how with two simple zooms and an audio mix, followed by a quick cut, we see a nagging lady's words turn into an opera singer's stagework. and in the deathbed requiem scene, we hear mozart dictate and hum the words and notes as the soundtrack plays what follows. all economical ways to show this process of making great music, a process salieri comes close to, but never quite understands.

"all men are equal in God's eyes." - father volger

as salieri responds, are they?


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