Review by Michael Jacobson
F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge, Christine Ebersole,
Director: Milos Forman
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.32:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 180 Minutes
Release Date: September 24, 2002
you know who I am?”
matters not. All men are equal in
Amadeus Mozart…considered by many modern musical scholars to be the greatest
composer of all time, he went from a small town child prodigy to a distinguished
writer of operas, symphonies and more, yet died virtually penniless and dumped
unceremoniously into an unmarked pauper’s grave.
that’s if you subscribe to the life story of the man as poured out in Amadeus.
A simple stage play by Peter Shaffer, it became one of the biggest
event movies of the 1980s, winning a staggering eight Academy Awards, critical
and popular acclaim, and giving Herr Mozart the biggest career comeback this
side of John Travolta. Nearly twenty years later, it’s a film that remains
ingrained in our culture, filled with memorable performances, beautiful sets and
costumes, and a lurid tale of jealousy and revenge.
Oh, and let’s not forget the music…extraordinary, emotional scores
that became a character in and of itself.
film isn’t entirely accurate factually, to be sure, but what it forgoes in
actual truth, it makes up for with emotional truth. There continue to be many theories put forth about the
circumstances of Mozart’s death, but none so fascinating as the idea that he
may have been murdered by a jealous rival.
aging musician named Salieri (Abraham, in his Oscar winning role) holds the key
to this version of the story. As he
mourns his rapidly disappearing celebrity, he offers a tale of confession to a
young priest, and to us, the modern audience as well.
was the Emperor’s court composer in Vienna, but despite his position of
prestige in a town celebrated for its music, he always felt he lived in the
shadow of Mozart. His name was
known throughout Europe from the tender age of six…a musical genius who played
and composed like a seasoned, schooled pro.
adults, Mozart becomes an affront to Salieri. A pious man who sought musical glory from God, the court
composer was angered and humiliated that a vulgar, childish, bawdy and immoral
“creature” like Mozart seemed to speak with a heavenly voice in the notes he
put down on paper. As Salieri’s
anger boils and his faith wanes, he vows to hurt and censor Mozart by any means
in his power.
finale is unforgettable, as Salieri plays on Mozart’s own grief and guilt, and
milks one final masterpiece of music out of the great composer while he ebbs
away. It’s a powerful sequence
that has me in tears every time I see it.
new DVD release marks a new director’s cut of the film…twenty minutes
longer, it boasts some fresh scenes that are mostly fascinating.
There are minor and mostly cosmetic changes here and there, but there are
at least two moments that stand out: Mozart’s
longsuffering wife Constanze (Berridge) proving her love by accepting an
unwholesome offer from Salieri (it only humiliates him more), and another
sequence, which literally shows how Mozart’s career was…shall we say, going
to the dogs?
of the original will find the new footage intriguing and surprising.
Motivations are fleshed out a little more, and lost gems of performances
by the lead actors are restored; most notably, Ms. Berridge’s courageous scene
that never should have found the cutting room floor.
male stars shine in unforgettable performances. Tom Hulce became the modern embodiment of Mozart, with his
smirking arrogance and hideous laugh masking some terrible deep-down pains.
He was nominated by the Academy for Best Actor, but that honor went to
his co-star, F. Murray Abraham, who injected Salieri with anger, jealously, and
ugliness, but never lost sight that those are still very human qualities.
We don’t recoil from him as much as we sympathize with him as a man
trapped in his own mediocrity as he watches true greatness unfold in front of
the real treat for me is the music. The
sounds of Mozart’s compositions fill the room, and both accent and comment
upon the action in the film. It
alone was a good enough reason to turn the play into a motion picture.
Without the music, you can only hope at best to tell half of the story of
course, the picture is mostly conjecture instead of fact, but that doesn’t
make it any less entertaining. In
fact, I’d wager the opposite. Those
who were dragged to Amadeus expecting to see a sterile portrait of a
classical composer were doubtless surprised and delighted by the scandalous
nature of the story, the fearless performances, and the melodrama that played
out to the tune of some of the greatest music ever composed.
was indeed one of a kind, and Amadeus is, too, combining the gorgeousness
of a period drama with all the wicked joy of a gossip parlor.
It’s no wonder it’s remained a fan and critical favorite into the new
never thought Warner’s initial offering of Amadeus looked bad (even if
it WAS a flipper), but their new transfer is an improvement.
The colorful world of the old Vienna comes to vivid life with this
anamorphic transfer, bringing colors and images to their full natural fruition.
Lower lit scenes using candlelight maintain a great deal of integrity,
which is very hard to do. Only a
small handful of them lose a bit of definition and come across a little murky,
but that’s a mild complaint at best. The
film has never looked this good on home video before…high marks.
5.1 audio is absolutely explosive. The
music is loud, loud, LOUD. It will
vibrate your floor and walls and make you feel like you’ve been transported to
a symphony hall. The dynamic range
between the music and the dialogue is nearly immeasurable, therefore.
The rear stage mostly fleshes out the orchestration, which is so clear at
times you can pick out every instrument’s part.
Fans of classical music are really going to enjoy this presentation.
word had it the two men didn’t always get along during the making of the film,
director Milos Forman and writer Peter Shaffer produced a masterpiece together,
and they team up for a running commentary here. The effort is a little sparse from time to time, but should
interest serious film students as the two creators spar back and forth with
their memories. That’s on the
Two contains the original trailer (one of my all time favorites), plus a new
documentary with fresh cast and crew interviews (about an hour in length, and
very interesting), and some talent files. A
very worthwhile package, though I do miss the music only track featured on the
original DVD release.