Amadeus ★★★★★

I was honestly unsure how to write my thoughts on Amadeus. There are characters to dissect, visuals to marvel, and actors to praise, but the words just weren’t coming through. The simple fact is, how do your articulate perfection, other than saying it is perfect?

It makes sense that Amadeus is about a composer, because the film is an awe inspiring orchestra by a master maestro, the director Milos Forman, who showed his skill with the masterpiece One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and here has shown lightning can strike twice. In an orchestra there are multiple instruments, all of them with completely different sounds and techniques. If you heard them by themselves you would never guess they could work together, and if you’ve seen a bad orchestra where it sounds like a ton of off-tune pots and pans grinding against your ears you know they can’t. When you hear a great orchestra however, there are no longer instruments. Any difference disappears and all that’s left is one, unified, beautiful sound. It is something that is almost otherworldly, a perfect storm of music that appears like magic. Amadeus is the cinematic equivalent of that experience.

Like the orchestra, Amadeus is comprised of parts that, by average terms, should not work well together. An aura of uncomfortableness, goofy scatological humor, dramatic tension, anti-climactic moments, realism, symbolism, if a movie were to use all of these it would most likely be prone to mood whiplash and a feeling of pointlessness. Somehow though, Amadeus blends all of these very different concepts together into one unforgettable film. As seen in the previously mentioned Cuckoo’s Nest and here, this can be credited towards Forman’s mastery of tone. Unlike many other films, Amadeus does not shift between light and darkness, or seriousness and laughter. It bears those forms, but it is not them, it is a form completely its own. The opening scene, where Salieri’s servants comically prod him to eat dessert, but then find out he has cut his throat and is lying on the floor, is not a jerk, it is a progression. Forman tells us that this is a story that is not dominated by shifts and plot points, but by a bizarre reality, where it is natural for anything to happen. He shows us we are in not a screenplay or camera, but in a completely new world, where like ours both tragedy and comedy can occur.

To aid this feeling of entering a different universe, Forman geniously keeps much of Amadeus at our own interpretation. The movie never tells you how much of what is happening is fact, or is just in Salieri’s crazed imagination, or even the true characters of Salieri and Mozart. Sometimes Salieri appears as a sympathetic tragedy, and sometimes he’s an unforgivable monster. Likewise there are moments where Mozart is a spoiled kid, but in others he’s a broken, sad man. And just when you think you have a character down, something can happen that will completely change your perspective on them. Forman never outright says how you should feel about these characters, but they aren’t empty either. Both have rich histories and complex emotions that are displayed throughout the film, coloring our views as we further piece together the mysteries of their lives. He simply gives us the story and let’s us decide for ourselves, a sign of the mutual relationship between creator and audience, which is the key to a great film. With that being said, it would be a disservice not to mention the acting here, which is equally important for achieving this goal. With a director keeping things so secretive, it wouldn’t be difficult for an actor to lose track and start appearing out of character, but everyone, from the title role to one lasting a few minutes, is able to keep with the pace and deliver several stand out performances. F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce are perfect at balancing their respective character’s outrageousness and subtlety, never letting one overtake the other, creating the combination of fantasy and fact that gives Amadeus its impact.

Keeping with the idea of changing appearances are the visuals, which are absolutely remarkable. Using a blend of anachronistically bold colors and muted, more period appropriate ones, the feelings of the characters are represented not only by words and actions, but by the screen itself. The world completely changes to suit one’s emotion, and envelops us into their mind, making already strong moments even more powerful, like the fall of Mozart. How Mozart begins the film wearing gaudy suits and over the top wigs, then as one tragedy after another strikes begins to get more grounded, dull apparel might appear like a small detail, but in truth it shows the orchestra at work; Putting the costume designer with the actor and director to give one singular, unforgettable vision. The sets themselves are also wonderful not even mentioning their role in the story. Each of Mozart’s operas could be movies themselves with the fantastic look they are given, and the dirty, crowded streets of Vienna add an unpolished touch that gives it an edge compared to the many sterile period pieces out there. It’s an equally bombastic and dreary look for an equally bombastic and dreary film, and I couldn’t imagine it without it.

Really there isn’t anything in Amadeus I could imagine not being present. As Salieri says in the film “Displace one note and there would be diminishment. Displace one phrase and the structure would fall.” Like the orchestra, removing one instrument would cause the music to break apart, and as it is the music is so wonderful one could barely comprehend an alteration of it. Amadeus is that wonderfulness on film, one that’s impossible to fully describe with words. I strongly recommend you experience it for yourself as soon as possible, as nothing I can say will deliver what makes it so great.

As they said with Mozart’s music, it is the voice of God.

And as we see here, God is a madman.

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