Friday, 24 June 2016

Classic Movie Review: Amadeus (1984)

This movie is probably less well remembered than the 80's pop song that it inspired and definitely less so than the Simpsons parody of that song. But Milos Forman's Academy Award-winning film has a certain something that most blockbuster movies of today are lacking. Amadeus has a certain charm that most epics are missing out on and that has a lot to do with it's extravagant subject and amazing acting.

One night in Vienna, old Italian composer Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) attempts suicide, claiming that he killed famed composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce). After being admitted to an insane asylum, he tells his story to a young priest. From a young age Salieri committed himself to excelling in music, eventually rising to become the court composer for Austrian Emperor Joseph II (Jeffrey Jones). When Salieri hears about Mozart, he expects a regal genius, but rather finds a young man who wants nothing but fun. He finds this vulgar and makes it his life goal to ruin Mozart's career.

One of the things that may turn people off watching this is that it features a lot of classical music and composers writing their music. But that's only a small part of it and not at all the focus. Rather the hatred one man has for his rival and the passion he has to bring him down. Many times throughout the film Salieri acknowledges the genius that Mozart is and does nothing to contain his jealousy. However this rivalry is completely one sided, which makes it even more compelling to watch. Mozart believes that Salieri is doing his utmost to help, rather than undermine his popularity in the city of Vienna. This kind of bizarre feud is something you'd expect from second grade celebrities on Twitter. But despite the fact that the story seems so genuine, none of it is true. The historical accuracy of Amadeus is practically non-existent, something which people today would be disgraced at. But in this case, it doesn't matter at all. You are so swept up by the story and characters that it doesn't matter if any of it happened or not, it's just a whimsical journey you get caught up in (at least if you're watching from Mozart's perspective).

It's super fun to watch Tom Hulce as Mozart. He is able to bounce from being a giddy playboy to a petulant child in an instant and he has the most infectious (if sometimes annoying) laugh captured on film. His performance is complemented completely by F. Murray Abraham, who is a lot more reserved than his rival. They appear as both sides of a demented coin. It's no surprise that Abraham won the Oscar for Best Actor, but it is to see that both of them were nominated for that award. It would have been a hard choice. The supporting cast is wonderful, especially Jeffrey Jones as the slightly coddled Emperor, whom no one wishes to offend, as well as Simon Callow, who plays one of Mozart's alcoholic friends.

Even at three hours running time (that's for the Director's Cut), this movie is never boring. Forman is an absolute master of the screen, who fills this period piece with so many details that it's a good time just to watch what's happening in the background. It's a shame that it isn't as well known because it definitely holds up thirty years later, which is a standout for a movie that could have only thrived and died in the time it came out, which is the case for a lot of Oscar winners from this time.

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