Screenplay by Peter Shaffer, adapted from his stage play
Directed by Milos Forman
Review by Jenn
This was such an incredible film - so rich in plot, acting, and setting, not to mention music - that both Tim and I were compelled to add it to our own small but eclectic personal video libraries. And, apparently, we were not the only ones to think so this time - the film won eight Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Actor.
Adapted from the play by Peter Shaffer, the title suggests that the film's subject is the renowned composer of classical music, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. But this is a movie not about Mozart's wonderful music (although it boasts plenty of that), but about the conflict between jealousy and genius, focusing on the complex psyche of quite a different composer, Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham, who won Best Actor). The music is Mozart's, but the story is his.
An inmate in a lunatic asylum following a suicide attempt in the early 1800's (which showed the madhouse scenes with unflinching cruelty and horror), the wonderfully sardonic and embittered Salieri is relating his story to his reluctant confessor. He is a self-described worshipper of music, and to him the greatest glory one can render up to the Lord is through that medium. Even as a child in 18th century Vienna, when already word of a young musical prodigy named Mozart is spreading across Europe, Salieri labors and prays to God to glorify God - and himself - by creating celestial music. His efforts pay off to some degree, and by 1781 is the competent and valued court composer to Emperor Joseph II of Vienna.
Until Mozart comes (played by Tom Hulce, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actor). Word of his coming affects Salieri with sullen envy tempered by a genuine desire to admire the newcomer; he wishes almost to worship him as a prophet of their religion of music. But when he meets the spoiled, sometimes arrogant, often childish young musical genius, he is stunned to find that there is nothing worth esteeming in him other than his music. At first he thinks there must be some mistake - can the voice of God truly be heard through this wild, womanizing, bawdy jokester, whom Salieri quickly dubs "the Creature?" But it is no mistake - here is the kind of genius that comes along only once in so many lifetimes. Wild with jealousy, Salieri, worshipper of music, becomes Mozart's greatest fan - and his greatest enemy.
This is a fascinating character study of the highest caliber. It is compelling to witness the little disappointments which add up to so much fuel for the fires of Salieri's hatred of his rival - for instance, in one memorable scene, Salieri thanks God for helping him to write a march of welcome for Mozart, new to the court. But his second expression of thanks, though in the same words, drips with sarcasm after the newcomer masters his little piece on one faultily-played hearing, then evolves it into a more complex and interesting piece of his own before the spellbound eyes of the court. One would think the very presence of the man would be enough to repel him, but Salieri's first love is always music, and even while he uses his influence to try to destroy Mozart's career, he cannot keep himself away from every performance he gave. Mozart's greatest enemy appreciated his genius at a time when there were many who did not understand it.
In addition to the rich characterization is the setting. Filmed on location, the sets are beautiful and the costuming authentic. Mozart's music, played throughout (conducted by Sir Neville Marriner) is indeed thrilling; if you are not a fan of classical music, this film may turn you into one. At the very least it will bring you to appreciate it. This is truly a timeless classic.