Amadeus (1984)
March 26, 2015 12:39 PM - Subscribe

The incredible story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, told by his peer and secret rival Antonio Salieri - now confined to an insane asylum.

While the IMDB says this movie is the story of Mozart, it is really a story about Salieri's war with God, whom Salieri believes has betrayed him by giving Mozart the gift that he has prayed for all his life. Amadeus literally means "Beloved by God".

The movie, beautifully shot using only natural light in Prague, Czechoslovakia, gathered eight Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, Costume Design, Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction, Best Makeup, and Best Sound.

The beautiful photography, in the colorful streets of Prague, layered with Mozart's music, is anchored by the absolutely riveting performance of F. Murray Abraham as Salieri, both as the old and young versions.

Moments to watch for: (Spoilers below)

The slow burn by Salieri as Mozart takes the little "March of Welcome" that Salieri has put so much effort into and effortlessly takes it for a spin as the entire Royal Court listens with increasing fascination.

The increasing horror and disbelief as Salieri browses a folder of Mozart's original work, his entire world shaken by the final proof of his own mediocrity right there, ink on page.

A young Cynthia Nixon as Salieri's spy in the Mozart household.

Salieri's plot, conceived during a performance of Don Giovanni, and his gleeful contemplation of finally achieving victory over God.

Salieri taking dictation from Mozart on his deathbed, a parallel to his earlier allusion to Mozart taking dictation from God.
posted by pjern (19 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
beautifully shot using only natural light

I didn't know this. They actually used not a single electric light on the entire shoot?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:24 PM on March 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

They actually used not a single electric light on the entire shoot?

Yes- it's mentioned on the IMDB trivia and the Extras DVD that comes with one of the Director's Cut editions.
posted by pjern at 2:42 PM on March 26, 2015

That's really interesting. I'd always just assumed that whoever the gaffer and cinematographer were, they just hit some kind of visual magic. Didn't realize it was just the reality of shooting with natural lighting.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:08 PM on March 26, 2015

If you like that look, check out Kubrick's Barry Lyndon. Also shot using natural light, and an underrated film.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:30 PM on March 26, 2015

I remember watching this in orchestra class on a fuckoff day in high school. This is when I found out that I laugh like Mozart because when he laughed, the entire room turned around and GLARED AT ME.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:46 PM on March 26, 2015 [6 favorites]

Er war ein Punker
Und er lebte in der groen stadt
Es war in Wien, war Vienna
Wo er alles tat
Er hatte Schulden denn er trank
Doch ihn liebten alle Frauen
posted by Chrysostom at 8:25 PM on March 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Other things to watch out for:

- Jeffrey Jones' portrayal of the emperor as a perpetually bemused middle manager type.

- The hilarious switcheroo gag with Mozart's father and the two harlequin masks.


Maybe it is the use of Mozart's work for the score but this film really seems to have aged well. The pink wigs stand out as a little early-80's touch but one that works with the scene and Mozart's character.

Does anyone know how this compares with the stage version?
posted by ocular shenanigans at 5:07 AM on March 27, 2015

This is the play and film by the way, that really ruined Salieri's reputation. For twenty-five years I thought of Salieri as "that mediocre guy who killed Mozart." The actual fact being that though professional rivals, were evidently friends.
posted by happyroach at 6:47 AM on March 27, 2015 [4 favorites]

Amadeus is one of my all-time favourites. Geoff Pevere pointed out that the last film Tom Hulce had played in was 'Animal House'. This is appropriate, because both films deal with themes of the struggle between old establishment and anarchic youth. The visuals are stunning, and there are dozens of well-crafted, incisive moments. Watch for:
- The Chamberlain scolding Mozart for not writing music that celebrates the eternal in us.
- Mozart writing music using the billiard table as a desk
- Salieri is often nibbling on something
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 7:14 PM on March 27, 2015

The priest: "All men are equal in God's eye"

Salieri: (Archly) "Are they?"

That little exchange right there sets the whole tone and plot of the movie. The little acorn from which the mighty oak grows, so to speak.

Watch the window behind old Salieri as he tells his tale: It's the virtual clock that lets us feel that this is happening, Salieri's whole involved tale to the Priest, over the course of about 24 hours.
posted by pjern at 10:10 PM on March 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

It's the only realistic dramatization of genius and jealousy that I can think of outside of the Brady Bunch.
posted by nom de poop at 1:48 PM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's a wonderful film, but keep in mind that it's not a documentary. Even the laugh is based on weak evidence (one letter that was supposedly written, but the writer and recipient are both unknown).

Major kudos for Neville Marriner's oversight of the music. He only came on board when Forman promised that none of it would be changed. And when Mozart is dictating the parts of the Requiem - an awesome scene that taught me how to listen to the parts of music - I suspect that Marriner helped make that what it was.
posted by pmurray63 at 1:56 PM on March 28, 2015

Shooting only with natural light was a kind of continual dream of period movie makers, Kubrick tried and fails with Barry Lyndon.

Did this movie kick off that odd 17th Century fad in the mid80s or was that a happy accident?
posted by The Whelk at 10:31 AM on March 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

what made me almost laugh hysterically out of the sense of irony was, while watching the movie with the director's commentary, Milos Foreman told the story of how Sir Neville Marriner set the absolute requirement that no edits nor changes could be made to Mozart's music to fit the scenes - aaaand then mentioned that they made edits to Salieri's music to fit the scenes...... Salieri, even in a movie about his rise and fall, keeps getting the short end of the stick - the poor guy.
posted by alchemist at 11:43 AM on March 29, 2015 [5 favorites]

Yep, this is a terrific film, with very little basis in actual reality. One takeaway I have from this film is how much a good critic can lift your appreciation of something. Mozart is magnificent, sure, but it's Salieri's careful description of quite why it is so magnificent that really brings it to life for me.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 1:31 AM on March 30, 2015 [6 favorites]

My favorite part is when they show Mozart sneaking out and heading to a wild party where he...plays wacky but equally great music with his friends.
posted by bleep at 9:26 PM on March 30, 2015

Loved the mirroring between the scene with Mozart's death and the earlier scene with his wife presenting Mozart's works to Salieri.
posted by drezdn at 11:51 AM on March 31, 2015

The opening music is from Mozart's 25th Symphony. Which he wrote when he was 17.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:29 PM on August 11, 2017

As this has turned up in recent comments, a couple of things:

I saw the original production with Paul Scofield, Simon Callow and Felicity Kendall. My introduction to big National Theatre theatre. Mind blown.

I saw the movie when it came out, and no one moved during the end credits. Just sat there to listen to the piano concerto. That's when I 'got' Mozart - beforehand I'd kind of agreed with the Emperor re: excessive notage.
posted by Grangousier at 9:12 AM on August 12, 2017

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