Amadeus is one of the films about the arts that stands out, not because of its outstanding cast (which it has) or excellent interplay of well thought-out dialogue or the excellent playwright, but because it is the story of a very young man who was born a genius and trained into an excellent musician and composer. It was the story of his moments of self-doubt and personal failures amidst the great successes that he created and enjoyed.    

The film is instigated in retrospect from and old Antonio Salieri, who was at the time of Mozart’s fame the court composer for Emperor Joseph of Austria. The story is focused around Mozart’s life, and is very historically accurate in that depiction; the movie, however, is centered on the dual storylines of the lives of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri in 18th century Vienna. The film begins with small flashbacks of the young lives of Salieri and Mozart. Mozart is taught by his father to develop his musical genius and is taken on tours around Europe, and is writing concertos and symphonies before his age is in double-digits. Salieri desires to be a great, or more accurately, famous, composer, and has heard about Mozart and admired him his entire life. Mozart’s musical genius can tear apart another composer’s work without effort, as shown in the scene when Salieri and Mozart meet.    

Salieri is immediately infuriated with Mozart, who feels as if every time Mozart laughs his childish laugh that it is God laughing at him. As the plot continues, it shows Salieri loving Mozart’s work more than anyone in their time. Mozart is commissioned by Emperor Joseph to remain in Vienna even though the Archbishop has asked him to return to Salzburg. He stays there for the rest of his short life, and according to the movie, aggravating Salieri with opera after opera. Salieri attends every show, while Mozart spends the gracious money he earns on alcohol and parties in an extended-adolescence; Mozart is crude and doesn’t follow any rules when his father is not there to keep an iron fist. And through Mozart’s father’s death and the music that it’s portrayed in, Salieri devises a plan to kill Mozart.    

Everything until this point is as factual as it could be made. Mozart was said to have a garish laugh, to be crude, insolent, rude, and conceited. He could do all sorts of tricks on the forte piano, on the violin. His music was just finished in his head, and he just wrote it out, all finished. This contributed to the fictional narrating of Salieri believing that Mozart’s gift was directly God. The clothing was well-done, the culture and social structures were well-done, and they portrayed actual historical events (e.g. the French Revolution). The actor playing Mozart, Tom Hulce, was well-researched and amazing. The portrayal of Mozart’s marriage and his wife and mother-in-law were right on the money. Up until the death of Mozart and Salieri’s interference and motive into Mozart’s life, the story of Mozart’s life was portrayed as well as could have possibly been.    

It's not surprising how well Amadeus has held up over the last 18 years. It is a film that could have been made fifty years ago or today (albeit as an independent film, most likely). The excellent attention to detail crafts some of the most gorgeous sets and costume to grace the screen, and not only do they look historically accurate and very good, but they look lived in. With the plot and the cast and the playwright, one can’t help but mention the film with mentioning the score, which, as an adaptation of Mozart’s music, is some of the best music you’ll ever hear, especially in a film score. It was promoted that none of Mozart’s original work was in any way modified for use in the film, which in itself is an expressive, impressive feat.    

At the heart of this entire spectacle is an amazing, compelling study of envy. The truth about Antonio Salieri’s true feelings about Mozart and the somewhat eerie circumstances surrounding Mozart’s death will never be known for sure, yet this story is one of improbability. In spite of the historical (in)accuracies (though most of the film surrounding Mozart’s own life was truthful to the “t”), this envy, this hatred through love, is the most beautiful expression of an emotion I’ve seen in a historical fiction movie. Amadeus is a very psychological film, and thanks to great performances as well as excellent writing and directing, it is easy to follow and clear to anyone why it won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1984.

Let's remember that the movie would never have seen the light of day if Saul Zaentz had not seen and purchased the film rights to Peter Shaffer's award-winning play, a biographical fantasy based on the lives of Wolgang Mozart and Antonio Salieri (Shaffer never claimed to be historically accurate).

Amadeus (Mozart's middle name became the title of the play as it means "Beloved of God," thematically important in the work, and more poetic than "I Hate Mozart") opened in 1979 in London with a production by the Royal National Theatre, with Paul Scofield as Salieri and Simon Callow as Mozart (Callow would appear in the film, not as Mozart, but as theatre manager Emanuel Schikaneder). Peter Hall was the director (All three, along with designer John Bury were nominated for Olivier Awards... but lost out to that year's hit, Nicholas Nickleby).

It soon crossed the Atlantic on Broadway, again with Peter Hall directing, but with Ian McKellen as Antonio Salieri and Tim Curry as Mozart. Both men were nominated for Tony Awards, McKellen won. The show also won a Tony for Best Play (1981), Best Director, and John Bury took home two Tonys for outstanding scenic design and lighting design (he'd also been nominated for costume design). It ran for 1181 performances in New York.

The 1984 film, directed by Milos Forman, starred F. Murray Abraham as Salieri and Tom Hulce as Mozart. Abraham won an Academy Award for Best Actor (beating out Hulce, nominated in the same category), and Forman won the Best Director award. Shaffer won an Academy Award for adapting his own screenplay (The film swept the 1984 Oscars, also taking home Best Picture and awards for Costume Design, Makeup, Art Direction, and Sound).

In 1999, a revival opened on Broadway, (after another Peter Hall production in London at the Old Vic) with a tighter script by Shaffer. (The original play had one ending, which he changed for the movie. Shaffer changed it again for the revival, and worked to humanize Salieri). Hall again directed, and cast David Suchet as Salieri and Michael Sheen as Mozart. Suchet was nominated for a Tony, as was the entire production (for Best Revival).

The "Did Salieri kill Mozart out of jealousy?" theme was not new on stage, it had appeared in Rimsky-Korsakov's opera Mozart and Salieri which, in turn, was based on Alexander Pushkin's dramatic poem of the same name (1830).

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