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Amadeus
(Milos Forman, 1984)


This is a perfect example of why you should never judge a movie by its subject matter. A three-hour period piece revolving around classical music and pompous white dudes in powdered wigs sounds like a fall-asleep-at-your-desk history lesson, but thankfully director Milos Forman is more focused on entertaining than educating. Amadeus isn't concerned with historical accuracy. It doesn't require knowledge or interest in classical music. This isn't even really a biopic, despite being billed as one. It is instead a symphony of professional jealousy. An opera of ruinous hubris. Two historical figures -- Mozart and Salieri -- resurrected on screen to serve as instruments to themes more timeless than even their own musical legacies, their in-script rivalry concocted from ancient rumors, facts be damned, in pursuit of maximum viewer investment.

I know nothing of the real-life Salieri, but Antonio Salieri, movie character, is a talented composer with a prestigious role within the Emperor's palace. At an early age Salieri made a vow with God to become a famous composer in exchange for faithful servitude, and he has kept that promise, never succumbing to earthly pleasures in order to commit one-hundred percent of his energy into his life's sole purpose: musical composition. Then into the palace strolls Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Again: I know little of the actual person, but the Mozart of the movie strikes a modern figure despite the eighteenth-century attire. A rock star of his era: boastful, rebellious, hedonistic. The pious Salieri watches with contempt as the wanton prodigy hurls himself toward every heaving bosom. How can God have chosen as his instrument such a godless young man when he, Salieri, has spent so much time praying and obeying God's laws?

I love that Mozart is oblivious to Salieri's intense resentment. Here is his antagonist, a man attempting to orchestrate his death, yet Mozart repeatedly seeks Salieri for confidence and counsel. Since we're privy to Salieri's thoughts and actions, the one-on-one interactions between the musical icons are compelling and chilling, as insidious intent festers beneath dignified facades. The film's deepest conflict isn't between dueling composers, however, but between Salieri and his God. Ego vs. faith. Entitlement vs. reward. Throw the crucifix into the fire. Destroy God's musical incarnation.

Amadeus won eight Oscar statuettes, most of them justified. Every detail is exquisite: art direction, costume design, set construction, makeup (particularly the old-age effects). Obviously the soundtrack is magnificent. Performances are equally impressive. Just pure cinematic opulence in every category. All the prestige without the accompanying stuffiness. I'm happy that I chose the director's cut so that I was able to witness the emancipation of Elizabeth Berridge's glorious breasts from the confinement of her corset. (And the omission of that scene would've sapped all the power from her scathing "servant" remark near the end of the film.) I was never bored or disinterested despite my indifference toward the subject matter and the time period. That's a testament to everyone involved with the production. I might even add some Mozart to my playlist while I'm still awash in the movie's richness.