This one came as a shock. We all assumed that Brooke had seen every Best Picture winner ever, but that wasn’t true. So when the Colorado Symphony performed with a screening of Amadeus, we made it a point to be there. Just like when we screen at Alamo, the setting informed the screening, and therefore the writeup.
Amadeus, of course, is the heavily decorated 1984 adaptation of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s short life as told many years later by his rival, Antonio Salieri. I won’t say “biopic” as the story is mostly rooted in fiction, but the characters are based on real people. What’s true is that Mozart is one of the greatest composers of all time, and Salieri was not. Everything else is probably not true, but it’s an amazingly rich look at the men behind the music.
Brooke, start us off. What did you know of Amadeus before this screening, and what did you think of the performance? We had a full orchestra and choir to distract us, so I’m curious how this influenced your movie experience.
B: Well, to be honest, the very first thing the came to mind when you informed me of Amadeus was this:
I quickly realized it was a movie at the symphony and NOT a dramatization based on random ’80s hits. But I would have been into that too. Once I was in the right timeline, I gathered that we were getting into a dramatic take on the great musician and composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. While I had not seen this Best Picture winner, I have seen many others, and so, I kind of knew what I was getting into with the Academy of the ’80s taste.
I expected a pretty long, pretty solid costume piece that was also pretty damn safe. That’s what I got, with more sex jokes and more cross burning than anticipated. Oh, and TERRIBLE old age makeup. Did I mention that the mid-80s to mid-90s LOVED to do old person makeup and it always looks ghastly?
Anyway, I think this was the way to experience Amadeus — accompanied by a live symphony — so I can probably never watch it again. I will say I definitely spent a lot of time watching the performers, but I think that was a benefit. Passionate musicians loving a passionate musician gave it a lot of gravitas. If we were just watching on a couch, I think my mind would have wandered.
AM, as the experienced veteran of this movie, how did watching it with the symphony change the experience for you? And how do you feel it holds up?
A: Funny you mention that I’m a vet of this movie, as I’m fairly certain I’ve seen it 2-3 times — but only in school. So that does make me an experienced watcher, but I was informed after the symphony screening that we actually witnessed a child-friendly edited version. The scene where Mozart’s wife comes to Salieri with her husband’s manuscripts and begs him to critique them?
Apparently, she gets naked in the original version. Given that my only memory of this movie was watching it in school (and probably never at home with an unedited VHS copy), I have definitely only seen the edited-for-TV-and-children version. I honestly don’t know what else I’ve missed, but the symphony screening was almost 3 hours, so I’m hoping not much?
There was way more discussion about God than I remembered. I’d forgotten how much Salieri grows to hate his formerly beloved Lord, almost entirely because he believes entirely that Mozart was chosen by God to be a genius and he believes entirely that Mozart isn’t worthy. So that’s a bit of baloney, honestly. Why does a person need to be perfectly holy in order to have a musical gift? Salieri treats his religion as a morality contest, which tracks given the time period, but it doesn’t make him a sympathetic character.
Brooke, what are your thoughts on Salieri and Mozart? Was there ever a friendship, or did jealousy and rage ruin it from the beginning?
B: I can’t believe there was more to this movie — but knowing that Salieri let a woman go so far as get naked to curry his favor gives me an even more profound distaste for the guy. His pettiness and entitlement was already gross — as you say, who is he to decide the Mozart doesn’t deserve talent simply because he is a youth who acts like a youth?
However, I don’t think Salieri’s ultimate failure to track as a sympathetic character means that friendship was never in the cards for these two. Before Mozart arrived, Salieri was drooling for the guy. And maybe it’s a simple case of never meet your heroes, but it seems that Salieri would have reacted negatively to a Mozart who was even slightly different than he.
Conversely, Mozart seemed inclined to friendship with the palace composer until Salieri revealed himself to be a square (even for the times). I can’t say which of them is more at fault, but I am pretty sure this boils down to a lack of common ground. What if you and I didn’t share a love for cheese, pretty dresses, hot goss, bad tv, great tv, murders, travel, yelling “the whole time?!,” ending our friendship, trivia, and did I mention cheese? Well, this site probably wouldn’t exist, but we also probably would not waste our time trying to torment each other, would we?
And on that note, AM, I kick it back to you — which Mozart opera would you most want to have seen at the palace? And to take a tangent here inspired by Pretty Woman have you been to the opera and do you “get it”?
A: I’m fairly certain that Salieri doesn’t like cheese, so there’s little chance he and I would be friends. I’m also not into saboteurs, and that’s ultimately what he is. His jealousy and rage leads him to halt Mozart’s success and finds a diabolical way to drive him crazy: making him feel guilty over the death of his dad. Already a somewhat unhinged musician artist type, it drives Mozart literally to death. That sequence feels pretty specific to a melodrama, because in what real-life world does someone guilt someone to work themselves to death? Fun fact: real Mozart actually did die at 35 and there’s not a lot of clarity as to how and why. He took ill (perhaps that’s just something one did in the 18th century), but Wikipedia informs me that:
“Researchers have posited at least 118 causes of death, including acute rheumatic fever, streptococcal infection, trichinosis, influenza, mercury poisoning, and a rare kidney ailment.” Fun!
Wikipedia also helpfully informs us that the R-rated extra footage was a special DVD release in 2002. So that explains why the PG version is the one I remember from middle and high school.
Now for something slightly more pleasant: opera. Opera music for me is like poetry, I just don’t get into it because I honestly don’t get it. Opera sung in Italian is an easy thing to pass off as incomprehensible, but I’ve never connected with it and truly understood the story. Also, I’ve actually never watched a full opera, either on TV or in person. That might have something to do with it. So the jury is still out on whether I am actually an opera person or not. Field trip? I hear they encourage fancy dresses. I’d probably choose the final opera they show in the film, The Magic Flute. Other than Mozart’s concertos, some of which I’ve played, that one seems the most up my alley.
Brooke, as a slightly experienced orchestra person, I can tell you that Mozart’s music is a thing of genius, but what did you make of it? And what of your favorite characters?
B: I enjoy the musical stylings of Mozart. I don’t know much about the assorted merits of classical music, but I do know that Mozart tunes are vibrant and alive, and I prefer tunes that make me feel alive. As favorite characters go, I didn’t find myself truly rooting for anyone in this movie. Mozart is characterized as a bit of a tool, and we already covered Salieri being the worst. The king is played as a fool. I do feel somewhat for Mozart’s number one gal, Constanze — she gets swept up in romance with Wolfie and quickly becomes his long-suffering bride. I don’t necessarily want to hang with her, but I respect her struggle.
What say you, AM, if we were in the court, who would you hang out with? Am I not giving some people enough credit?
A: I must disagree on your characterization of the “king” who is actually Emperor Joseph II (this being the days when Austria was an actual empire). I find him to be fairly delightful, even if he can’t play piano worth a damn. You’re not wrong that he seems not to call the shots in his own court, but I do think he’d be great to hang out with.
Also, I was charmed by some of the players and court hangers-on, specifically Emanuel Schikaneder, played by Simon Callow, who’s one of those British actors who’s in everything (Four Weddings and a Funeral and Shakespeare in Love, amongst so many others).
I see what you mean about Constanze, she’s playing the thankless role of the wife who wants what her husband promised her, but he’s incapable of delivering, and she is forced to be the voice of reason. Still, I think she has a good time with life, up until the point where Mozart fails as a husband and father. It’d be entertaining to be at a Mozart party, but I think I could only take about 30 minutes of that before it got to be too much.
Brooke, any final thoughts?
B: Mainly this. Amadeus won Best Picture and the music is astonishing, but all two references to Marie Antoinette — a relation of the Emperor — really made me wish the symphony was performing along with the Sofia Coppolla joint instead … so despite the intersection of Academy glory and costume drama, Amadeus had me intellectually, but not emotionally. I don’t know that that says anything about the picture so much as the fact that I don’t have a ton in common with court musicians who wear powdered wigs, but I found it interesting anyway.
Next up: We take a trip to the 90s and the height of melodrama with Legends of the Fall.