ALWAYS KEEPING AN EYE ON HOLLYWOOD!!!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

JER'S POINT: THE ORIGINS OF ZOMBIES INCLUDING GEORGE A. ROMERO, TOM SAVINI & GREG NICOTERO

 
Although this publication is technically a September entry, it is definitely meant and delivered with the intention of an October reading. Aside for the love of the macabre and things that go bump in the night, my Godchild “Jax” and I also share a common interest for the month of October and the celebration of All Hallows’ Eve. Beginning on that note, I began to construct the possible option of topics for our favorite month. In previous years, I had shared recommendations on a collection of creepy treats that may not be as popular as others. My thoughts this month were a mixed bag of incomplete notes and scribbles… what to write about to help ring in Halloween properly with some originality? My mind detoured into the off- ramp of that illuminating light bulb of an idea! Why not write about the origins of the most popular and continued frenzied fascination the world has repeatedly shown towards the undead and introduce an arsenal of those responsible including the Godfather of Zombies himself, Mr George A Romero, and how he redefined both the definition and rules of the walking dead universe and the artists that have worked with him and their contributions to the lore. Let’s begin from where it all started from…
ORIGINS
Actual Haitian voodou followers
zom· bie {noun} a corpse said to be revived by witchcraft, especially in certain African and Caribbean religions. synonyms: living dead, undead, walking dead, soulless corpse. The definition can still be looked upon with a certain kind of vagueness, although, pop culture and entertainment exposure has clearly taken away any doubt as to what becomes relatable to the understanding of the word: zombie. This century’s re-defined version is completely different from its original.
The original folklore of ‘zombie’ dates back to its first representation in 1819 in the writings of the history of Brazil appearing as “zombi.” As mentioned within the definition, the acts of “zombie-like” trances are infamous within the Haitian community and are referred to as spells performed by voodou sorcerers called a bokor. The word and folklore was said to have been brought to Haiti from slaves that were traded within that region. Later, the New World slavery market brought Haitian slaves to America, where the word and its religious beliefs found home in the Western culture.
Self Portrait of Bartolome Murillo
In time, the earliest reference to the word ‘zombi” – which was originally spelled without the ‘e’ for many years- first appeared in an American newspaper within a reprinted short story entitled “The Unknown Painter” in 1838. The story was about a young slave owned by a Spanish painter named Bartolome Esteban Murillo, who claimed the artist had a ‘zombi’ appear in the art studio at night to continue the works of Murillo’s apprentices. The American audiences must have enjoyed the fictional story of Murillo and the slave’s account, as various interpreted versions were published many times throughout the 1800s. By the mid-century, it had come to be known that ‘zombi’, for many, “came to be associated with a creature of African ‘origin’ that willingly performed services for whites.”
William Seabrook
The Murillo story would serve as a basis of inspiration to authors, in particular to travel writer William Seabrook, who published a book on Haiti and voodoo entitled “The Magic Island.” Seabrook wrote about his personal accounts of the voodoo cults in Haiti and introduced the word ‘zombi’ to its readers. Film experts claim that the book served as the basis for the 1932 horror film WHITE ZOMBIE.
ZOMBIES’ ORIGINS IN FILM
WHITE ZOMBIE, starring Bela Lugosi (DRACULA), referred to white, as opposed to African zombies, that inhabited a Haitian plantation. The film focused on a zombie potion rather than enlist a voodoo priest or other similar incantations. The embodiment of the victimized individual showed a zombie- like trance that included a slow- moving and uncoordinated pace and the wiliness to do its master’s biddings. The film was not very well received in its time but has now definitely taken on a huge cult following today that include fans like musician/ director Rob Zombie (HOUSE OF A THOUSAND CORPSES) and musician Kirk Hammett from Metallica.
Soon after, other ‘zombie- themed’ films were made that didn’t deal or take place in Haiti or the Haitian voodoo belief either. Fast- forwarding to the late 1960s, an independent film maker from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania would come out of obscurity and define the characteristics, operations and structure of the modern- day zombie and set the bar for all interpretations to follow. The film maker was George A. Romero.
THE GODFATHER OF ZOMBIES: GEORGE A. ROMERO
George A. Romero circa 1982
George Andrew Romero was born on February 4, 1940 in New York City. At a young age, as was the case with many who became film directors, Romero was introduced to film when given an 8 mm camera by his parents on one of his birthdays. The gift served as a basis to understand the mechanics of film making which led him to direct homemade movies exhibited for friends and family. After graduating Carnegie- Mellon University in Pittsburg, Romero found steady work shooting local commercials, industrial segments and sequences for the Mr. Rogers Neighborhood television series. He quickly was introduced to a small independent film company that would finally allow Romero the independent flexibility he needed to work on his first major full- length venture.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) would be a film project riddled with difficult circumstances and a very limited budget and resources. Determined, Romero chose to shoot the film in and around Pittsburg and involve a cast and crew of inexperienced individuals who performed multiple tasks both in front of and behind the camera.
THE CREATION OF “NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD”
Romero with camera filming NIGHT
Romero would step out of the box completely by basing his film away from Haitian trances or voodoo and place the unfortunate zombie ‘rise’ on unknown sources. According to later conversations with the filmmakers, it was theorized that radiation from a detonated satellite returning back from Venus was the cause for the zombies’ reanimation. That storyline, however, never is mentioned at any point in the final version of the film.
William Hinzman: the Cemetery Zombie
Actor Samuel William Hinzman appears as the first ‘zombie’ seen in the opening of the film. The scene involves his character chasing brother and sister duo Johnny (Russell Streiner) and Barbra (Judith O’Dea) within the cemetery and introduces us to the first ‘undead’ characterization presented by Romero. Hinzman created the zombie- like saunter that would become the trademark movements for zombies thereafter. Although he admitted he based the uncoordinated approach from a film with Boris Karloff, he couldn’t remember the film’s title. Research will likely point out the 1936 film, THE WALKING DEAD, in which Karloff is raised from the dead and walks with an ungainly saunter.
After all was said and done, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was shot in black and white with a budgeted $114,000. The storyline, consisting of a troubled and confused plaque of reanimated corpses attacking and eating its living victims, also found its place in delivering a very social and political view of Middle America sandwiching ideals of pre- Vietnam and racism. Ironically, the word “zombie” is never used at any point throughout the film. One of the original working titles was NIGHT OF THE ANUBIS. Anubis is the ancient Egyptian god of embalming and mummifying. Romero ultimately changed the titles when he discovered how little anyone understood the reference.
THE LIVING DEAD AFTERMATH
Ben (Duane Jones) decks Harry (Karl Hardman)
Upon its initial release, it was very hard to define how audiences would receive a film of this kind of magnitude. On one hand, many were appalled by the violence and visible scenes of cannibalism and peril. Often times, it was reported that many audience members would literally stand up from their theater seats and exit with discuss, while others were nauseated and vomiting at some point throughout the film. On the other hand, were zombies just merely a metaphor to help visualize the troubled state our country was facing? Could the representation of the character of Ben (Duane Jones), a black man, pitted against not only the dealings of the undead but also having to face- off with a middle- class bigoted family man named Harry (Karl Hardman) be a very prominent view of the tensions amounting in the late 60s? The ‘invasion’ or apposing threat of something we couldn’t control or contain was reflected on the mindless zombies destined with one main intended goal: destroy the living. The same could be said of what Americans thought about the enemy’s intent prior to the war. Many film historians, as well as fans of the film, have expressed both sides of this speculation whereas Romero will tell you that it is mere coincidence but may contain a bit of subconscious undertones.
Co-Producer and "Johnny": Russell Streiner
Russell Streiner, co- producer of the film, stated in an interview: "I think that, in setting out to make a general entertainment film, if some critics were entertained to the point that they began reading all these fantastic social implications into it, fine, if that's how they're entertained. But I can't say that there were any overriding social ramifications in the original design of the film. I mean, that is just not true." Fans of the film will also recognize Streiner for his brief role as Johnny, Barbara’s brother during the cemetery sequence in the beginning.

Aside from critiques being split down the middle, other groups were all too quick to jump on the morale train. Readers Digest stated a warning against their subscribers watching the film because it would inspire cannibalism. An amusing publicity stunt came from the film’s distribution company, the Walter Reade Organization, which placed a $50,000 insurance policy against anyone dying from a heart attack during the watching of the film.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD opened in theaters on October 1, 1968 at the Fulton Theatre in Pittsburgh. The film ended with a standing ovation. It is one of the first films to be added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. It is considered one of the most successful independent films of its time.
SPECIAL EFFECTS MAKE-UP MAESTRO: TOM SAVINI
Romero (l) & Savini (r)
A key relationship between director and make- up artist was about to be forged right from the very beginning. A struggling actor/ stunt man/ make- up artist by the name of Tom Savini was originally hired by Romero to do the make- up effects for NIGHT. The two just happen to meet when Savini had auditioned for an acting role in an earlier Romero film that never got made. The director had remembered Savini was also a make- up artist and had brought his effects portfolio to show to Romero at the time of the audition. He thought about how impressed he was with his work and reached out to him. Savini, however, was unable to do the effects because he was called to duty to serve as a combat photographer in Vietnam by the U.S. Army. Romero would not soon forget Tom Savini…

The Master of Splatter: Tom Savini

Savini's Vietnam photo
Thomas “Tom” Vincent Savini is a pioneer of the special effects make- up, dating back to his early days within the 1970s and rising to recognition within the 80s. A native Pittsburg, like director George Romero, Savini became fascinated with make- up and the illusion of film when he saw the 1957 film THE MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES, a film based on the life of actor and make- up artist Lon Chaney. Like Chaney’s origins, he too took it upon himself to create his own effects using practical household products and his mother’s make- up. After arriving to Vietnam as a combat photographer, Savini was able to witness firsthand what actual corpses and severed limbs looked like… it was from reality that art would be created from. After returning back from his tour of duty, he began creating and applying his works on film.
Savini working on CREEPSHOW
His reputation was steadily climbing as he would work on such classic horror films like the vampire thriller, MARTIN (directed by George Romero in 1976), the original FRIDAY THE 13th (1980), CREEPSHOW (also directed by Romero in 1982), THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (1986) and the midnight cult classic original MANIAC (1980). To the fans of both zombies and the origins of the DEAD series created by George Romero, Savini has gone into the annals of horror history as the creator of the classic look of the flesh- eating living dead in both DAWN OF THE DEAD and DAY OF THE DEAD.
A SEQUAL RISES: DAWN OF THE DEAD
Released in 1979, almost 10 years after its originator, DAWN OF THE DEAD is the second chapter to Romero’s horror saga that continued the tale of the ever- growing, ever- spreading invasion of the living dead. Considered by some critics to be a “satirical film about consumerism”, Romero had a new band of survivors finding refuge in an abandoned American shopping mall, now that zombies had begun to overrun the country. Let us remember and highlight the time that this film was made and the date it takes place in. The frame is the late 70s and consumerism, within the American audience, is at an all- time high. Commercials and advertising have rotted the publics’ mind and inadvertently assisted in the selection and choice of which products were right for all to buy and use. Based on the times and the birth of the shopping mall, it would only be natural for Romero to elect this site in which every type of commercialism and consumerism could be housed under one roof as his general setting:  the choice to film within a shopping center as the location in which 2/3 of the storyline would take place within helped expose the mall as the modern day ‘hangout’ for the basic family unit to spend its time in.
Moving out of the 60s and into the 1970s in a post- Vietnam era, the next wave of threats was also manmade and came in a canister, mouthwash or drive- thru meal: commercialism. Romero seems to have a knack of spotting and recognizing the plaques of modern society and disguising them in a thin veil behind the threating zombies in his horror films. Maybe that is why it took nine years to follow up NIGHT with. A decade would nearly have to come into full circle before a newly created setting could be the cause to serve as the backdrop for the perilous dangers surrounding our band of survivors to face.
Savini's cameo in DAWN OF THE  DEAD
As pre- production was coming together for the highly- anticipated DAWN OF THE DEAD, Romero was finally able to bring Tom Savini into the fold with his special effects make- up. It would now befall upon the artist to create a more refined version of the zombie (or living dead) and not just merely re-create the effects used in NIGHT. Several challenges were faced by Savini: DAWN was to be shot in color, so details would be required and there would be a larger budget to help create numerous zombies, severed body parts and imagined zombie kills never before seen, which also meant that serious man- hours would need to be put in for the best results. A rag- tag team of teens and interns helped Savini create some very powerful and foreboding sequences that would remained burned in the heads of fans for generations to come.
Budgeted at a strong $650,000, the film opened on April 20, 1979 (though its original release date is slated as a 1978 film since it premiered in Italy that year) with a box office take of a whopping $900,000. The film would go on to gross over $55 million worldwide. Yes, zombies were literally taking over the globe thanks to the visionary eye and guiding hand of George A Romero.
ANOTHER CHAPTER RISES: DAY OF THE DEAD
With the ever- increasing awareness of zombies and the love for horror and splatter films, the genre could not have been embraced at a better time than in the 1980s! This was the decade of Freddy Kruger, Jason Voorhees, Pinhead, Leatherface and Michael Myers’ sequels…and it also served as the birthdate of the third chapter in Romero’s series: 1985’s DAY OF THE DEAD.
Now budged at an astounding $3.5 million, Romero would call upon Savini to yet again dive deeper into the realms of creativity and construct a new series of more realistic and better detailed array of walking dead corpses and elaborate demises for the unfortunate humans facing their untimely fates. Bringing in his team of talented, upcoming and young artists, one in particular would find himself receiving the brake he would need to not only become one of the industry’s great artists within his own right, but also have a creative hand in the growth of the continuing evolution of the zombie folklore. His name is Greg Nicotero.

Greg Nicotero's cameo in DAY OF THE DEAD
Yet another fellow native Pittsberg-ian, Gregory Nicotero grew up watching and admiring his all- time favorite film, Steven Spielberg’s JAWS. He would spend his curious days wondering how those effects were created. As he grew older, the realization of make- up and special effects as a career would definitely serve as his destiny. As a youngster, Nicotero created home movies involving his brother and friends in an assortment of stories that included practical stunts, fireworks for explosions and creating homemade special effects. Moving onto young adulthood, he chanced an opportunity to work with Savini on DAY and learned first- hand the quick and steady pace of the industry.

Kurtzman, Nicotero, Romero, Savini & Berger
It was while working on the film that he would meet fellow artists Howard Berger and Bob Kurtzman and collectively create a business relationship that would take the trio of young effects men to begin their make- up effects company: KNB- EFX Group. The team would work on numerous films from EVIL DEAD II, ARMY OF DARKNESS, DANCES WITH WOLVES, SCREAM, THE GREEN MILE and many others.
ONE MORE FOR TOM SAVINI
Savini as "Sex Machine: FROM DUSK TIL DAWN
Savini’s career would expand beyond more than just a make- up effects artist. His work as a stuntman was still steady but cult classic acting cameos in such films like CREEPSHOW and KNIGHTRIDERS (both directed by George Romero), FROM DUSK TIL DAWN, GRINDHOUSE and MACHETE brought forth another avenue for the talented man.
Savini's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1990)
The greatest opportunity to pay back the genre he helped forged came about some time in the late 1980s when he was approached to direct the remake for NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. The film would mark his directorial debut and he took on the project with full vigor. Savini’s original conceptual idea was to start the film in black and white (like the original 1968 version) then have it slowly adjust to color. Traditional to Romero’s films, the word ‘zombie’ is never used in dialog throughout the film. The filming took less than two months with an estimated budget of $4.2 million and was based on an earlier re-visioned screenplay by George Romero. It opened in theaters on October 19, 1990.
THE ZOMBIE EVOLUTION TAKES A NEW STEP: GREG NICOTERO AND THE WALKING DEAD
It seems as if the zombie baton would be passed on to a new generation of the undead enthusiasts as the demand for the living dead would steadily rise over the next few decades. Film writers and directors would take their various avenues in interpretation by trying to create their own twist on the genre.
Some of the more recognized editions have included comedic turns with the releases of RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985), ARMY OF DARKNESS (1992), SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004) and ZOMBIELAND (2009). Others took a more serious approach and expanded the typical zombie scenario in films like PET SEMATARY (1989), RESIDENT EVIL (2002) and I AM LEGEND (2007).
Director Danny Boyle offered a critically- acclaimed take on the zombie lore with his film, 28 DAYS LATER (2002). The film storyline offered an incurable viral infection as the cause for the UK-based spread for the reanimated effect. Director Zac Snyder remade DAWN OF THE DEAD in 2004 and tried re-vamping the slow- paced saunter of the zombie by replacing the pace with a fast, almost sprint-like chase in his version. Many people opposed the idea…including Romero himself!
Nicotero (l) & Frank Darabount (r)
Through it all, Greg Nicotero was continually working hard and steady with his KNB- EFX Group when he began talking to director Frank Darabount (THE GREEN MILE, THE MIST) before working on THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION. In those conversations, a union was forged as both men shared their common respects for the classic zombies in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and for George Romero. At that point, talks about a zombie project occurred about when Darabount presented the idea of bringing the graphic novels of THE WALKING DEAD to life. (No pun intended!)
Once THE WALKING DEAD was green- lit with a ‘go’, Executive Producer Darabount brought Nicotero on as a special effects make- up artist and consultant. Nicotero had to then help create and design a new zombie feel that would differ than those he helped create for DAY OF THE DEAD. Nicotero began by closely examining the designs that appeared in the graphic novels themselves. The make- up should be both realistic and practical, to help articulate the real- life peril effect that the show embodies. After its premiere on the television cable channel AMC (American Movie Channel), THE WALKING DEAD had not only become an over- night success, but helped in creating a new direction for the folklore and also brought awareness of zombies to a whole new heightened level never before seen!
Nicotero (l) directs Andrew Lincoln (r): WALKING DEAD
Soon thereafter, Nicotero slowly moved up the ranks from make- up artist, to consultant, then onto Executive Producer and even as a Director for several episodes. THE WALKING DEAD has always had a “mini- movie” approach to it and has steered away from just an ordinary television series. THE WALKING DEAD will begin its fifth season on October 12, 2014.
THE AFTERMATH FROM THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE
Like every fad that comes and goes, the zombies have suffered a worse fate than getting a bullet or a stake through the brain! Images have appeared on everything from posters, shirts, mugs, party favors and practically anything else left to the imagination. Zombies have somewhat lost the lure of fear and are now looked upon with a level of affection in most cases. Two sides of the admiration coin has led some to say that they wish they could become zombies themselves while others feel they are prepared for the zombie apocalypse… should it ever present itself.
Novelists, like Max Brooks (son of comedian/ writer/ director Mel Brooks) who wrote WORLD WAR Z, saw his writings "flesh out" as a major motion picture starring Brad Pitt in 2013. Today, Brooks actually holds seminars on how to survive a zombie invasion, based on his other novel, THE ZOMBIE SURVIVAL GUIDE.
Present day George A. Romero
But what about George Romero? The Godfather of Zombies, what has become of him? Aside from unrelated zombie films that he directed like MONKEY SHINES (1988) and Stephen King’s THE DARK HALF (1993), Romero went ahead and continued adding more chapters into his DEAD series. 2005 brought forth LAND OF THE DEAD, where the numbers are turned and humans are now the minority in numbers as the population of zombies has basically consumed the existing country. Romero tried a different approach to his films with DIARY OF THE DEAD (2007) as he shot it in a “docu-style” fashion like THE BLAIRWITCH PROJECT and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. Finally, the latest entry surfaced in 2009 with SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD, ringing with similarities to its island location, very reminiscent of the plantation from Lugosi’s WHITE ZOMBIE and the original story of “The Unknown Painter” from 1838.
What’s old is new again? Possibly. It doesn’t seem as if the zombie crazy has ‘died’ off just yet… one thing is for sure: Romero is taking a well- deserved hiatus from his DEAD films. Seeing that there are too many stories, comic and graphic novels and movies being made these days, he just doesn’t feel like being a part of the over- saturation presently taking place. He might just rise up, unexpectedly, as does his undead creations, with something new that will saunter into our nightmares again.
 
What are your thoughts on zombies? Are they here to stay or just another genre fad? Which is your favorite DEAD film or zombie- themed film?
 
Feel free to share your thoughts and comments and watch them get posted with a personal reply from me!
 
I hope you enjoyed this delectable morsel and that you will tune in for next month's entry scheduled for Thursday October 30th, 2014!
 
HAVE A SAFE AND HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!
TRICK OR TREAT, JAX!!!
 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

FILM RECOMMENDATION ON THE MONTH: AMADEUS TURNS 30


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The name is iconic and recognized both domestically and internationally throughout the centuries. Composer, show man, prodigy… drunk, womanizer, crass. Any and all words can be and have been used to describe one of the greatest classic composers the world has ever known. All words are also suited in describing the mad genius whose musical compositions came so effortlessly, as if taking dictation in class from his instructor. The untold story of Mozart was the subject of a major motion picture that garnered recognition from critics and audiences alike as well as winning eight Academy Awards including Best Picture in 1985. This little introduction leads me to my current topic: MY FILM RECOMMENDATION OF THE MONTH: AMADEUS.
FLASHBACK: THE EARLY 1980s
It is vastly inconceivable to remotely comprehend the notion that this motion picture is celebrating its 30th anniversary from its original release on September 23, 1984! Ah, yes… good ol’ 1984. The once futuristic title of George Orwell’s novel was now a very realistic year bountiful with entertainment on the silver screen. The year 1984 gave us such memorable films like: GREMLINS, GHOSTBUSTERS, PURPLE RAIN, BEVERLY HILLS COP, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, THE KARATE KID, THE TERMINATOR, FOOTLOOSE, THE NEVERENDING STORY, ROMANCING THE STONE, INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM, SIXTEEN CANDLES, REVENGE OF THE NERDS, RED DAWN and THIS IS SPINAL TAP… this was only the tip of the iceberg in title recognition and they all came out within one single year and all celebrating their respectable 30th as well.

The real Mozart
Getting back to my subject, I had just turned a young and precocious 16 years old that summer and enjoying the fruits of the cinematic labor. My mother, being of the classic musical background, constantly played the compositions of the likes of Beethoven, Bach… and Mozart, my personal favorite, around the house. The music was familiar to me and was threading into the fabric of my life at a very early age. In my early high school years, it had come to my attention through a school- related publication, that a Broadway play of Mozart’s life had been adapted and was starring none- other than Mark ‘Luke Skywalker’ Hamill in the lead production simply entitled AMADEUS.
Mark Hamill as Mozart

I still remember the black and white photo that showed Hamill dressed in his best mid- 18th century wardrobe sitting next to the harpsichord looking young and enthused. I immediately devoured the article about the play and came to find out that it was the telling of Mozart’s life through music and dramatic interpretation. Information was scarce back in the 80s with no internet to gather additional articles. I would have to wait and see if this production might come to my nearby Los Angeles' stages; again, using limited resources for updates. The show slipped through my fingers.
The light had not dimmed just yet, for here I was, as an anxious 16 year old gobbling up ghosts and gremlins that Summer, to surprisingly be treated to the early Fall’s submission of award- worthy quality films… the film adaption of the play I had read about just a few years ago: AMADEUS was now a major motion picture event!
STORY SYNOPSIS
The tale of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce) is told through the confessional narration of Italian- born composer, Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) who weaves his tale to a visiting priest (Herman Meckler) while being confined within an institute after a failed suicide attempt. The subject of the talk was that Salieri pled forgiveness for killing Mozart.
F. Murray Abraham as older Salieri
Now an old man, Salieri began his story when Mozart was a child prodigy. Having been personally tutored and trained to read and play several classical musical instruments by his father, Leopold Mozart (Roy Dotrice), Wolfgang began writing music at the age of 6 and was composing symphonies and operas at the age of 12. Salieri, in the meantime, was just a few years older than Mozart and was still playing with his fellow street companions, regretted his father’s unsupportive attitude in Salieri’s musical interest. He emulated the idea that Mozart had become famous at such an early age and received mentorship by his father, touring throughout the country and having the honor of  performing for royalty. After the death of Salieri’s father, he quickly moved to Vienna and began his musical education. Becoming a young adult, he constantly prayed to God to bless him with talent in His honor and requested success in the compositions he would write. Mozart, in the meantime, had already grown into his own popularity and conducted numerous public and requested performances that showcased his music.
Salieri meets...
Salieri was overjoyed to hear that Mozart was coming to Vienna, having been invited to perform at an exclusive event hosted by the Archbishop himself. At last, the eagerly awaited moment in which he might finally meet his composing inspiration, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, in person. Having never seen his image before, Salieri took it upon himself to look at the faces of the young men in attendance to see if he could pick out what Mozart might appear like. He would have to present himself with an ere of intelligence and brilliance… maturity and talent would essentially be etched in his features and mannerism. Having found himself in the private dining room, now filled with only the finest in the culinary selections, he heard a squeamish young woman’s shrills as she was chased by a young man in the most immature manner. Obviously two young fools who were playing a childish version of hide and seek, Salieri hid under one of the tables, only to witness the vulgar behaviors of this upstart of a boy as he teased and manhandled the young woman. Then, music began… it was a new composition of Mozart playing in the main hall.
... Mozart (Tom Hulce) for the first time
At that moment, the boorish young man rocked Salieri’s senses as he stated that HIS music had begun without his presence! THIS was Mozart! Salieri couldn’t believe his eyes as his perception of the talented composer was shattered by the reality of the imbecile before him.

It was shortly after this encounter that Salieri elected to renounce his belief in God. How could He waste such precious gifts on someone who didn’t deserve or appreciate them? It was at that moment that Salieri waged a bitter war against both God and Mozart… neither deserved the attention or respect from him. He would do everything within his power to befriend and ruin Mozart personally.
Emperor (Jeffery Jones)
Fate brought the two musicians together at last. By this time, Salieri was now the private tutor and court composer to Emperor Joseph II (Jeffery Jones), who had a love for classical compositions. Mozart was invited by the Emperor himself to not only visit him, but enlisted the talents of Mozart and requisitioned him to write an opera for the National Theatre. After the acceptance of such a prestigious request, Mozart elected to stay in the city of musical composers and accepted Salieri’s friendship in return.

A young Salieri (Abraham)
Salieri: a tormented soul, indeed. Never once had he allowed himself to relish in his own success as he spent time plotting on sabotaging Mozart’s music, ideas for operas and even his personal life. Every plot within his conspiracy was aimed to fuel the personal vendetta towards his own God, making it his mission to destroy His musical angel. His soul grew darker and bitter, yet, there was still the inner fixation and passion towards Mozart’s music that was undeniable. He could hate the man but not his compositions.
Constanze Mozart (Elizabeth Berridge)
Having ignored his father’s request to return back to his native Salzburg, Mozart stayed in Vienna and defiantly took on a wife, Constanze (Elizabeth Berridge), on August 4, 1782. He rode on the cusp of success and was looked upon as the toast of the town. He had nothing but a deep admiration for his father, although portrayed in a strict but cautiously caring manner, one could almost analyze that Mozart sought Leopold’s approval on the successes of his musical abilities. It could easily be thought through that he recognized the hard hours of mentoring could now be paid- off by his fame. Money was coming in and Mozart spent exasperating hours, even sleepless days and nights, dictating music that flowed in his head like a running brook onto paper. The music couldn’t be shut off; it drowned his senses as if listening to the music on full volume in an isolated chamber. Then, the drinking, the endless parties and the countless women and visitations to brothels soon followed. Constanze could only silently witness the downward spiral into his personal abyss as she turned a blind eye to the reckless behavior her husband portrayed. 
Leopold (Roy Doltrice)

Mozart had taken on more musical commissions than he could handle, money was becoming scarce due to his frivolous spending and lack of proper financial savings. The drinking was constant and the late nights out were now a routine procedure as he would sneak out once all were asleep. The balancing act of his actions would finally crash upon the notification that his father, Leopold, had suddenly passed away! This was an extremely devastating blow to Mozart, having abruptly realized his childish behaviors and the obvious ignoring of returning back home.
The tormented spirit DON GIOVANNI
The year was now 1787… a very odd and almost too coincidental occurrence was revealed in Mozart’s timeline, as he would debut his darkest opera yet: “Don Giovanni.” The story surrounds a mixture of dramatic overtones mixed in with supernatural elements. A tormented soul within the opera was, by Salieri’s account, believed to be that of Leopold himself, returning from the grave to continue consuming Mozart’s soul with guilt.
The mysterious messenger
Almost immediately following the tragedy, Mozart received a very mysterious request to compose a requiem in honor of a dead man. The name was not revealed nor was the messenger who remained in a black cloak with an emotionless black facial mask. He was, within the same time, composing a light farce of a musical intended for the common people of Vienna… the compositions would become “The Magic Flute.” The complete contrast, mentally, to be able to write both a saddened and dark requiem and then to off- set the balance out by flipping mental channels on composing a whimsical and frilly humorous opera. How does one even begin to emotionally prepare for such polar opposites?
The Enchanted Queen from THE MAGIC FLUTE
“The Magic Flute”, now completed, premiered in 1791 to a roaring and well- entertained audience, feeling emotionally and physically ill, Mozart was in attendance. His demeanor was pasty; the pallet was pale and slightly yellowish. Also in attendance, sitting high in a balcony, Salieri watched both the composer and the composition. During his confessional talk with the priest in the institute, the elder Salieri admittedly revealed that it was he who had dressed as the dark- cloaked messenger and tormented Mozart like the spirit in “Don Giovanni”, almost copying the costume worn on stage. The requiem in question would serve a darker purpose with a plot not yet mentioned.
Having finished “The Magic Flute”, Mozart tried to concentrate on the requiem. The anonymous messenger had consistently added pressures to have the work completed, but he was too ill to continue on it alone. His conditions worsened as Mozart collapsed during a performance of “The Magic Flute”, to which he conducted and accompanied with instrument. Salieri, ever present and attended as many performances as possible, witnessed the incident and arranged and rode on transportation to return Mozart home. He made sure that he was placed on his bed and noticed that Constanze was not present. It came to pass that she had enough of Mozart’s ill- advised behaviors and retreated to a nearby resort for rest. This was the entrance Salieri needed to Mozart.
Salieri assists Mozart with the Requiem
Barely having the strength to continue penning his requiem composition, looked to Salieri for assistance. Here was the man who had made the request himself of Mozart and was now asked to help. The underlining intention was even worse than expected… a sly smirk curled over the lips of the elder Salieri as he continued his soul- baring confession to the priest. The internal plot would finally inform that the requiem was intended for Mozart’s very own death and that Salieri would take full credit for the composition as a homage to his dear and fellow musician! The plan was coming to a close.
The music comes faster than it can be written
The notes, movements and instruments spewed from Mozart’s breath as if he delivered a memorized monolog. Salieri barely kept up while he tried desperately to comprehend the ideas being shared. A large portion had finally been dictated when Mozart requested a brief rest to try to regain strength. Salieri greedily overlooked the musical sheets when he was suddenly interrupted by the unannounced arrival of Constanze. Inquiring why he was in their home, Salieri informed her of Mozart’s illness and how he had been assisting him with the compositions. She pulled the sheets out of his hands and forbid Mozart to write anymore, locking the composition in a glass case… blaming his fatigue on the harsh and constant work strain he had been under. The sheets were now away from the hands of the composer and the conspirator.
Mozart meets his fate
Constanze approached their bed in which Mozart laid quietly. She whispered his name as to not startle him from his sleep… but he was not asleep. His eyes, staring emotionlessly towards the ceiling, were glazed and without reaction. On December 5, 1791, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was dead at the age of 35. Two days later, Mozart was laid to rest in a common, unmarked grave, as was the typical customs of Vienna for the time. A very small collection of close family and friends were present. Salieri was present as well.

Salieri's last words to the priest
The sun rays had beamed through the barred window in Salieri’s small room, the elder composer sat with a satisfied look on his face as he gazed upon the reaction of his confessor. The priest, in tears, oversees Salieri… the thoughts of a monster and tormentor must have passed through his silent lips. A male nurse walked in on the two men and collected Salieri, as it was time for his bath and breakfast. Rolled out of his room in a wheelchair, Salieri delivered his final words to the priest… a tortured soul meant to suffer 32 years later after Mozart’s death. Where was God’s justice? Taking his angel and allowing his music to live forever and burden Salieri to live on with the guilt and suffering of becoming old and to personally witness the slow distinction of his own music. He considered himself the voice for all mediocrities in the world. He was their patriot saint… the slow downward decline of sanity could barely hold on as he was whisked away with his tortured soul fully intact. The never- ending music of Mozart still played within his mind, never to let the conspirator rest for his wrong doings until his own death would, maybe, set him free at last.
PRODUCTION ORGINS
Shortly after the preview of Peter Shaffer’s new play, AMADEUS, premiered at the National Theater in London on November 2, 1979, an audience member made a declaration about the work. That person was none other than Academy Award- winning director Milos Foreman (ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST) stating that he had the subject for his next motion picture and would dedicate the time necessary to properly present the story in its most classical and authentic interpretation possible.  
It would take nearly two years later to have Shaffer finally agree upon the collaboration for the screenplay in 1982. The project became an obsession, as the two men locked themselves away from the public in a Connecticut farmhouse for 4 months, hatching out the plot, story and dialog. After the screenplay had been completed, Foreman contacted producer Saul Zaentz, who shared in the Academy Award victory for ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST. Zaentz was on board with the project and suggested that they enlist box office stars for the roles. Foreman was against it, envisioning how unacceptable it would be to have Mozart played by a recognizable face.
Almost a year later, after auditions from both Tim Curry and Mark Hamill as Mozart were held since they played Amadeus on stage in various productions, had the cast finally been rounded off and the production could begin filming in Prague, Czechoslovakia, the best location offering a re-created setting of 18th- century Vienna.
Special Effects artist Dick Smith works on Salieri's make-up
Keeping production moving along was an arduous task for both Foreman and Zaentz. Tom Hulce perfected his keyboarding skills and practiced 4 hours a day and actually played every note himself as Mozart. F. Murray Abraham had to learn how to read and conduct music for his role as Salieri. Abraham had to endure an estimated 4 ½ hours of make- up by Special Effects master Dick Smith (THE EXORCIST) to create the elder Salieri. Smith would later win the Academy Award for Best Make- Up Effects for his work on AMADEUS.
Peter Schaffer
Play and screenwriter Peter Schaffer actually broke down and cried when he visited the Theatre of the Estates in Prague, knowing that Mozart had actually premiered “Don Giovanni” there almost two centuries ago. Aside from a few sections within the opera house, most of it still relies on wax candles for illumination. The production crew had to work from outside generators to operate the cameras and other pieces of electrical equipment when principal photography occurred within the theatre.

In 1985, during the 57th annual Academy Awards presentation, AMADEUS had been nominated for eleven awards and won eight. The winning awards were Best Picture, Best Actor: F. Murray Abraham, Best Director: Milos Foreman, Best Screenplay: Peter Schaffer, Best Art Direction- Set Decorator, Best Costume Design, Best Sound and Best Make- Up. The other three nominations were for Best Actor: Tom Hulce, Best Choreography and Best Film Editing.
Director Milos Foreman and Producer Saul Zaentz on Award night

MY PERSONAL RECOMMENDATION
Other films had been made aside from AMADEUS, regarding the lives of other famous composers. My mother’s favorite is the 1945 adaptation of Frederick Chopin’s life entitled A SONG TO REMEMBER. Another that was released in 1994 was IMMORTAL BELOVED starring Gary Oldman as Ludwig Von Beethoven. Perhaps AMADEUS rings as a personal favorite for two reasons: one: as previously stated, being that Mozart has always been my favorite classic composer and two: its origins are rooted from theatre and retain a great deal of that particular showmanship throughout the film.
AMADEUS plays as a “greatest hits” collection of Mozart’s finest works as well. Selections from “The Marriage of Figaro”, “The Magic Flute”, “Don Giovanni” and even the dark “Requiem” are all present and interweaving throughout the film. The motion picture plays out like a musical, of sorts, since the entire film is routed with melodies, compositions, operatic singing and arias throughout the entire run: from the opening sequence to the bitter ending.
F. Murray Abraham directed by Milos Foreman
 Is AMADEUS a boring and drawn- out biography? Not at all! The entertainment value of some humorous scenes, particularly the translated “laugh” that Tom Hulce uses as Mozart, are very amusing without going too deep or delivering too much and balances with the rich drama that supports the underlining story telling of this tragedy.
It would not be fair to say that the film is a somber production and would easily defuse those not interested in a tear- jerker. I have always seen the film as a celebration of the works and the man who composed such memorable and enchanting compositions. It is hardening to see such an intelligent and musical genius endure the likes of life’s poisons as alcohol and prostitution. Would it be fair to say that Mozart ranks as the 17th century Jim Morrison or Janice Joplin or even Kurt Cobain, all of which displayed immense talents and were taken in by the abuses available to them. Another case in point to ponder, most talented individuals are met with a premature demise. Must the talented be met with the abuses of life to explore parallels yet to be explored within the mind or needs to help suppress the overflow that cannot be contained?

Tom Hulce (l) and F. Murray Abraham (r)
And what about the acting? Tom Hulce brings a magnificent and very humanistic approach to Mozart himself, but the real treat is presented in F. Murray Abraham’s performance of Salieri. Having previously been a stage actor, Abraham carries the film in a very one- man show- like delivery that draws you in and leaves you anticipating his next words. Being that Schaffer personally adapted the screenplay from his own play also adds to the theatrical flair within the delivery of the lines… particularly the protagonist. The rest of the ensemble highlights personal moments that only adds to the presentation of the film.  

A very exciting aspect is the production value of AMADEUS. Not a single detail was spared in the recreation of authentic costuming, set design and the classic photography to essentially capture the period and the story without alluding to fancy or flashy photographic effects, which were becoming the new fad of 1980’s films.
In closing, AMADEUS may mark a round age of 30 years, but the detailed and timeless production holds very strongly without a wrinkle to show for it… even after all of these years.
So, what is your point? Is AMADEUS a film that is a must- see or own? Is it one that you have placed on your “to- watch” list and still haven’t gotten to it yet?
Voice your comments and post them right here… I will reply to all and I look forward to your thoughts and opinions! Stay tuned for next month’s blog entry scheduled for Thursday September 25th, 2014! Thank you once again for visiting and supporting this site!