ALWAYS KEEPING AN EYE ON HOLLYWOOD!!!

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!

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