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Amadeus

Winner of 8 Academy Awards including Best Picture, 1984's AMADEUS is a brilliant film, soaring with wall-to-wall Mozart music, great performances and plenty of humor as harmony to its history.

Director Milos Forman (Ragtime, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) saw Peter Shaffer's play the week it opened and immediately started courting him to write a film adaption. Unhappy with previous film adaptions of his work, "Equus" chief among those disappointments, Shaffer wanted nothing to do with a potential film.

Forman eventually convinced him and Shaffer moved into Forman's farmhouse for four months to adapt his play for the screen. He won a Best Screenplay Oscar for his efforts.

The story is anything but a dry history lesson.

Mozart, perfectly embodied in the hilarious persona of Tom Hulce (Animal House) is a bawdy, uncultured young man who just happens to be brilliant.

Nearly from the start, he's observed and "mentored" by one of the greatest villains of all time, composer Antonio Salieri, played in his Oscar winning role by F. Murray Abraham.

Forman and Shaffer frame the film with an elderly, clearly mad Salieri confessing his sins to a young Priest in an asylum. As he confesses, the film takes us there, revealing Mozart's life.

Mozart's genius is on display, with Sir Neville Marriner conducting a full Orchestra and chorus in a nearly non-stop soundtrack of Mozart's compositions. As Mozart, or "Wolfy" as his young wife Constanze (Elizabeth Berridge) calls him, composes, we hear the music emerge from the notes on the page.

His genius drives Salieri to madness, with the older man trying to foil him at every turn.

The surrounding cast is perfect. Simon Callow (The Phantom of the Opera) is a blast as his actor friend Emanuel. Jeffrey Jones (Ferris Bueller's Day Off) is the Emperor to whom Amadeus reports. Watching the uncouth Wolfgang battle of wits and humor versus Jones' Emperor serves up some of the film's best moments. I loved how the Emperor often seemed unaware of the chaste laws he had created.

Oscars went to everything from the stunning art direction, costumes, music and sound. Along with the photography of Miroslav Ondricek (The World According to Garp) the film is a master class in creating an entertaining three hour drama that never slows. The movie was shot without the use of light bulbs or other modern lighting devices by Ondricek. It looks incredible.


The recreations of Mozart's operas are all jaw dropping, for non-Opera buffs and fans alike. The soundtrack of the film is credited for introducing millions to Mozart and classical music. The performance of "Don Giovanni" in the movie was filmed on the same stage where the opera first appeared!

Hulce only knew how to play the guitar before the film. Forman said they could cheat it, but it would be good if he learned how to play the piano. Hulce spent six hours a day for six months learning how to play the piano, and every Mozart symphony that was in the film. It lends an authenticity to every performance. Abraham also learned to read & write music, just a small part of his performance that stands up today as his all-time best. Even buried under Dick Smith's excellent old man makeup, Abraham conveys every bit of pain and joy remembering his younger days of witnessing Mozart create.

A huge risk for its producer, Saul Zaentz, the film was made without the backing of a major studio. Orion released it at the time, but the risk was almost solely on Zaentz. It paid off handsomely when the film swept the Academy Awards and became a major hit, earning $52 million against its $18m budget.

AMADEUS is smart, funny and beautiful to watch and hear. Just try and get all those Mozart hooks out of your ears afterward. One of the most deserving Best Picture winners of the past 50 years, AMADEUS soars to a A+.




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