Sunday, 22 September 2013

Amadeus (1984)

It was the September Weekend holiday last week, in which Scottish state school kids get both their Friday and their Monday off for a four-day weekend in the middle of September. Late on the Thursday evening, I noticed that Amadeus, the 1985 Best Picture winner, was on BBC Two at quarter to midnight. I took the split-second decision to give it a watch, regardless of how early I was supposed to get up the following morning and how tired I would be by the end. I would commit myself to this film. It was only as the title card appeared:

AMADEUS

DIRECTOR'S CUT

...that I sank back in my seat and put my head in my hands. It would be a long night.

But what a director. MiloŇ° Forman is my second-favourite Czech, and his 'other film', One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, is undoubtably one of the best films I've ever seen. Forman won the best director Academy Award for both One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and Amadeus (two out of his three nominations), and both won best picture. His movies craft extraordinary characters and tells their story with exceptional skill. If there's anyone I'd trust to re-edit a film up to three hours long to take me late into the night, it's Forman.

The extraordinary character at the centre of Amadeus is Antonio Salieri. He's an Italian composer with a gig writing music for the Holy Roman Emperor in Vienna. We join him as an elderly man in a mental institution, where he retells the story of his glory years to a young priest; glory years which were largely eclipsed by the meteoric of a ridiculously talented former child prodigy named Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Where Salieri can write the occasional march for a royal event, Mozart is in another league. As Salieri recounts, he wrote his first entire symphony at the age of eight. When he composes, he writes out the exact complexities he is hearing in his head in one go, making no mistakes in any of the multitude of parts.

Salieri's problem is that Mozart is a conceited, arrogant, moronic arsehole. He doesn't nearly deserve the divine talent that has been bestowed upon him. This drives Salieri's jealousy beyond reasonable bounds, and he fantasises about murdering the young man so he can play his own compositions at his funeral. It only intensifies as Mozart has success after success, writing great symphonies and operas, the beauty of which Salieri can only awe at (Amadeus' soundtrack is immense). His narcissism and immaturity is toe-curling to watch. It's a situation that the best of us can relate to: the mind-melting irritation that comes as a result of being bettered by a seemingly undeserving contemporary, one who achieves so much more with far less effort.

With this story, Amadeus speaks to a vast majority of us. Those of us who have ever been made to doubt that hard work will get you anywhere. Those of us who have ever been driven to rage by the taunting of our superiors. However, the message behind Amadeus, so vividly demonstrated by Forman, is that these attitudes have deep consequences. They will destroy you as well as the target of your spite, and no one comes out clean. It's a truth that everyone will learn over the course of their lives. Save yourself the time and the bother, and bathe in the magnificence of the incredible Amadeus.

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