December 2, 2001
Milos Forman, ,
Starring: F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge, Simon Callow, Roy Dotrice, Christine Ebersole, Jeffrey Jones, Charles Kay, Kenneth McMillan, Kenny Baker, Lisabeth Bartlett, Barbara Bryne, Martin Cavina, Roderick Cook, Milan Demjanenko, ,
The 1980s were a good decade for period films—most notably, Amadeus (1984), Dangerous Liaisons (1988) and Valmont (1989). The problem with many of these kinds of movies is that they take themselves too seriously. What separates Amadeus from the others is a wicked sense of humour, playfulness on a grand scale. Fans of the film are in for a real treat with this new two DVD set that features not only a beautifully restored print but also a new Director’s Cut that features 20 minutes of footage not shown in the theatrical version.
Antonio Salieri (Abraham) is a court composer who has always desired to be famous. Near the end of his life he tries to commit suicide. He survives and sits down with a priest and recounts his life and his relationship with the legendary composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Hulce). In many ways Salieri’s story is also his confession as he claims responsibility for the famous composer’s death.
Amadeus explores what it means to be a genius and how others view that person. Invariably, they feel jealousy and this is personified in Salieri. While he may take himself too seriously, he doesn’t take his art seriously and this is what separates him from Mozart. For all of his goofy antics and childish behaviour, he creates music that moves people and makes it look easy because, for him, it all came naturally—much to Salieri’s chagrin.
F. Murray Abraham is brilliant as the manipulative Salieri. He plays the man as a smug and self-absorbed. He was all set to become a big time composer and sees it all slip away once Mozart arrives on the scene. Abraham, with his piercing stare, brings a mesmerizing intensity to this role. His entire performance is in his eyes. The social customs of the day forced people to suppress their emotions publicly and so what his character feels is conveyed through his eyes.
Tom Hulce is also great as the eccentric Mozart. He portrays the composer as a bratty young man who is more interested in playing word games and fooling around with voluptuous women then playing the piano like a trained monkey for the snooty aristocracy. Hulce is able to effortlessly go back and forth from Mozart’s flamboyant side, complete with that high-pitched goofy laugh, to the creative artist who thought on a whole other level from everyone else. He was a true rebel of his times because he thought and acted differently from the norm.
The transfer is excellent. The colours are sharp and crisp with a near flawless clarity of picture. In particular, there is a concert scene that juxtaposes the soft glow of the audience with the bright, primary colours of the opera taking place on the stage. There is no fading in the print, which is amazing considering that this film is almost twenty years old.
The new, 5.1 surround soundtrack is very impressive. The classical music comes through crystal clear as it booms out of the speakers. However, the rear speakers are not utilized as well as they could—whether this was a limitation of the original soundtrack is unclear but during the concert scenes the crowd’s thunderous applause can barely be heard. The music itself is reserved for the front speakers, which realistically imitates the theatre experience of the time.
The first disc features an audio commentary with the film’s director, Milos Forman and the screenwriter, Peter Shaffer (who also wrote the play that the film was based on). Forman dominates the track as he recalls many anecdotes about the challenge of working on location in Prague, Czechoslovakia. He also speaks candidly about the casting. F. Murray Abraham originally tried out for a minor role but after reading with the actor, Forman thought that he had a bitterness that was right for the role of Salieri. Shaffer talks primarily about the differences between his play and the film. He also talks about early drafts of the screenplay and how the central character, at one point, was a priest who recounted Salieri’s confession and life story in flashback.
Rounding out this disc are the standard cast and crew filmographies.
Disc two features an impressive hour-long Making Of documentary. Many of the cast and crew members appear in new interviews, including Forman, Jeffrey Jones and, as a real treat for fans of the film, the publicity shy Tom Hulce! The documentary traces the origins of the film to Shaffer’s play and goes through the entire process of how the film was made. Forman originally wasn’t interested in the project because he found historical biographies boring but he changed his mind after he saw Shaffer’s play and realized the dramatic potential. It’s a good mix of talking head interviews and stills and footage from the movie. Despite the obvious archival interview footage with Abraham, he is refreshingly candid. He talks about how he was cast and how skeptical he was about getting a role in the film. This documentary is a real treat for fans of Amadeus as all the participants tell fascinating stories about their experiences working on the movie.
The only other extra on the disc is a theatrical trailer.
For all of its funny and light-heartedness, Amadeus is ultimately a tragedy because such a promising life was cruelly cut short as a result of the petty jealousy of one man. This fascinating story has been masterfully told in a film that has now been given a proper DVD treatment.