Amadeus is Miloš Forman’s brilliant adaptation of Peter Shaffer’s stage play of the same name that mesmerized Broadway for almost three years in the early 1980s. The original cast starred such lasting visionaries as Tim Curry, Ian McKellen, Jane Seymour, and many others that continued illustrious careers on stage and screen. Forman’s casting for this film had to be exquisite – and it was. Amadeus scored eight Academy Awards and thirty-two other top industry recognitions. Entering the American Film Institute’s top 100 films of the 20th century and continuing to remain fresh almost forty years later, if you have seen it you won’t disagree that Amadeus is one of the greatest films of all time.
I remember first having watched it on VHS in my adolescence. I was absolutely mesmerized by its classic archetypal tale of effortless genius and the lengths to which one goes to capture some small drop of this energetic momentum when one feels that they deserved it their entire life. It is the story of a mentor whose mentee becomes more than he ever could. It is the story of desire, madness, addiction, and the lengths one goes to capture perfection in art. It is the story, in essence, of extreme longing. Feeling under-challenged, under-fostered, and a little lost in my own artistic expression, this film influenced my dreams and challenged me to accomplish everything I felt I deserved to accomplish in this lifetime.
On rewatching it in 2018, Amadeus remains a captivating and fresh piece. All too often I find myself watching films made in the 70s and 80s – especially period pieces – and feeling that the movie is so deeply rooted in the 70s and 80s and not in the 1780s. In many ways, the costumes, hairstyles, music, and soft-touch soapy lens choices keep the pieces stuck in the eras they were made and not where they were set. Amadeus is as fresh, lively, and beautiful as ever, and doesn’t suffer from these same trappings of threadbare, dated period pieces. The performances by F. Murray Abraham (in his Oscar-winning role) and Tom Hulce (who was also nominated for best actor) are unforgettable. Their chemistry is unparalleled – I sincerely find it difficult to think of two actors being as well suited to working together as this film. Their relationship, as well as their performances and characterization, are perfectly suited for one another.
If you haven’t seen Abraham’s beautiful acceptance speech, it is unforgettably, emotionally, and fraternally addressed solely to Hulce and his wife Kate:
Forman has masterfully created an amazing work of art from a story that transcends time. Joshua Klien suggests that through centering the film on Don Giovanni amounts to a strange “stirring work in the context of what amounts to a piece of pop art,” but concludes that it was entirely the point Forman was trying to make. While we have many Americans playing Viennese aristocracy, we also can accept this world of a larger than life genius who flies in the face of everything because of the incredible production elements and brilliant performances. It influenced my young self to dedicate my own life to art and the endless pursuit of perfection – while allowing me to heed Salieri’s warning. At fourteen or fifteen I bought both vinyl soundtracks, and I am reminded that it is time to revisit the film often because it remains one of my favorites.
…Oh, and there’s this. By comparison, here is what something influenced by the film looks like that still remains beautifully, mesmerizingly stuck in the 1980s. RIP, you genius.