Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Amadeus Blogathon: Updated Links

An updated list of posts from the Amadeus Blogathon.

- Here’s a great piece Ali Arikan did a couple of years ago on the film. My favorite part is when he discusses Salieri’s first glimpse of Mozart’s music, and then compares and contrasts it with one of my own personal bĂȘtes noire. Money quote:

Now, remember, the floating plastic bag in American Beauty, and Wes Bentley’s rambling, ridiculous, monologue. Regardless of the differences in writing (I will not stoop to making tawdry comparisons between Peter Shaffer and Alan Ball), both sequences are similar, in that the characters recall their first encounter with what they perceive to be a divine force. Yet where one merely hints at the notes, the other approaches them with the subtlety of a steamroller driven by a drunk. 1984 was definitely not a vintage year, and film, in general, hasn’t grown worse in the past 25 years. But the Oscars have. And the contrasting duality of the sheer awesome power of Amadeus and the anemic mediocrity of American Beauty only served to remind me of one of the motifs of Amadeus itself.

- Thought it would be useful to include some links to interviews with Milos Forman from over the years, particularly ones that feature Amadeus prominently.
- An AV Club interview from 2002, in which Forman discusses the Director’s Cut of the film in some detail.
- A New York Times piece from 1983, describing Forman’s return to Prague for the shoot of the film.
- A 2002 interview/profile from the Telegraph.
- A transcript from a fairly in-depth BBC interview with Forman, dating from the period after Man in the Moon.

- Here’s a piece by me on the idea that Mozart’s music in Amadeus should essentially be seen as a character separate from Mozart the man and Salieri. (I’m not including a “money quote” from my own post, because that would be gauche.)

- In a brilliant new essay, Victor Morton (who knows a thing or two about devotion to God) digs deep into Salieri’s supposedly pious reasons for giving himself over to God, and finds some surprisingly selfish impulses. Money quote:

“Salieri sees Mozart as God laughing at him, and is determined to have the last laugh. Which is conceptually incoherent of course. Even an atheist can realize that had his plan come off, he’d only have fooled men not God. His theological error, intact from boyhood, comes in seeing men and fortuna as manifestations of God. And in the end, Salieri doesn’t even get that, as the Requiem Mass is locked away from him and Mozart’s body is dumped in a pauper’s grave. Even to the end, his claim to have murdered Mozart is an effort to impress men, to give himself the immortality that his music didn’t. And if he didn’t murder Mozart in the sense of stabbing or strangling him, well, that’s God’s fault too, he tells the priest, ‘destroying His own beloved rather than let a mediocrity share in the smallest part of His glory.’”

- Here's Tim Grierson on the film's unique approach to audience identification. Money quote:
"[T]he film illustrates a basic principle of indelible antagonists: They think they're the heroes of their story. Watching Amadeus, it's easy to assume that Salieri is the hero. (From a simplistic Robert McKee perspective on Hollywood writing, Salieri is the active character who drives the narrative forward.) But look at what Salieri represents: envy, pride, stubbornness, moral corruption. These aren't the qualities of your typical "good guy." But can Mozart be the hero? Sure, he produces all those great musical works, but he's a brat. He's conceited. He refuses to act the way a proper hero should."

- Over at Adventures in Cinema, Andrew Welch discusses Amadeus – and in particular the final scene where Salieri and Mozart work together on the Requiem – in light of Graham Greene’s theory that art should show us the world not just as it is but as it should be. Money quote:
"And yet, that doesn't explain his expression of undisguised awe as he looks into his rival's eyes and says, without a hint of exaggeration, 'You are the greatest composer known to me.' Salieri is still acting out of revenge--that's only too clear--but now we catch a glimpse of sincerity, of humility, and even remorse, especially as Mozart, barely able to speak, whispers to him, 'I was so foolish. I thought you did not care for my work, or me. Forgive me.'"

- Here at They Live by Night, Zach Ralston offers an appreciation of the film, focusing in particular on Salieri's unique relationship not only to Mozart but also to Mozart's music. Money quote:
"But what we do end up remembering from Salieri is how he speaks – and particularly how he describes Mozart's music... [He] describes one concerto as starting off by sounding like 'a rusty squeezebox' before an oboe soars high above it all, only to be taken over by a clarinet rescuing the fluttering notes. It's powerful imagery, and underscores Salieri's hidden genius – a music critic."

- Another oldie-but-goodie: Paul Clark of Silly Hats Only ruminates on the special place Amadeus has had in his life -- first in his impressionable youth as an aspiring musician, and then in his more reflective, adult years. Money quote:
"[A]s the years pass, I find myself drawn more and more to the character of Salieri than to my former role model Mozart. When we’re young we’re told we can do anything, but life soon teaches almost everyone otherwise. This can be a painful revelation, especially for those who honestly believe they’re destined for greatness. To be good, but just not quite good enough, is difficult for people to accept. Take it from someone who struggled with the idea for years."

-Over at Some Came Running, the great Glenn Kenny reflects on the multiple and diffuse origins of the film -- from Forman to Shaffer to Shaffer to Hall to Shaffer to Pushkin, and what they reveal about the work. Money quote:
"Amadeus is the most seriously ironical motion picture of its kind. No, Forman does not take the film to the absurdist/surrealist heights of his Czech The Fireman’s Ball, from 1967; and being that its very subject is Great Art/The Great Artist to begin with, it can’t begin to even find some of the Pataphysical implications of Forman’s earlier work. But as costume dramas go, Forman’s cinematizing of Peter Shaffer’s eloquent but rather more conventional-in-perspective play is replete with bits of near-absurdist bite; sometimes they're moments of slapstick (the way Salieri falls out of the bed when Constanze walks in on he and Mozart sleeping off a night of working on the “Requiem”), and the tang is always there in the way Amadeus portrays Salieri’s piety as both hateful and tedious."

- Here at They Live by Night, guest writer Matthew Wilder discusses the specific and unique place that Amadeus held in the cosmology of Eighties moviegoing – representing a crucial link between the high-minded art film and the audience-pleasing spectacle, complete with the explosive sound of a blockbuster. Money quote:
Amadeus plays like science fiction; it in no way resembles the real world. Its pomp and customs, and its insistence on black hats and white hats, bring it very close to the technologically heightened childishness of the George Lucas universe… [I]t plays as a terrific eighties teen movie, an adolescent’s version of the war between the compromised grownups and the playful ne’er-do-well juveniles.”

- In a beautiful, insightful piece over at his blog, Peter Labuza discusses the way that Forman’s use of music in the film creates a kind of subjective space for the character of Salieri. Money quote:
"It would have certainly been easy enough for Forman to simply populate the soundtrack of Amadeus…with the music of Mozart without much thought in why they chose any particularly piece except the emotions felt. However, Shaffer and Forman use the music as specifically a subjective experience and commentary by Salieri. The music cues…offer insight both into how the spectator can understand the genius of Mozart and how the film uses Salieri’s knowledge of Mozart to comment and create a narrative of a man haunted by another."

- In a touchingly personal, older piece, Victor Morton discusses how Amadeus was the film that made him want to be a critic. He also addresses the film’s depiction of Salieri’s anger at God. Money quote:
“God’s gifts are both delight and a cross, and it’s the special cursed gift to Salieri that he alone can hear God’s voice and how sweet it is, while that same gift lets him know how inadequate his own work is. It’s key to the film that Mozart and Salieri both know the court musicians, emperor and Viennese public are fools; making their praise of Salieri and his popularity worthless to him…As Salieri says to the priest: ‘if He didn’t want me to praise Him with music, why did He give me the desire?’”


  1. That's a great collection, Bilge. _Amadeus_ has been a favorite of mine for so many of the reasons illustrated above. I find Salieri heroic, in his way: even though his _performance_ for the priest is bombastic, florid, and even humorous, I suspect that behind it, he's reached a self-awareness of his own motives and his role in history. He _knows_ his prayers were selfish. He _knows_ he was jealous of Mozart. He _knows_ that his turn against God was a self-important folly of a younger, angrier, deluded man.

    But he's _performing for the priest_. He's letting ironies sink into the poor schlub, rather than spelling them out. Why? Because Salieri has confronted the questions of grace, art, and God far more seriously than this pisher in a cassock's ever done. If he confessed to this guy, he'd be putting himself below this functionary. It's like Gore Vidal being interviewed by Tucker Carlson. But, by adopting the imperial tone, but revealing really awful motives and frustrations, Salieri's educating the kid and putting him in his place.

    Paul Clark's comment, quoted above, is exactly right and wonderful. Most of us are Salieri; we appreciate great art, we wish we could create it, but we either can't, or can't bring ourselves to see it as great. We understand the frustration of existing among greatness. And some of us make peace with that. Salieri does, at the end.

  2. "Like Gore Vidal being interviewed by Tucker Carlson." I love it!

  3. Bilge - Excellent collection of quotes and ideas. Very well organized as always.
    Brian, another thought-provoking post.
    I had the pleasure of meeting Tom Hulce several years ago. He was surprised I recognized him. At the time he had a grey beard and was, in his words, '30 pounds heavier!'.

    Alexander Pietrzak

  4. "Like Gore Vidal being interviewed by Tucker Carlson." I love it!

  5. Perfect selections bring back imprint of a film that stays as clear and profound as the first time seen.