1984 (Revised 2002) - Dir: Milos Forman
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on 26th October, 2006
This film is nothing like the dreary educational portraits we're used to seeing about the Great Composers, who come across as cobwebbed profundities weighed down with the burden of genius. This is Mozart as an eighteenth-century Bruce Springsteen, and yet (here’s the genius of this film) there is nothing cheap or unworthy about the approach. "Amadeus" is not only about as much fun as you're likely to have with a movie, it also is disturbingly true. The truth enters in the character of Salieri, who tells the story. He is not a great composer, but he is a good enough composer to know greatness when he hears it, and that is why the music of Mozart breaks his heart. He knows how good it is, he sees how easily Mozart seems to compose it, and he knows that his own work looks pale and silly beside it.
Peter Schaffer worked with the director to re-write his original stage play. It can be said that some of the thrust and theatrical effect has been lost (particularly in its attitude to freemasonry) but, where the stage work relied on a claustrophobic evocation of Salieri's inner world, Forman opens it out and uses the Panavision screen to accuse the whole of the Austro-Hungarian empire of complicity in the destruction of a musical genius. The casting of F.Murray Abraham (Salieri) and Tom Hulse (Mozart) caused some controversy - the play was by an English writer and had been performed by such English stage luminaries as Paul Scholfield and Keith Michell. The young Kenneth Brannagh had originally been cast. In the event the performances are so good that accents are forgotten (not to mention the fact that, to be strictly accurate, the film should have been made in German). There's no controversy surrounding the (British!) musical performances which are expertly supervised by Sir Neville Marriner with the marvellous voices of John Tomlinson, Willard White, Suzanne Murphy and Richard Stillwell (amongst others). A feast for the eye and ear alike!
· The concept for Mozart's annoying laugh was taken from references in letters written about him. One described his laugh as "an infectious giddy" while another described it as "like metal scraping glass".
· Many of the interior theatre scenes were filmed in the Estates Theatre in Prague. This was the theatre where Mozart conducted the opening performances of Don Giovanni. The building is still in use as an opera house and has been magnificently restored. In 1984, after years of communist neglect, the wooden theatre was still lit by gas lights. Forman had 40 firemen standing by as he filmed but the only incident involved Don Giovanni accidentally setting his hat on fire.
· The film was shot entirely by natural light. Reflectors and diffusers were used to great effect and high speed film stocks allowed night interiors to be filmed by candle light.
· Only four sets needed to be built: Salieri's hospital room, Mozart's apartment, a staircase, and the vaudeville theatre. All other locations were found in Prague.