Before Matt Seelke’s presentation of Milos Forman‘s Best Picture winner Amadeus, I thought it would be appropriate to show a short that had something to do with Mozart. Fortunately, The Kids In The Hall have provided us with just that, in a short I have called “Darrill On A Date”. Unfortunately, the volume on the YouTube of this is really low and I couldn’t find another, so crank it up and enjoy!
As for the film, it’s super-long, but I’ve got a Saturday evening to kill and that means it’s time to live-review it!
The film, like so many, starts at the end (in relative terms, I guess), in this case with an aging Antonio Salieri attempting suicide by razoring his throat after confessing to the death (30 years prior) of Mozart. While recuperating he is visited by a priest, coming to take his confession – and Salieri launches into his story, which essentially starts with a young Salieri as the court composer of the Holy Roman Emperor in Vienna.
After Salieri encounters him for the first time, he describes Mozart as “that giggling dirty-minded creature I’d just seen crawling on the floor”, which is a pretty good depiction of Amadeus in this film. Also, there’s the laugh. Oh, lordy, Tom Hulce’s Mozart laugh, it haunts my nightmares.
When Mozart comes to visit the Emperor (who is commissioning an opera), Salieri composes a small welcome march in his honor. Mozart, having heard it played once (and badly) by the Emperor is able to play it by ear and then show off by improving on it extemporaneously. Salieri is not amused. Then, on top of that, despite being engaged to another Mozart steals Salieri’s girlfriend. Salieri continues to be unamused.
While Mozart is on the outs with his patron, the Archbishop of Salzburg, he marries his fianceé against his father’s consent. Because they are hard up for money, his new wife Constanze brings his work to Salieri, trying to earn him a highly-sought-after post with the Emperor. Salieri recognizes Mozart as a genius, but due to his jealousy he humiliates Constanze, denies Mozart the post, and further renounces God himself (for whom he wished to write his own great music) in order to destroy Amadeus – he does this, naturally, by feigning friendship.
Mozart’s father Leopold shows up, which results in a lot of domestic tension as he bothers Mozart over his finances and he and Constanze quarrel violently, and after a short time he returns to Salzburg. Meanwhile Salieri, taking advantage of Mozart’s poverty, begins some espionage by hiring a maid who is sent to Mozart’s under the premise of being paid for by an anonymous admirer, and learns that Mozart is writing The Marriage Of Figaro – the original play for which has been banned by the Emperor because it has fomented class warfare. Salieri snitches about the opera, but Mozart manages to convince the Emperor to allow it. However, despite being a masterpiece it only plays nine times, partially because of the length.
Following his father’s death in Salzburg, Mozart writes Don Giovanni, which Salieri can see as haunted by Leopold – and he adores it, but nevertheless finds a way to ensure it only receives five performances. Inspired by this tragedy in Mozart’s life, Salieri dresses in a grotesque two-faced death mask costume he had seen Leopold wear once at a masquerade. He goes in this costume to Mozart and commissions a Requiem, which he insists be composed in complete secret. His plan is to kill Mozart, steal his great Requiem, and present it as his own…at Mozart’s funeral. Quite dastardly, no?
At the same time, Mozart is commissioned by a vaudevillian to write an opera (which turns out to be The Magic Flute). He takes to drink, he works too hard, and as a result Constanze leaves him, taking their son. Mozart works himself to exhaustion, first completing The Magic Flute, then collapses during a performance. Salieri, who is at the performance, takes Mozart home and when Wolfgang is convinced that a knocking at the door is the mysterious Requiem patron, Salieri answers the door and plays along. It turns out to be the vaudevillian, delivering the house receipts from The Magic Flute, but Salieri claims that the money is from the mysterious patron, and he has promised a huge sum if the Requiem is finished by the next day. Mozart, too weak to write, has Salieri serve as his amanuensis through the night and in the morning, just as Constanze returns to him, he dies of exhaustion.
Although it’s a Best Picture winner, I’m not terribly taken by this film. It’s too long, Tom Hulce’s laugh is too grating, and it spends far too much time in the trivialities, both plotwise and musicwise (if some of the greatest of Mozart’s music can be termed trivial), to effectively focus on the ending of the film. Mozart’s conversion from well to ill to well to ill to more ill to dead is haphazardly done, with no apparent cause for any of it. The entire third act, at least from the point that the costumed Salieri commissions the Requiem, is a series of scenes that seem slapped together with little to no regard for telling the audience what is happening. The end is sudden and unbelievable, and completely unsatisfying. In principle, the film is not about Mozart but about Salieri, but it keeps forgetting this little fact. There’s the germ of a good story here (however much it strays from historical fact) but in the end it just fails to get told.