LIST POSITION: #17
DIRECTOR: Milos Forman
CAST: F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge, Jeffrey Jones, Christine Ebersole
RATING: R (Director’s cut)
- Commentary by Milos Forman and Peter Shaffer
- “The Making of Amadeus”
- Theatrical Trailer
- A Book!
- Digital Copy
- CD of Soundtrack Selections
BUY IT AT AMAZON!
WHY IT’S ON THE LIST:
Amadeus is a curious movie. It’s a sprawling period epic about what? Not war, as most epics may be. Not about a king or royalty. No, it’s a sprawling epic about creation. There has not been a film that so evocatively portrays the mind of creative artists, and this film of massive scope and detail is focused intimately on the struggles and jealousies of creation.
Amadeus explores the life of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce) through the eyes of an embittered rival, Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham in an Oscar-winning performance). Salieri is an austere and restrained man, court composer to Joseph II (Jeffrey Jones) in Vienna. He watches with astonishment, bitterness and jealousy as God works beautiful music effortlessly through a “boastful, lustful, smutty, infantile boy.” The film, however, is not a biopic of Mozart, but a work of historical fiction used to examine the human need for and process of creation.
The film won 8 of the 11 Academy Awards for which it was nominated. It’s stood the test of time for over 25 years and it still considered one of the finest films ever made. And for good reason. It’s a tremendous feat in filmmaking. Using his native Prague as a stand-in, director Forman creates a vivid world for 18th century Vienna. The production design is impeccably detailed, and the environment created feels palpable and real. The script while grand remains intimately focused on its characters. Special mention must be made of the magnificent operatic stagings by Twyla Tharp (Don Giovanni is particularly wonderful: An absolutely breathtaking staging. Trivia: Much of the operatic costume and set designs were based on sketches from the original stagings). The acting is pitch-perfect from every member of the ensemble cast, and both Tom Hulce and F. Murray Abraham do some of the finest work put on film creating two unforgettable and unique portrayals of grand creatives. Hulce, in particular created a definitive portrait of Mozart as an obnoxious man-boy wrestling with genius. No one will forget that laugh. Abraham is a powerhouse, carrying the film with an incredible portrayal of a man consumed by his own mediocrity. Even more astounding is his ability to imbue such life through the layers of makeup used in half his scenes. He is so naturally expressive that his character feels so very real even through the makeup.
All of these aspects are expertly heightened by the Blu-Ray release. I’ve swung from one extreme to the other with this list. The first Blu I wrote up was No Country for Old Men, an exercise in minimalism. Now I’m at the complete opposite side of the spectrum. Amadeus is as grand and splendid as No Country for Old Men is sparse, and it all shows up in luxurious detail in Hi-Def. Amadeus is lavish and sumptuous, and while not perfect, this transfer is the best it has ever looked in home release. The colors are vivid and clear, which is important for a movie as minutely detailed as this. The contrast is fantastic, and the blacks are rich and vivid. The little grain it retains is just enough to add the feel of its film stock, and it aids the period feel. Fabrics and costumes look textured and their dazzling colors pop on screen.
There is an accomplishment in this transfer of Amadeus. The film was filmed by natural light. The time period was dominated by either sunlight or candlelight, and the film reflects that marvelously. This transfer helps the natural lighting remain brilliant, and avoids any of the bleeding that can be caused, especially by candlelight. Instead the reds and oranges are crisp and warm creating wonderful ambience. This really is the best the film has ever looked at home.
But here I am going on about how wonderful it looks, how great it is acted, written, shot, et cetera when we all know that as visually stunning, perfectly acted, sharply written and whatever else Amadeus may be, the film is all about SOUND. The music. My heavens, the music! The use of Mozart’s music in the film is breathtaking. It is how we understand Mozart as a person. Music is how we understand Salieri and his obsession and jealousy with Mozart. As Salieri looks at Mozart’s hand-written compositions he hears the music itself in total beautiful clarity. The music is our gateway into the world of creativity in the film, and it must sound flawless.
The new uncompressed Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio is fantastic and a step up from the compressed 5.1 track for the previous releases. The music is clear, well mixed and well balanced. As Salieri describes his discovery of Mozart’s music – the pulse, the oboe and then the clarinet! – we hear it as Salieri truly hears it. The soundtrack swells with music that sounds so perfect we understand and feel along with him the astonishment of discovering true genius, which allows us to better feel and understand his bitterness and jealousy. The audio track allows the music to soar, but is also perfectly balanced with the dialogue. There is no frustration of struggling to hear dialogue over music, and no bothersome change in volume between musical scenes and dialogue scenes. The sound in the non-musical scenes is important, especially seeing as it was shot on location in these grand rooms that can create an empty sound to dialogue scenes.
The film available on Blu-Ray is Milos Forman’s director’s cut, which adds about 20 minutes of deleted scenes that deepen the understanding of Salieri’s rivalry and the lengths to which he would go to destroy Mozart. Also deleted is a scene that shows how much Mozart’s wife Constanze would do to help her husband. For fans of the film, or those coming into the film completely new the Blu-Ray makes it easy to fall in love with the film. I was never able to see Amadeus in the theaters, my parent’s reproductive plans and Saul Zaentz’s release schedule for the film just refused to coincide. Amadeus is a movie I first discovered on VHS and later on DVD, but watching it on Blu-Ray is as close to replicating the theatrical experience as I can imagine. It’s falling in love with a film all over again. The Blu-Ray invites you into this incredibly real world and picks you up and carries you in the music. It’s like watching the film with new eyes and ears because the film has never felt so vivid and detailed. It’s really quite a powerful experience, especially for a film I love so much. Everything feels richer, more brilliant and intensely warm.
After 26 years, Amadeus remains a powerful and beautiful film. It’s accessible, even for those who are not fans of classical music. It’s vibrant and flowing with human emotion. Its script and use of music presents the creative process – a highly abstract concept and process – clearly and understandably, making Amadeus a powerful examination of creation that is universally comprehensible and moving.
WHY IT DIDN’T RANK HIGHER:
As I said, the transfer is not perfect. While it’s the best the film has ever looked and the picture looks quite fantastic, there is some evidence of noise reduction. Also, it would be nice to have the option of buying, or even playing the disc as, the original theatrical version. Sometimes I’ve only got 2 hours 40 minutes to watch a movie, not 3 full hours and it would be nice to have that option. I jest, but there are not necessarily any imperative new scenes added to the director’s cut, it’s simply fleshing out concepts that are already conveyed clearly in the theatrical cut. Unless you think naked Elizabeth Berridge constitutes necessity. What is nice, though, is the film is all on one side of the disc now, so no having to get up and flip the disc over! Huzzah! Also, the special features remain in 480 while the film has the full hi-def treatment.
THE BEST SUPPLEMENT:
While the commentary is very interesting, Shaffer and Forman still seem very taken by the film and the commentary often grows silent as they become engrossed in watching the film. The making of doc is fine enough, but a bit recycled from previous supplemental material. The best feature really is the soundtrack CD. The music is an entire character in the film, and the CD accompanying the film is a wonderful way to invite that character over for tea any time you want.
The only black man in Austria.
Pope Johann Candus IV
Play Peter Griffin
Fleet Street fail.