Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Rest in Peace, Amadeus

Last night, I had the pleasure of seeing Amadeus, and once again, thoroughly loved it. Now granted, the roles of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri are probably two of the meatiest parts available to male actors, but it takes sheer genius to be able to carry them off. When it succeeds, it is magical. About 20 years ago, this movie won 40 awards, including 8 Academy Awards and the coveted Best Picture award, which generated a public intrigue that had formerly bordered on disinterest. I am not surprised, because it seems that our society is not that concerned about the history of musical composers. This story is absolutely fascinating.

Signor Salieri always wished to compose music; as a young teen, be begged God to give him the opportunity to do so, and in payment, he would lead a life of virtue. Within 15 years, Salieri was Court Composer in Vienna. It was around this time that he heard about the child prodigy, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but disregarded him. Within a few years, however, he heard a Mozart serenade and was convinced of his genius, and to a greater degree than anyone else. As the creations of Mozart began to be performed publicly, Salieri feared competition, and attempted to sabotage his professional standing among royalty. There came a point where Salieri concluded that he was doing so not because of mere jealousy, but because of an intense despair that God had failed to give him merely mediocre talent, yet gave musical brilliance to a sniggering, immature, bawdy, lascivious young man Salieri referred to as the creature. To make matters worse, Salieri knew the added torture of being probably the one and only person able to recognize the compositions of Mozart for the angelic perfection which they were.

Salieri denounced his agreement with God and vowed that not only would his virtuous existence end, he would also ruin Mozart. In this, he accomplished his goals. Without work or students, Mozart became destitute. His wife and children left him, and the royal musical circle refused to acknowledge or help him. Other musical venues cheated him and attempts were made to plagiarize his work. Salieri, now viewed by Mozart as his only friend, regretted his decisions and decided to confess his traitorous deeds. He was hoping to receive forgiveness, but by this time, the mind of Mozart was muddled by alcohol and syphilis. He thus thought Salieri mad. After Mozart died before reaching age 40, Salieri finally achieved the fame he always wished. Yet, he knew that his talent was far less than that of the man he had a hand in destroying. Salieri spent the remainder of his life in agonizing, and even his suicide attempt failed.

This movie is full of the most beautiful settings, costumes and music imaginable, and the raucous behavior is fun enough to keep even younger folks entertained. His innate abilities have the power to mesmerize anyone, even those who would never classify themselves as music aficionados. What this movie does surprisingly well through the exquisite direction, casting and acting is to elicit sympathy from the audience for both Mozart and Salieri. It's an astonishing feat in an industry that likes to paint bad guys versus good guys. We can not help but feel the jealousy of Salieri, and the frustration that his young student is outshining him. We can also relate to the confusion and anguish of Mozart when his life takes a downhill turn. We can even understand his the attraction his wife felt to such a famous and talented rogue, along with exasperation when there is no longer money to run the household or support their offspring.

It is also remarkable that few of the main characters managed to remain in the public eye during the last two decades. Except for F. Murray Abraham, the Best Actor Oscar Winner in 1984 for his performance in this production, most were relatively unknown to the world, then as well as now. (Within a month of the Academy Awards, I had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Abraham in a live off-Broadway performance, and he astounded me in that as well.)

Yes, this story can hit home to a lot of people, filled as it is with envy, pride and regret, and it is worth seeing if you get a chance. No one can watch it without doing some serious thinking about how they live their life. We need reminders about that from time to time.