Oscar’s 90th birthday is just around the corner and to celebrate, every other day from now through March 4th, I will be taking a look at each and every film selected for his top award – the good, the bad and the sometimes not-so deserving.
For the rest of my life I will thank the lucky stars that Amadeus fell into the hands of Milos Foreman. Here is a director who has always marched to his own drummer, specializing in films about protagonists who are usually mad and almost always unlikable. My favorites are his biographies. He’s made three in his career and whether he’s talking about Mozart, Larry Flynt or Andy Kaufman, they are anything but conventional.
His most popular was Amadeus, and again I thank my lucky stars that Foreman was involved because this could have been the kind of bland, dusty old by-the-number bio-pic that wins a lot of awards and then is quickly abandoned. That’s not the case here. Foreman’s intent is to shift focus away from biographical details and focus the story of obsession and jealousy.
The forward momentum of the story settles on the (admittedly fictionalized) jealous streak infecting Anton Salieri (Best Actor winner F. Murray Abraham), a competent Italian composer whose career is a long and frustrating climb to the middle. In his midst is the young Mozart (Tom Hulce) a ridiculous, impudent prodigy who is able to compose beautiful music almost without trying. Is God laughing at Salieri? Has the muse been misplaced?
The alleged curse of The All-Mighty lies very much at the heart of Amadeus, of which very little is about the young composer. Salieri sees Mozart, in a lot of ways, down the end of his own nose. Salieri is a man whose hands cannot produce greatness but whose ears can recognize greatness. That seems to rest at the center of Abraham’s performance which is a triumph of internalizing. His face twists this way and that conveying a sense of betrayal cast on him by the man upstairs. His most illuminating scene comes late in the film as he, an old man, speaks to a priest. “That was not Mozart laughing, Father… that was God. That was God laughing at me through that obscene giggle.”