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Amadeus

We here at My Year with Oscar seem to be hitting the bio-pics a lot lately, but then there are a lot to choose from. Today we go with one more, the movie that inspired the one Falco song youíve heard of, Amadeus. Tom Hulce never did a whole lot with his career, but their are two absolutely brilliant items on his imdb resume. He played Pinto in Animal House and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Amadeus.

Unlike other bio-pics, the movie looks not only about its subject, but also examines a man who claimed to be a rival, and possibly the killer of the great composer. Hulce may have played the title character, but it was F. Murray Abraham who took home the Oscar for best actor that year, playing Salieri.

It is likely complete bullshit that Salieri was out to destroy Mozart, but those rumors were even flying around at the time. When Salieri was chosen over Mozart to tutor the Emperorís niece, Mozart was understandably livid, but there isnít necessarily anything backhanded about this. The movie goes so far as to admit that Mozart never took students. Meanwhile Salieri taught Liszt, Schubert, Beethoven, and even Mozartís youngest son Franz, himself a minor 19th century composer. In fact each seemed to have been a big fan of the other, and they even collaborated on a number of occasions. It was Aleksander Pushkin who set the idea of the rivalry down on paper six years after Salieri died, and by the end of the century there was even an opera about it.

True or not, it makes for a compelling story, and a way to tell an audience about Mozartís life that not many people have used. The technique of telling the story of a composer by introducing a little mystery would be used later in Immortal Beloved, a bio-pic of Beethoven that is not nearly as good.

There is of course the distinct possibility that Salieri is that classic literary devise of the unreliable narrator. He is, in the scenes where he is giving his confession to the priest, in an insane asylum following a suicide attempt. It is possible that after three decades of hearing whispers that he had tried to hinder his friendís career, he came to believe not only that, but that he had been complicit in Mozartís death. And he wouldnít be the only brilliant musician to end up in a straight jacket. Years later Buddy Bolden was committed to an asylum with schizophrenia as the musical genre he had invented, jazz, became popular.

Unreliable narrator might excuse the fact that the movie overstates the rivalry between the two composers, but it should not excuse the movies decision to completely ignore Mozartís best friend Haydn, composer of the Surprise Symphony, which you know as Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Nor should it be excused for missing a point which episode 15-11 of The Simpsons, a spoof of Amadeus called Margical History Tour, gets right. After Mozartís death, Salieriís decline in popularity resulted from the popularity not of Mozartís music, but of Beethovenís.

The movie does do an incredible job of showing us just how influential Mozart was. His music was the thing for which he will always be remembered, and the soundtrack is packed from one end to the other with it. One brilliant concept of the production involves Salieri reading from sheet music and the soundtrack swells with the sound of the opera playing in his head. A person who can read sheet music would be able to envision it, whereas the typical, nonmusical person would just see a bunch of notes.

Other nominees that year were pretty limited. Places in the Heart is a Sally Field movie that gets real boring real quick, and The Killing Fields is just as bad. Among the not nominated list we have a lot of movies that were a lot of fun, but not all that great artistically, like Ghost Busters, Spinal Tap, Beverly Hills Cop, and The Natural. It seems pretty fair to say that Ghost Busters and The Natural were neck and neck for the title of second best movie of the year, but neither was quite up to the level of Amadeus.


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