A Dark & Stormy Night At The Opera
- Amadeus review by Count Otto Black
Stage plays and movies are very different beasts, and it takes a lot of adaptation to turn one into the other. Therefore a great deal of explanatory dialogue from the original play has been cut in favor of "show, don't tell", with the exposition they couldn't do without confined to framing sequences in which the aged Salieri tells the whole story in flashback. The decision to allow all the actors to use their normal accents when they're mostly supposed to be Austrian or German, and the modernization of some of the dialogue, is occasionally a little jarring, but it's better than having them adopt "ve haf vays of making you talk"-style German accents for the entire movie, or speaking in that stilted historical drama version of English that doesn't permit anyone to sound natural or relaxed. They do in fact talk this way sometimes, but only when they're in the Royal Presence and are required to be excessively formal.
Visually, it's stunning. Modern Prague stands in very well for 18th. century Vienna, and since Mozart divides much of his time between staging operas and going to lavish fancy dress parties, the set and costume designers have plenty of opportunities to let their hair down. Of course, it goes without saying that a movie about Mozart has no problems in the soundtrack department, especially when internationally renowned performers are involved. Where it falls down slightly is in the oversimplification of the characters. It's a historical fact that Mozart was a rather irresponsible man with a childishly scatological sense of humor, but Tom Hulce turns the irritating buffoon dial up to 11 and gives him a laugh like a dying hyena and borderline mental retardation in order to emphasize how different he is from the frigidly repressed Salieri, to the point where, on those occasions when Mozart gets wrapped up in his music and stops behaving like the Fourth Stooge, it's easy to see why Salieri can't comprehend how this moronic clown can possess such talent, since the viewer can't believe it either.
F. Murray Abraham is far better as Salieri, a vain egotist so utterly self-centered that he's incapable of realizing the extent of his own selfishness, whose tragedy is that he's a good enough composer to know how much better Mozart is, and simply cannot bear the idea that this potty-mouthed fool has the talent he, a clearly superior human being, deserves and has always longed for. However, the character is just a little bit too one-sided, as well as being wildly unfair to the real Salieri, who seems to have gotten along pretty well with Mozart, and certainly didn't murderously hate him, let alone actually murder him!
I also had a slight problem with certain unrealistic aspects of the story (which is, after all, supposed to be about real people and events). Naturally, the screenplay being based on a play by Peter Shaffer of "Eqqus" fame, it's no big surprise that the symbolic Freudian psychodrama is laid on with a trowel. But although the closing section is very powerful, partly because the physically and mentally shattered Mozart no longer has the energy to be annoying, I just didn't buy the idea that Salieri's suitably Freudian but extremely far-fetched method of destroying his rival would stand the slightest chance of succeeding.
So overall, not perfect, but very good indeed, to look at as well as to listen to. Though if you're just going to watch it for the musical numbers, you'd be better off with a few CDs so that you can hear them all the way through.
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