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#1 David Smedberg

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Posted 02 January 2006 - 01:29 AM

Amadeus is on our Top 100 List, and it needed a topic. Since I just saw it this evening, I thought I might as well get one started.

The script has a number of weaknesses which reduced my enjoyment of the whole production. Although it was supposed to be Salieri's retelling of the events, eventually our perspective drifted entirely away from what he could possibly have known. In addition, the plotline involving the Emperor and the scheming surrounding him got dropped halfway through, which was unsatisfying. However, the same script also had some real strengths: the detours to various subplots and set pieces don't change the fact that it had a theme, that of the conlfict when greatness meets mediocrity; and also, I found the humor and pathos very effective.

The stagings of Mozart's operas were simply breathtaking, and made me want to go out and see more opera.

The cinematography seemed rather flat to me - but I was seeing it on a well-loved library VHS, so who knows what to attribute that to.

The performances all seemed excellent to me, except perhaps for Elizabeth Berridge as Constanze, and she's so pretty I can't help but forgive. blush.gif

As for its spiritual value, I'd like to hear peoples' takes on that before I make up my mind.

Edited by GreetingsEarthling, 02 January 2006 - 01:32 AM.


#2 NBooth

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Posted 02 January 2006 - 07:29 AM

I watched this as part of a Music Appreciation class over the summer, and really liked it. Afterward, I blogged my thoughts:

QUOTE
Amadeus: Strangely, it's not about Mozart. It's about Salieri, his rival, played by F. Murray Abraham. Salieri is interesting to me because he begins with the desire to glorify God in his music (rather like Baroque composer Bach). However, this older view is in conflict with the more humanistic view, represented by Mozart, who recognizes no authority but his own genius. Salieri struggles with the fact that he himself is rather mediocre, despite his desire to glorify God (though he did not recognize this mediocrity before he met Mozart), while Mozart is a genius while acknowledging no God other than his own desires. At last, Salieri turns against God and attempts to thwart Him by killing Mozart. In the end, he fails. Mozart dies, but his genius is recognized universally. Salieri goes insane. The last scene is particularly chilling: Salieri is wheeled through the madhouse, crying out "Mediocrities of the world, I absolve you!" as Mozart's irritating laugh swells behind him. The laughter of genius at mediocrity? Or is it, as Salieri suggests, the laughter of God at those who oppose Him?


Note the puritanical use of the word "humanistic." I mean it purely, in this case, in the athiestic sense.

A couple of other things I noticed about the film were the recurring father-figures. Mozart has his father (who in death becomes a kind of overseeing, disapproving deity, via the painting,) who, in Mozart's eyes, disapproves heartilly of him; and Salieri has both a stern, and very dead, father who disapproved, and a rather vengful father-figure in his conception of God.

I wrote more about this somewhere (as part of the class). I'll have to dig it up.

Edited by NBooth, 02 January 2006 - 07:31 AM.


#3 mrmando

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Posted 03 January 2006 - 12:48 AM

QUOTE(GreetingsEarthling @ Jan 2 2006, 02:29 AM) View Post

Although it was supposed to be Salieri's retelling of the events, eventually our perspective drifted entirely away from what he could possibly have known.

Interesting point. I never thought about this before, but since (1) the screenplay departs from biographical fact about Mozart [although he had a bawdy sense of humor, he wasn't nearly the libertine he's made out to be] and (2) the story's told from Salieri's perspective, perhaps what we're seeing is Salieri's distorted conjecture about the sort of person Mozart was -- not, if you will, the playwright's [Peter Shaffer's] conjecture.

Or, to take another tack: perhaps Mozart's taking over the narrative is Forman's [or Shaffer's] way of reminding us of the transcendent nature of Mozart's genius. Mozart defies even Salieri's attempt to tell the story in his own way.

QUOTE
In addition, the plotline involving the Emperor and the scheming surrounding him got dropped halfway through,

Not sure what you're talking about.
QUOTE
it had a theme, that of the conlfict when greatness meets mediocrity;
That's not quite the theme. The central question of this film is about the nature of genius, true, but it's stated in religious terms. It's found most succinctly in the first exchange between the priest and Salieri.

PRIEST. All men are equal in God's eyes.
SALIERI. Are they?

There's your theme.

QUOTE

The performances all seemed excellent to me, except perhaps for Elizabeth Berridge as Constanze, and she's so pretty I can't help but forgive. blush.gif


She's made a few other films, but hasn't exactly set the screen ablaze. I should here give a shout out to the the late Vincent Schiavelli, who's quite memorable as the valet in the opening scene. And can you believe that's Cynthia Nixon playing the maid?

QUOTE
Salieri goes insane.

No, he attempts suicide but that's not quite the same thing as going insane. Maybe the early 19th-century Viennese thought all suicidal people were insane, or maybe the sanatorium was the only place Salieri could go, for whatever reason. But if we assume he's insane, we've just excused ourselves from having to pay attention to his story.

Edited by mrmando, 03 January 2006 - 01:39 PM.


#4 David Smedberg

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Posted 03 January 2006 - 08:36 PM

QUOTE
QUOTE
In addition, the plotline involving the Emperor and the scheming surrounding him got dropped halfway through,
Not sure what you're talking about.
Quite simple. the Emperor's last moment, as far as I can recall, is his yawn during the opera, which dooms it to 9 performances. Since I thought he was a great character, I was disappointed that he dropped off the face of the map after that, so to speak.
QUOTE
QUOTE
it had a theme, that of the conlfict when greatness meets mediocrity;
That's not quite the theme. The central question of this film is about the nature of genius, true, but it's stated in religious terms. It's found most succinctly in the first exchange between the priest and Salieri.

PRIEST. All men are equal in God's eyes.
SALIERI. Are they?

There's your theme.
Good point. I guess the trouble to me, then, is that the priest's take on that theme gets so little play after that opening scene - he basically sits there slack-jawed during Salieri's retelling, as far as I can recall. Salieri's (less than great) view of God, on the other hand, is quite prominent throughout.

Edited by GreetingsEarthling, 03 January 2006 - 08:38 PM.


#5 mrmando

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Posted 03 January 2006 - 10:00 PM

QUOTE(GreetingsEarthling @ Jan 3 2006, 09:36 PM) View Post

Quite simple. the Emperor's last moment, as far as I can recall, is his yawn during the opera, which dooms it to 9 performances. Since I thought he was a great character, I was disappointed that he dropped off the face of the map after that, so to speak.

He gives Salieri a medal after the premiere of Axur, which I think comes after the yawn. But I might be wrong. I think Salieri abandons his plan to get Mozart in trouble with the Emperor because he sees it isn't working, and at that point the plot focuses down on Salieri's more personal, direct efforts against Mozart. We also see Mozart being less interested in writing for the court, since his work is not well received there, and moving toward his work with Schikaneder's vaudeville theatre.
QUOTE
Good point. I guess the trouble to me, then, is that the priest's take on that theme gets so little play after that opening scene - he basically sits there slack-jawed during Salieri's retelling, as far as I can recall. Salieri's (less than great) view of God, on the other hand, is quite prominent throughout.
Exactly. It's a "spiritually significant" film but a very anti-religious one. The priest is presented as a hopeless naif.


#6 Jason Bortz

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Posted 05 January 2006 - 11:55 AM

At the beginning of the piece:

QUOTE
OLD SALIERI
(V.O.)
Whilst my father prayed earnestly to God to protect commerce, I would offer up secretly the proudest prayer a boy could think of. Lord, make me a great composer! Let me celebrate your glory through music - and be celebrated myself! Make me famous through the world, dear God! Make me immortal! After I die let people speak my name forever with love for what I wrote! In return I vow I will give you my chastity - my industry, my deepest humility, every hour of my life. And I will help my fellow man all I can. Amen and amen!


And at the end of the piece:

QUOTE
OLD SALIERI
No, Father. From now on no one will be able to speak of Mozart without thinking of me. Whenever they say Mozart with love, they'll have to say Salieri with loathing. And that's my immortality - at last! Our names will be tied together for eternity - his in fame and mine in infamy. At least it's better than the total oblivion he'd planned for me, your merciful God!

VOGLER
Oh my son, my poor son!

OLD SALIERI
Don't pity me. Pity yourself. You serve a wicked God. He killed Mozart, not I. Took him, snatched him away, without pity. He destroyed His beloved rather than let a mediocrity like me get the smallest share in his glory. He doesn't care. Understand that. God cares nothing for the man He denies and nothing either for the man He uses. He broke Mozart in half when He'd finished with him, and threw him away. Like an old, worn out flute.

EXT. - CEMETERY OF ST. MARX - LATE AFTERNOON - 1790's

The rain has eased off. A LOCAL PRIEST with two boy acolytes is standing beside an open communal grave. Mozart's body is lifted out of the cheap pine box in a sack. We see that the grave contains twenty other such sacks. The gravedigger throws the one containing Mozart amongst the others. An assistant pours quicklime over the whole pile of them. The acolytes swing their censers.

LOCAL PRIEST
The Lord giveth. The Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

CUT BACK TO:

INT. OLD SALIERI'S HOSPITAL ROOM - MORNING - 1823

OLD SALIERI
Why did He do it? Why didn't He kill me? I had no value. What was the use, keeping me alive for thirty-two years of torture? Thirty-two years of honours and awards.

He tears off the Civilian Medal and Chain with which the Emperor invested him and has been wearing the whole time and throws it across the room.

OLD SALIERI
Being bowed to and saluted, called distinguished - Distinguished Salieri - by men incapable of distinguishing! Thirty-two years of meaningless fame to end up alone in my room, watching myself become extinct. My music growing fainter, all the time fainter, until no one plays it at all. And his growing louder, filling the world with wonder. And everyone who loves my sacred art crying, Mozart! Bless you, Mozart.

The door opens. An attendant comes in, cheerful and hearty.

ATTENDANT
Good morning, Professor! Time for the water closet. And then we've got your favourite breakfast for you - sugar-rolls. (to Vogler) He loves those. Fresh sugar-rolls.

Salieri ignores him and stares only at the priest, who stares back.

OLD SALIERI
Goodbye, Father. I'll speak for you. I speak for all mediocrities in the world. I am their champion. I am their patron saint. On their behalf I deny Him, your God of no mercy. Your God who tortures men with longings they can never fulfill. He may forgive me: I shall never forgive Him.

He signs to the attendant, who wheels him in his chair out of the room. The priest stares after him.

INT. CORRIDOR OF THE HOSPITAL - MORNING - 1823

The corridor is filled with patients in white linen smocks, all taking their morning exercise walk in the care of nurses and nuns. They form a long, wretched, strange procession - some of them are clearly very disturbed. As Old Salieri is pushed through them in his wheelchair, he lifts his hands to them in benediction.

OLD SALIERI
Mediocrities everywhere, now and to come: I absolve you all! Amen! Amen! Amen!



I did this show in '91, had the immense privilege of playing Mozart.

To this day, I still find this story a 'modern day' Cain and Abel.

#7 Jason Bortz

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Posted 05 January 2006 - 12:39 PM

Another interesting note: In the stage play, the first act ends with this:

QUOTE
OLD SALIERI
It is now one hour before dawn - when I must dismiss us both. When I return, I'll tellyou about the war I fought with God through his preferred Creature -Mozart, named Amadeus. In the waging of which, of course, the Creature would be destroyed.


Nbooth said:

QUOTE
However, this older view is in conflict with the more humanistic view, represented by Mozart, who recognizes no authority but his own genius. Salieri struggles with the fact that he himself is rather mediocre, despite his desire to glorify God (though he did not recognize this mediocrity before he met Mozart), while Mozart is a genius while acknowledging no God other than his own desires.


What about Mozart's monologue to the Chamberlain, Prefect and Salieri?

QUOTE
I don't understand you! You're all up on perches but it doesn't hide your arseholes! You don't give a shit about gods and heroes! If you're honest - each one of you - which of you isn't more at home with his hairdress than Hercules? Or Horatius? Or your stupid Danaius come to that! Or mine - mine! Idomeneo, King of Crete! All those anguished antuques are all bores! Bores, bores, bores!

All serious operas written this century are boring! (laughs vigorusly) Look at us! Four gaping mouths. What a perfect quartet! I'd love to write it - just this second of time, this now, as you are! Herr Chamberlain thinking 'Impertinent Mozart: I must speak to the Emperor at once!' Herr Prefect thinking 'Ignorant Mozart: debasing opera with his vulgarity!' Herr Court Composer thinking 'German Mozart: what can he finally know about music?' And Herr Mozart himself, in the middle, thinking 'I'm just a good fellow. Why do they all disapprove of me?'

That's why opera is important, Baron. Because it's realer than any play! A dramatic poet would have to put all those thoughts down one after another just to represent this second of time. The composer can put them all down at once - and still make us hear each one of them. Astonishing device: a Vocal Quartet! ....I tell you I want to write a finale lasting half and hour! A quartet becoming a quintet becoming a sextet. On and on, wider and wider - all sounds multiplying and rising together - and the together creating a sound entierly new!

.... I bet you that's how God hears the world: millions of sounds ascending at once and mixing in His ear to become an unending music, unimaginable to us! That's our job! That's our job, we composers: to combine the inner minds of him and him and him and her and her - the thoughts of chambermaids and Court Composers - and turn the audience into God. (blows a raspberry and giggles) I'm sorry. I talk nonsense all day: it's incurable - ask Stanzerl. My tongue is stupid Baron. My heart isn't.


Hmmm...I just realized they may have cut that monologue from the film...as well as downplayed the importance of Mozart completing the Reqiuem not because he's merely inspired to, but because he believes God Himself told him to do it...

Edited by Jason Bortz, 05 January 2006 - 12:31 PM.


#8 mrmando

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Posted 05 January 2006 - 01:23 PM

QUOTE(Jason Bortz @ Jan 5 2006, 01:39 PM) View Post

Hmmm...I just realized they may have cut that monologue from the film...as well as downplayed the importance of Mozart completing the Reqiuem not because he's merely inspired to, but because he believes God Himself told him to do it...


Well, the line about the hairdresser and Hercules is still in there. And he talks about the progression of solo -> duet -> trio -> quartet and so on while he's pleading with the Emperor to allow him to stage Le nozze di Figaro.

From these excerpts we can see that the Salieri - vs. - God theme is a lot more explicit in the play, and that Mozart has nuances in the play that he doesn't have in the film.

We can also see the wordiness that makes Shaffer's plays so challenging for actors.

#9 Jeff

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Posted 05 January 2006 - 04:38 PM

Just wondering: is the PG cut available in DVD format anywhere, or is the R-rated version the only version on the market?

#10 Jason Bortz

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Posted 06 January 2006 - 11:26 AM

"A high pitch, whinnying giggle" is in the script. And yeah, I developed one for the role. It was funny, because during the audition I'd had a horrible cold and almost no voice--I couldn't do the laugh. The director almost cut me out of consideration--and then the guy playing Salieri, Barry Shaw, told the director he'd drop the role if I wasn't given a chance. I was, and when I regained my voice I gained the part. smile.gif

#11 NBooth

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Posted 09 January 2006 - 09:41 AM

QUOTE(Jason Bortz @ Jan 5 2006, 01:39 PM) View Post


What about Mozart's monologue to the Chamberlain, Prefect and Salieri?

[snip]

QUOTE

.... I bet you that's how God hears the world: millions of sounds ascending at once and mixing in His ear to become an unending music, unimaginable to us! That's our job! That's our job, we composers: to combine the inner minds of him and him and him and her and her - the thoughts of chambermaids and Court Composers - and turn the audience into God. (blows a raspberry and giggles) I'm sorry. I talk nonsense all day: it's incurable - ask Stanzerl. My tongue is stupid Baron. My heart isn't.


Hmmm...I just realized they may have cut that monologue from the film...as well as downplayed the importance of Mozart completing the Reqiuem not because he's merely inspired to, but because he believes God Himself told him to do it...


I may have missed it, but I don't remember that particular aspect of the film. He seemed simply obsessed witht he fact that it seemed to be his father delivering the message (though, as I think I mentioned earlier, and as I certainly have written down somewhere, the father seems a very definite God-image for Mozart.)

And (replying to an earlier post,) I stand by my assertion that Salieri is insane by the end of the film. blush.gif (I really need to see it again....) It's part of his downward spiral as he loses faith. I can't see how the final scene (with Mozart's laughter taking the place, perhaps of God's laughter at Salieri) would have the same impact if Salieri is simply bitter. But then, I may be wrong.

#12 mrmando

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Posted 05 September 2006 - 12:49 PM

QUOTE(Alan Thomas @ Sep 5 2006, 01:45 PM) View Post

When it came to Salieri, he was free to make up a great deal because so little was known of him. The answer to all my questions was that everything that happens in the play is told to us by Salieri. Mozart's character and his actions as we see them are filtered through the memory of a very old and distinctly eccentric man.

Nice to see Simon coming around to my point of view.

#13 Jeff

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Posted 05 September 2006 - 03:04 PM

QUOTE
ozart's character and his actions as we see them are filtered through the memory of a very old and distinctly eccentric man; so is his music. Shaffer's dazzling idea was for us only to hear what Salieri could remember - fragments, sometimes of what Mozart actually wrote, but often a mere approximation, and on occasions a distortion.


Hm. Sometimes during the movie, it seemed as though Salieri was narrating pieces of Mozart's life which he was not present for, and hence, could not have remembered. I can't remember any specific examples, but I remember walking away under that impression. Is the play any different? I've never seen it.

#14 mrmando

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Posted 05 September 2006 - 08:00 PM

GreetingsEarthling made more or less the same point above: Mozart takes over the second half of the film, and we do see lots of episodes Salieri couldn't have known about. I don't, however, recall that the film was edited in such a way as to make it seem that Salieri narrated those episodes. Or, as I said earlier, perhaps what we're seeing is what Salieri THINKS was going on. I don't know, for example, of any hard biographical evidence which suggests that Mozart drank and caroused so much that his mother-in-law sent Constanze away to a spa.

#15 Ron Reed

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Posted 11 August 2007 - 01:10 AM

Great discussion, friends! I was having a heck of a time writing this one up, until your conversation started jogging things loose. Many thanks!

You'll see all the stuff I stole. Hey, there'll be acknowledgments. And yes, mrmando, feel free to rail: I made a straw tiger of your very reasonable point, and then refuted it, giving you no opportunity for a counter-refutation. (Is that anything like a counter-Reformation?) I'm a bad, bad man.

Here goes;

AMADEUS (1984, USA, Milos Forman, Peter Shaffer play and screenplay)
Whilst my father prayed earnestly to God to protect commerce, I would offer up secretly the proudest prayer a boy could think of. "Lord, make me a great composer! Let me celebrate your glory through music - and be celebrated myself! Make me famous through the world, dear God! Make me immortal! After I die let people speak my name forever with love for what I wrote! In return I vow I will give you my chastity, my industry, my deepest humility every hour of my life. And I will help my fellow man all I can. Amen and amen!"

What extraordinary writing! Economy, irony, implication - volumes are spoken in this one brief speech, themes sounded that will be repeated and inverted in subtle variations throughout the film. Salieri, speaking at the end of his life, recounts the childhood prayer that set the course of his life. He critiques the self-serving prayers of his father, a merchant, yet his own prayer is every bit as mercenary: he isn't confiding in a loving Father, he's unilaterally setting the terms of a quid pro quo contract, and presuming that makes it binding on both parties. When he calls the prayer "proud" he means it was noble, but we hear the irony as he names the cardinal sin that will come to define him. He pledges a chastity he will readily cast aside when he decides God isn't keeping His end of the bargain, he promises a humility that will only ever be evident in recognizing - and coveting, and seeking to destroy - another man's greater gift. The musical gift of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

These vows amuse us at the same time as they trouble us. They are childish, speaking a conventional piety as naive as a Boy Scout promise - "and do a good turn to somebody every day." But the fact the man who recounts them has never outgrown them, that he repeats them without recognizing their vanity, is chilling. What we smile at in the child, we recoil from in the man. By the time Salieri whines "all I ever wanted was to sing to God," we know better.

Salieri believes he yearns only for eternity: we recognize a thoroughly earthly-minded man lusting for a merely earthbound immortality. Cruel justice lies in the fact that his prayer will in fact be answered. The now-aged man's final speech picks up this opening theme and plays it back in an ironic inversion, and we realize that he is in fact remembered centuries after his death. People are writing plays and making movies about him. How pathetic.

When the young Salieri's father chokes to death on a piece of fish and the self-consumed lad is sent away to study music, he takes it as a miracle - "I knew God had arranged it all; that was obvious" - and it is all clear: this God will do Salieri's bidding, and even murder is an acceptable means to that end. How tragic.

Indeed, for all its energy and brilliantly entertaining wit, this film is a classic tragedy: not the story of Mozart at all, except indirectly, but the story of a man who could have been noble, or at least godly, but whose tragic flaw brings not only his own ruin, but the ruin of those around him. And this is a singularly theological tragedy: Salieri's tragic flaw is "the eldest sin of all, that struck down the morning star from heaven." The deadliest of the deadly sins.

"Amadeus" means "beloved of God." Celebrated playwright Peter Shaffer - preoccupied (like his play- and screen-writing twin brother, Anthony) with twinning, and with the clash between conventional religiosity and a wilder, more dangerous communion with the divine - imagines in this not-quite-historical story something of a Cain and Abel tale, a Jacob and Esau rivalry. He considers what it may have been like to labour as a moderately skilled composer in the shadow of one of the sublime musical geniuses of all time. To believe oneself cursed because of another's greater measure of blessing.

One smart friend is convinced the film is anti-religious, and certainly the image of God the film conveys is thoroughly unappealing. But perhaps the film is not so much anti-religious as it is the study of an anti-religious man. Bear in mind that this is Salieri's story, his version of event. We see everything through his jaundiced eye - including God. If his deity seems cruel, withholding, manipulative, capricious, punishing, are we seeing a true image of the Father, or only one that Salieri makes in his own image (or that of his own father?).

Or perhaps it is even closer to the truth to say that the film is not anti-<i>religious</i>, but rather <i>anti-religion</i> - if by religion we mean the things we do to please God. Biblical scholar Robert Jewett reads immense theological insight in the film, arguing that it conveys "a distinctive and little-understood aspect of the theology of Romans": that sin, properly understood, has little to do with the conventional sense of sin as indecency - Mozart's arrogance and crudity, his irresponsibility and unwillingness to conform to social niceties - and everything to do with the self-deception of the self-righteous man who would set himself against God. Who would set himself up as God.

The film doesn't gloss over the sins of Amadeus - as winsome as he can be, he also acts out his own high-flying arrogance, lives in deadly thrall to his own vices. "There is none righteous, not one." But he possesses a humanity, ultimately a vulnerability, that leaves room for the glories of grace Salieri can hear in "The Marriage Of Figaro" but not live. That can find the humility to ask forgiveness from one who is all the more in need of it.

EQUUS, WICKER MAN, COPYING BEETHOVEN

Edited by Ron Reed, 01 February 2011 - 04:38 AM.


#16 mrmando

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Posted 02 July 2008 - 03:44 AM

Now this is interesting.

#17 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 22 October 2009 - 11:50 AM

Link to the thread on 'Is Art Bunk?' (Dec 2008-Jan 2009). The article below is part of a regular series that looks at the historicity (or lack thereof) of historical movies.

- - -

Amadeus: the fart jokes can't conceal how laughably wrong this is
A deadly rivalry that never was, a dried-up bachelor who was actually a father of eight, and flops that were hits in reality … even getting Mozart's toilet humour right cannot redeem it
Alex von Tunzelmann, The Guardian, October 22

#18 Persona

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Posted 23 December 2010 - 10:53 AM

Good conversation on this thread. Last night I started going through the 2011 noms I haven't seen, or haven't seen in a long, long time, beginning with the A's and working my way down. (I will probably make it through B, C at the most -- you know how these things work, but seeing even a few will make things more fair in the voting process.) I made it through About a Boy, and the first hour of this via Instant Viewing on Netflix, but they only have the director's cut THREE HOUR version. I'll probably finish it, but still...

I found the first hour very impressive. Seems to be a very strong film...

#19 Ryan H.

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Posted 23 December 2010 - 11:53 AM

AMADEUS is a terrific film. It has its flaws (I've always though that Elizabeth Berridge was miscast here), but nevertheless transcends them. It's been on past versions of the A&F list, and I'd welcome its reappearance.

#20 John Drew

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Posted 23 December 2010 - 08:42 PM

AMADEUS is a terrific film. It has its flaws (I've always though that Elizabeth Berridge was miscast here), but nevertheless transcends them. It's been on past versions of the A&F list, and I'd welcome its reappearance.


A little trivia... Meg Tilly originally was cast as Stanze but tore a leg ligament in a street soccer game the day before she was to film her first scene. Elizabeth Berridge replaced her.