Amadeus (1984) and Amadeus Director's Cut (2002) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

I suppose I don't have to tell you this is a good movie. It won a bushel full of awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor. It is currently rated #73 of all time at IMDb.

Let me go off on a tangential topic - how to do a biopic. How many times have you watched a biographical picture that tells the story in chronological order, and tries to encompass every single detail of a person's life in two hours? Who likes these things? Sometimes they are pretty good, because the subject was interesting. The Charlie Chaplin movie wasn't too bad. The Josephine Baker story was OK. Those people led interesting lives, and that gave their biopics some great moments.

But the real points here are these:

  • it is possible to make a great biopic based on as little as one interesting incident. A great life is not necessary. A great life might even get in the way by spreading the film too thin.
  • it is necessary to assume that the picture has to survive on its own. My measurement of a good biography is this - would I still like the movie if I knew it was all made up?

Add another peripheral point. The facts aren't that important. A film is not a history lesson. Complete historical accuracy is for the anally fixated. The important thing is the truth, and facts often get in the way. I often read movie criticism that says "so-and-so actually did B before A," or "those types of propellers were not actually introduced until 1921!" Well, there's nothing wrong with noting those things, but if they are in a movie review, the presentation of facts needs to be coupled with their effect on the value of the movie. "So and so actually did B before A, and the film would have been better if it had retained the original chronology, because ...." . Note that very nasty word in yellow. That's the one that always trips up the anal retentives. They never can come up with any reason other than that's the way it really happened. If you think about it, there is no presumptive correlation between good cinema and correct chronology. The director or writer changed those facts for a reason. He thought it would make the story flow better, or he thought it would allow him to deliver his point more effectively. If you disagree, then tell us why.

Salieri and Mozart - the story is 95% legend. People (including Beethoven in his diaries) reported that an ancient, demented Salieri claimed to have killed Mozart. Pushkin, a man who was forever in and out of favor with his emperor, as was Mozart, was probably telling his own story through Mozart's voice in a mini-play that treated the Mozart/Salieri story as if it were true, creating a "what if" scenario which perpetuated the legend, adding the detail about the man with the mask who commissioned the requiem. Here is the complete text of Pushkin's short verse play. Peter Schaffer really picked up Pushkin's ball and ran with it, in his stage play, Amadeus, upon which this movie is based.

It is known that Salieri was jealous of Mozart. Many people passed that detail along through history. What if Salieri either did kill Mozart or thought he did - why? And there, in that single three letter word "why,"  is where the literary genius emerges. The educated and cultured Salieri was considered a great talent in his age, and he was nominated to be the Imperial court composer at the tender age of 24. He was a happy man until the upstart arrived. Mozart was vulgar, fun-loving, unpretentious, deliberately as unrefined as possible, and more than a tad disrespectful. He seemed like a street person in a bad wig. But underneath this unwashed forehead was one of the greatest minds in history, capable of conceptualizing, memorizing, and learning faster than anyone could imagine possible. He was a true genius.

Place yourself in Salieri's position. Suppose you are good at your job, and it required a lot of training and development for you to get to that point. You could be anything - let's say a computer programmer. Imagine that a young guy comes in one day in jeans, seemingly incapable of forming a sentence, and in about a day he's learned everything you know, and is rewriting some of your code to make it run faster and better, and he's reading a book while he's typing. Would you be jealous and envious? Probably, if you are a typical guy. I feel that way about guys like Johnny Depp. I worked twice as hard as he ever did to become an actor, and studied the background behind every role I ever did. I read everything I could get my hands on about the subject matter and studied every tape I could get of other actors in the roles. Depp - hell, I don't even know if he can read. Did you ever see him when he's being Johnny Depp? But you know what - he's a great actor - a Mozart - and I was a Salieri. He has it and I don't.

So I understand Salieri perfectly. I think we all do, at some level, except maybe Mozart himself. That's the great hook of the film. Although it is about Mozart's life, and manages to hit all the high points, it is really about how Mozart was perceived by his rivals, and about how true geniuses have always been perceived by pretenders. Salieri, in his dementia, has cursed God for favoring Mozart, and has declared himself to be the patron saint of mediocrities.

Salieri narrates from his dotage, and must explain some musical details to a person with limited knowledge of music. In so doing, he is able to show us just why Mozart was so extraordinary, even managing to educate us non-musicians in the technical details and adding the historical perspective without inducing immediate sleep. It also helps us to understand how the events in Mozart's life affected his works.

Was Mozart as completely guileless and vulgar as pictured here? Probably not, given his intellect. But that characterization served to deliver the point. Genius is genius, and has nothing to do with appearances. In addition to Mozart, other great geniuses like Shakespeare, Cervantes (the Spanish Shakespeare), and Pushkin (The Russian Shakespeare) were men with bawdy senses of humor, relaxed attitudes, and vulgar tongues. Shakespeare's father was a merchant. Pushkin was reputed to have black African blood. Cervantes was a soldier and an adventurer. It seems to me that the greatest geniuses have often been relaxed guys who embraced all aspects of life, other cultures, and all levels of society, and that they were always envied by their generations' snobby "intellectuals". If Shakespeare were alive today, he would avoid those people who go to his plays. If Mozart were alive, I doubt if he'd be hanging out with the people who like his music. And this is something of a great shame, because their works now belong mostly to sherry-sipping elitists in tuxes, but if they were alive today, they would probably be sitting in redneck bars, drinking out of long-necked bottles.

Salieri is the ultimate turtle-necked pretender for the ages, the intellectual snob, the pseudo-intellectual, the second-rate artist in every generation. He is the guy with the phony New England Sideshow Bob accent. He's the NYU cafe denizen who wants to dictate what is or isn't art. He's all the people who look down their noses at anything they don't consider art, who probably talk about loving Mozart, but if they ever met the real Mozart, they'd snub him as if he were an uncultured Philistine.

And because Salieri is all of those people, Amadeus is much more than just a biopic of a talented guy. It is a biopic of all talented guys, and one of the greatest scripts ever written. It's also damned funny. (The people of the court are a hoot.) Director Milos Forman did a fine job in helping Schaffer make his play work as a movie. The jokes are timed well, the sets are sumptuous, the actors are talented, the music is first-rate (needless to say).

Bravo. Bravissimo.


DVD info from Amazon.

  • Two disks

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 2.35:1

  • 20 minutes of additional footage

  • Commentary by director Milos Forman and writer Peter Shaffer

  • Behind-the-scenes documentary "The Making of Amadeus"

  • new digital transfer and re-mastered sound


In the original theatrical version - none, although Elizabeth Berridge came very close to popping out of her costumes, and there may be some exposure of the outside of her areolae

Berridge did a topless scene, stripping for Salieri, in the additional 20 minutes of the "director's cut"

NOTES on the 2002 director's cut.

Additional scenes.

1. Salieri humiliates Frau Mozart when she comes to him for assistance. He tells her to return that night alone. She does, and strips for him, willing to do anything to help her husband. Salieri is so disgusted by this, and so envious that Mozart would command such unquestioning devotion from a woman, that he dismisses and humiliates her, calling in a servant to see her out while she is still standing there topless.

2. There is substantial additional footage of Mozart in his "down and out" stage, falling into disrepute, taking undesirable clients, and begging various nobles for handouts.

3. Mozart and Salieri do some bonding after Mozart loses his bid to become the musical tutor for the princess. The two of them make fun of other members of the court.

The additional footage makes both Mozart and Salieri seem less likeable. The sequence in which Constanze offers her body to Salieri plays out pretty well, and looks great, so I guess that was a coin flip for inclusion. It certainly introduces a new wrinkle which explains Constanze's attitude toward Salieri in other scenes, and I certainly enjoyed looking at her topless. On the other hand, the importunate sequences were simply a reinforcement of points which had already been made in other scenes, and they dragged down the pace of the film, as I see it.

Of course, if you are a movie buff, you must see the extended director's cut of one of the greatest movies ever made. In addition to the new footage, the quality is much improved from the first DVD. The sound has been remixed. The transfer has been digitally remastered. There is a full-length commentary. If that weren't enough, there is a second disk which includes a new documentary on the making of the film.

The Critics Vote

  • The panel's consensus: an ace. Ebert 4/4, Berardinelli 4/4

  • British consensus out of four stars: between three and a half and four stars: Telegraph 8/10, Independent 7/10, Guardian 10/10, Observer 8/10, Times 9/10, Sun 9/10, Mirror 10/10, BBC 5/5.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDB readers say 8.2/10
  • It grossed $51 million on a budget of $18 million.

The Academies Vote ...

  • Eight Oscars out of 11 nominations, including Best Picture. Four BAFTAs out of nine nominations (it lost Best Film to The Purple Rose of Cairo.) Four Golden Globes out of six nominations, including Best Motion Picture (Drama).
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

Our own guideline:

  • A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre.
  • B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. In order to rate at least a B-, a film should be both a critical and commercial success. Exceptions: (1) We will occasionally rate a film B- with good popular acceptance and bad reviews, if we believe the critics have severely underrated a film. (2) We may also assign a B- or better to a well-reviewed film which did not do well at the box office if we feel that the fault lay in the marketing of the film, and that the film might have been a hit if people had known about it. (Like, for example, The Waterdance.)
  • C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by people who enjoy this kind of movie. If this is your kind of movie, a C+ and an A are indistinguishable to you.
  • C means it is competent, but uninspired genre fare. People who like this kind of movie will think it satisfactory. Others probably will not.
  • C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie, but genre addicts find it watchable. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film, but films with this rating should be approached with caution by mainstream audiences, who may find them incompetent or repulsive or both. If this is NOT your kind of movie, a C- and an E are indistinguishable to you.
  • D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-. Films rated below C- generally have both bad reviews and poor popular acceptance.
  • E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre.
  • F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B. Why so low? If I rated films the traditional way, it would be four stars. Our grading system is different, and Maltin's "two and a half stars" will tell you why I have said B rather than A. Maltin didn't like the film. He just thought it dragged on too long. That should give you the (correct) impression that many of you will not like it for the same reason. If you don't like classical music and long biopics, and you prefer actioners to thoughtful films, you will find it tedious, I'm sorry to say. Having said that, I myself think this film is a flat-out masterpiece, possibly my favorite film. The script is brilliant, iconoclastic, and intellectually stimulating. The music is awesome. The performances are spot-on. It is one of those films for which I have both great admiration and great affection.

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