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How must it be to be a genius,
Masterpieces to be mined
In the mind,
Unrefined,
And so gradually defined
In an act of new creation
Not unlike how God designed?

Oh, to birth such instant classics,
Such a rare, eternal prize!
Oh, what highs
In human eyes,
We crave as we mythologize,
And what despair we suffer when
Our limits cut us down to size.

Comparisons are no avail
If we’re defined by how we fail.
______________________

MPAA rating: PG for the original, R for the Director’s Cut, due to brief language and nudity

For me, Amadeus is the perfect candidate for a Blindspot pick. I’ve been putting it off for far too long, even getting it from the library a while ago and letting it sit around until I had to return it. On top of that, I kept being reminded of it; the recent anime Steins;Gate 0 had an AI called Amadeus and explicitly referenced the rivalry between Mozart and Salieri, and I also just rediscovered the classic ‘80s tune “Rock Me Amadeus” by Falco, inspired by this film. I even got a recent Final Jeopardy question wrong because I didn’t realize Amadeus was based on a play, making it perfect for MovieRob’s Genre Grandeur this month as well. Thus, at long last, it seemed only right to watch the Best Picture of 1984, since I was clearly being pointed toward it.

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Winner of eight Oscars, Amadeus is a powerhouse for both acting and music. For his role of Salieri, F. Murray Abraham deservingly won the Oscar for Best Actor, ironically defeating Tom Hulce as his unwitting rival Mozart. Salieri is a tortured soul, deranged and aged far past his prime when the film opens in 1823, and tells a priest of how his classical musical career was overshadowed by the flippant but undeniable talent of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Hulce portrays Mozart as a frivolous man-child, a “creature” as Salieri refers to him, whose high-pitched laugh grows increasingly annoying, yet the elder composer recognizes Mozart’s gift and blames God for leaving Salieri so comparatively untalented. Both performances are brilliantly nuanced, especially by the tragic end, but the Academy chose right that year.

Yet the music is just as much a character as the dueling composers. As Salieri points out early on, everyone recognizes Mozart’s best work, and his best work is put on full display, with even extended stage performances from opera like The Magic Flute and Don Giovanni. (I watched Milos Forman’s Director’s Cut.) Lovers of classical music will revel in the score, but even non-fans will likely appreciate watching the inception of masterpieces that have stood the test of time.

While I recognize the film as a magnum opus for everyone involved, there’s something that bugs me and keeps it from ranking among my favorites. It may seem shallow or unsympathetic, but as I watched Salieri spiral into a tortured wretch of envy, cursing God for giving Mozart the talent he craved for himself, I just wanted to slap him and say “Get over it!” It’s drama, and I know such unbridled jealousy does happen, but I hate when people compare themselves to others because no matter how good you are at anything, there will always be someone better. Salieri had a high-profile position, money, and respect, and instead of viewing Mozart as a colleague, however vulgar he may have been, he made him the source of an inferiority complex, ultimately contributing to his ruin, for which Salieri received nothing but guilt. He may have blamed God, but the fault was his own. It’s a marvelously complicated portrayal of destructive envy that nonetheless frustrated me almost as much as Mozart’s laugh.

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Looking back, 1984 was undoubtedly one of the big movie years in history, and it says a lot that Amadeus was able to sweep the Oscars that year, winning Best Picture, Actor, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction, Costume Design, Makeup, and Sound. Impeccably mounted in its 18th/19th-century setting, it’s an overly long but outstanding period piece conveying a historic rivalry that, while fictionalized, still resonates.

Best line: (Salieri) “All I wanted was to sing to God. He gave me that longing… and then made me mute. Why? Tell me that. If He didn’t want me to praise Him with music, why implant the desire, like a lust in my body, and then deny me the talent?”

 

Rank:  List Runner-Up

 

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