Amadeus won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1984, and also seven others, Best Director (Milos Forman), Best Actor (F. Murray Abraham as Salieri beating Tom Hulce as Mozart), Best Adapted Screenplay (Peter Shaffer), Best Costume Design, Best Art Direction, Best Makeup and Best Sound, losing in Best Cinematography and Best Editing to The Killing Fields. That year’s Hugo winner, 2010, got five Oscar nominations but lost all of them (two to Amadeus).
The other Best Picture nominees were A Passage to India, which I have seen, and The Killing Fields, Places in the Heart and A Soldier’s Story, which I haven’t. IMDB users put it 3rd on one ranking but only 12th on the other. Other films I’ve seen from that year (in rough IMDB order): The Terminator, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Ghostbusters, Dune, This Is Spın̈al Tap, Beverly Hills Cop, Police Academy, Romancing the Stone, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, 2010, Streets of Fire, Repo Man, The Woman in Red and A Passage to India, fourteen of them, the most for any year so far. I have particular nostalgia for Beverly Hills Cop, which was the first film I went to see with an actual girlfriend. But really The Terminator is the most memorable film of that year, up against some tough competition. Here’s a trailer for Amadeus.
It’s the story of the rivalry between Antonio Salieri, court composer to Emperor Joseph II, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, told as flashbacks from Salieri’s old age in a mental hospital, reflecting on his responsibility for Mozart’s early death. It’s based on a famous stage play, which I actually saw in Belfast in 1983 – the Birmingham Repertory production, starring Keith Michell as Salieri, Siôn Tudor Owen as Mozart and Kay Adshead as Constanze.
I didn’t find any actors here who had been in previous Oscar-winning films. There is one who has been in three Hugo-winners, but wihtout his face being visible in any of them: this is Kenny Baker, who played R2D2 in the orginal Star Wars trilogy, recognisable for once.
There’s also a fairly major Doctor Who crossover, Simon Callow, who plays impresario Emanuel Schikaneder here (and was in fact Mozart for the original theatrical run of Amadeus), and came to the third story of New Who, The Unquiet Dead, in 2005 to play Charles Dickens.
And it’s not my usual fandom – in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever watched an episode of the show – but Lorl, the Mozarts’ maid who is really working for Salieri, is played by 18-year-old Cynthia Nixon, later to achieve fame and fortune as Miranda in Sex and the City (and more recently a candidate for Governor of New York).
To begin with the usual, I think I actually did see a couple of black faces in the background, which if so is better than Terms of Endearment, Ordinary People, Kramer vs. Kramer or Annie Hall, all of which are set in times and places which were a lot more ethnically diverse than 18th-century Vienna. (Vienna has had African migrants, if sometimes not many, since it was founded by the Romans two thousand years ago.)
It’s a story about two men, and a very male play; it’s notable that in many of the court scenes, women are completely absent, and barely speak when they are present. However I’ve noted the young Cynthia Nixon above, and the third biggest role is definitely Constanze, here played by the glowing Elizabeth Berridge. I’m sorry to say that I found her accent grating on me at first, but I got into it by the end, and she gives depth to a part that is more complex than it first seems.
The whole thing looks gorgeous. 18th-century Vienna is a rich setting to begin with; Communist-era Prague, where it was filmed, still looked plausibly enough like a cityscape of the period; as well as the imperials court itself, you have several theatrical performances which are in and of themselves well over the top; generally it’s the best feast for the eyes since Oliver!.
And of course, the film is sustained throughout by the music of Mozart, performed by Neville Marriner and the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields, glorious two hundred years ago and glorious now.
As mentioned above, it’s the story of two men. Mozart teeters on the verge of being to self-centred and vulgar to be really interesting (and my vague memory of the Belfast performance in 1983 is that it fell off this particular cliff-edge). The film makes more of his relationship with his father than the play did, and perhaps that gives him a bit more depth. And anyway, the film isn’t about Mozart as much as it is about Salieri’s obsession with him, culminating in the scene where Salieri helps the dying Mozart write the Requiem.
And F. Murray Abraham richly deserved his Oscar; his Salieri is fundamentally a monster, but knows it and struggles with the guilt of it. Elizabeth Berridge has a couple of fantastic scenes with him too, of which this is the more SFW.
I got hold of the current version of the play script as well – not the original one, or the film screenplay; Peter Shaffer explains at length in a foreword how he has repeatedly reworked the final scene between the two protagonists. The opening of the third scene, with the start of Salieri’s monologue, is:
[Music sounds softly in the background: a serene piece for strings by Salieri. SERVANTS enter. One takes away the dressing-gown and cap; another places on the table a wig-stand bearing a powdered wig; a third brings on a chair and places it at the left, upstage.
At the back, the blue curtains rise and part to show the EMPEROR JOSEPH II and his COURT bathed in golden light, against a golden background of mirrors and an immense golden fireplace. His Majesty is seated, holding a rolled paper, listening to the music. Also listening are COUNT VON STRACK; COUNT ORSINI-ROSENBERG; BARON VAN SWIETEN; and an anonymous PRIEST, dressed in a soutane. An old wigged COURTIER enters and takes his place at the keyboard: KAPELLMEISTER BONNO.]
SALIERI: [In a young man’s voice: vigorous and confident]. The place throughout is Vienna. The year – to begin with – 1781. The age still that of the Enlightenment: that clear time before the guillotine fell in France and cut all our lives in half. I am thirty-one. Already a prolific composer to the Habsburg court. I own a respectable house and a respectable wife- Teresa.
[Enter TERESA: a padded, placid lady who seats herself uprightly in the upstage chair.]
(Teresa doesn’t get much in the stage play, but doesn’t appear in the film at all.)
The biggest difference between film and play is the framing device. The film is told as a flashback from Salieri’s time in a mental hospital, immediately following his suicide attempt; the framing for the play is set immediately before. Also the stage Salieri talks much more to the audience, and is attended by the Venticelli, two characters who seem to dance in and out of the margins between Salieri’s imagination and the real world. And I think the idea that The Magic Flute critically annoyed the Masons is soft-pedalled in the film. It’s a gripping script, though I think challenging and expensive to perform. You can get it here.
Next film is 2010, that year’s Hugo winner; next Oscar winner is Out of Africa, of which I know nothing.
1920s: Wings (1927-28) | The Broadway Melody (1928-29)
1930s: All Quiet on the Western Front (1929-30) | Cimarron (1930-31) | Grand Hotel (1931-32) | Cavalcade (1932-33) | It Happened One Night (1934) | Mutiny on the Bounty (1935, and books) | The Great Ziegfeld (1936) | The Life of Emile Zola (1937) | You Can’t Take It with You (1938) | Gone with the Wind (1939, and book)
1940s: Rebecca (1940) | How Green Was My Valley (1941) | Mrs. Miniver (1942) | Casablanca (1943) | Going My Way (1944) | The Lost Weekend (1945) | The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) | Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) | Hamlet (1948) | All the King’s Men (1949)
1950s: All About Eve (1950) | An American in Paris (1951) | The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) | From Here to Eternity (1953) | On The Waterfront (1954, and book) | Marty (1955) | Around the World in 80 Days (1956) | The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) | Gigi (1958) | Ben-Hur (1959)
1960s: The Apartment (1960) | West Side Story (1961) | Lawrence of Arabia (1962) | Tom Jones (1963) | My Fair Lady (1964) | The Sound of Music (1965) | A Man for All Seasons (1966) | In the Heat of the Night (1967) | Oliver! (1968) | Midnight Cowboy (1969)
1970s: Patton (1970) | The French Connection (1971) | The Godfather (1972) | The Sting (1973) | The Godfather, Part II (1974) | One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) | Rocky (1976) | Annie Hall (1977) | The Deer Hunter (1978) | Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
1980s: Ordinary People (1980) | Chariots of Fire (1981) | Gandhi (1982) | Terms of Endearment (1983) | Amadeus (1984) | Out of Africa (1985) | Platoon (1986) | The Last Emperor (1987) | Rain Man (1988) | Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
1990s: Dances With Wolves (1990) | The Silence of the Lambs (1991) | Unforgiven (1992) | Schindler’s List (1993) | Forrest Gump (1994) | Braveheart (1995) | The English Patient (1996) | Titanic (1997) | Shakespeare in Love (1998) | American Beauty (1999)
21st century: Gladiator (2000) | A Beautiful Mind (2001) | Chicago (2002) | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) | Million Dollar Baby (2004, and book) | Crash (2005) | The Departed (2006) | No Country for Old Men (2007) | Slumdog Millionaire (2008) | The Hurt Locker (2009)
2010s: The King’s Speech (2010) | The Artist (2011) | Argo (2012) | 12 Years a Slave (2013) | Birdman (2014) | Spotlight (2015) | Moonlight (2016) | The Shape of Water (2017) | Green Book (2018) | Parasite (2019)
2020s: Nomadland (2020) | CODA (2021)