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Amadeus is a 1979 stage play written by Peter Shaffer, adapted into a film in 1984. It is based off of an 1897 one-act opera by Nikolai Rimsky-Korshakov, Mozart and Salieri, which is in turn based on an 1830 drama of the same name by Alexander Pushkin. This article deals mainly with the film.
Taking some liberties with historical accounts, the story is told from the point of view of Antonio Salieri, the court composer for Emperor Joseph II. A devout man, Salieri's faith is shaken when Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart arrives and wins the affections of the court and the audiences. That the boorish Mozart could create such magnificent compositions with seemingly no effort, while Salieri had to struggle to get to where he was, drives him to undermine Mozart any way he can. Sometimes, he even succeeds.
A misconception about the story is that its meant to be taken as fact, but there is also a misconception about this misconception- the story is about the supposed secret history of Salieri and Mozart; so in Real Life Salieri and Mozart were good friends and Salieri was a respected composer, but in this movie Salieri and Mozart are also good friends and Salieri is still a respected composer....as far as everybody else knows, Mozart included. The premise is that the only one who knows the real truth is Salieri, who is far too wallowed up in self-pity to appreciate his lot in life (which is, on the whole, pretty good) but is also enough of a Villain with Good Publicity that by the end he, and only he, really knows the extent of his bastardy (bar the priest he confesses to). In other words, it works on the idea that recorded history is different because it has been duped.
Despite the historical inaccuracy, the film is considered absolutely brilliant, and is well worth watching for its own sake.
Ironically, the greatest legacy of Amadeus was a considerable revival of interest in the life and work of Antonio Salieri.
The film version of Amadeus was named to the National Film Registry in 2019.
- Academy Award: 1984 Best Picture winner. Milos Forman also won Best Director, and F. Murray Abraham won Best Actor for his turn as Salieri--competing against Tom Hulce's Mozart.
- Adaptation Distillation
- Always Second Best
- Ambiguously Gay: The Wigmaker when Mozart is buying the three wigs.
- Annoying Laugh: Mozart. As the aged Salieri is wheeled through the insane asylum, you hear it again. It's either Mozart laughing from beyond the grave... or God laughing at Salieri's delusions. Or both, all in Saleri's insane mind. Some have claimed that was actually how Mozart sounded when he laughed, but there is no evidence to suggest that.
- Antagonist in Mourning: Salieri, despite having relished the moment for a long time, seems utterly crushed when Mozart dies.
- YMMV, based on the closing scenes with the priest, it appeared to be shock more than anything else, that God "destroyed his own beloved rather then let a mediocrity share in the smallest part of his glory."
- Based on a Great Big Lie: It's widely considered to be an urban legend that Salieri claimed to have killed Mozart; and even if it were true, nobody would have believed him.
- Compounded by the fact that part of the movie's tagline is, "...Everything You've Heard Is True".
- Bedlam House: The lunatic asylum that Salieri is confined to.
- Bittersweet Ending: At the end of the movie, Salieri rediscovers his own spirituality after realizing at the end of his confession that he wasn't Mozart's killer after all, and that he himself never knew that God was setting him up as something better, be it ever so slightly, than just a great composer doomed to live to see his fame and fortune wither away before his eyes: the patron saint of mediocrities.
- Black Cloak: Salieri disguises himself in one of these to commission the Requiem Mass in D Minor from Mozart. Papa Mozart wore a similar cloak.
- Bunny Ears Lawyer: Mozart all the way.
- California Doubling: 18th century Vienna was shot in 1980's Prague - because their roofs don't have lots of satellite dishes that could potentially spoil the shot.
- Casanova: Mozart.
- Catch Phrase: "...There it is." Quite pithy for a Royal Emperor.
- Celibate Hero: Salieri in the movie.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Mozart, again.
- Country Matters: Courtesy of Schikaneder, after finding out Mozart had been writing a requiem. He even says it in the PG-rated theatrical cut, unbelievably.
- Did Not Do the Research: Curiously averted. Although the movie takes great Artistic License with Mozart and Salieri's relationship, it is surprisingly accurate on a number of levels. First, meticulous care was put into accurately portraying the period. Second, Mozart was just as annoying in real life: Joseph Haydn once saw him make a hundred enemies at a single party.
- Also, one of the film's greatest inaccuracies is Mozart's composition method, stating that he composed entirely in his head and then wrote the music down in a single draft. Although this is untrue (Mozart's sheet music went through numerous revisions, like any other composer), it is not a case of Did Not Do the Research so much as History Marches On, as the single-draft method was perpetrated by historians in the 19th century.
- Driven by Envy: Salieri, Very much so — as a core driver of the plot.
- Faith Heel Turn
- Fan Service: In the Directors Cut, you get to see Elizabeth Berridge topless.
- A God Am I: Salieri's aspiration to become God's musical messenger in this world. It all goes downhill when he understands that Mozart fits the role much better.
- Green-Eyed Monster: Salieri is the living embodiment of this trope.
- Hard Work Hardly Works: Salieri.
- Heroic RROD: Mozart, with encouragement from Salieri, ends up working himself to death.
- How We Got Here: Via a Confessional.
- Insufferable Genius: Both Mozart and Salieri. Mozart is boorish, rude, infantile, and argumentative against anyone who can't appreciate his work. Salieri is snobbish and pandering, and demonstrates contempt for others. Salieri merely does a better job of hiding his contempt.
- Intermission: Usually occurs when the movie is shown on premium cable channels (i.e. HBO, and the like).
- Interrupted Suicide
- In the Style Of: Mozart playing "Vivat Bacchus" in the style of Salieri, punctuated with flatulence.
- Nostalgic Narrator: The Framing Device.
- Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Everybody spoke with their natural American accents. British audiences found this jarring.
- The Queen's Latin: Averted. Most characters (including the Emperor) speak with American accents, and only a few characters speak with British accents. One character speaks with a German accent, which contrasts comically with his belief in the superiority of Italian and his incessant attempts at it. It appears that many actors were instructed to use their native accents.
- Rage Against the Heavens: "It was not Mozart that was mocking me — it was God!"
Salieri [throwing a crucifix in his fireplace]: "From now on we are enemies, You and I. Because You choose for Your instrument a boastful, lustful, smutty, infantile boy and give me for reward only the ability to recognize the incarnation. Because You are unjust, unfair, unkind, I will block You, I swear it. I will hinder and harm Your creature on earth as far as I am able."
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: Mozart and Salieri.
- Scenery Porn
- Shout-Out: The freckled little boy watching Mozart show off his mad piano skills at the masquerade party is a reference to Ludwig Van Beethoven. While the two of them attending the same party is fairly unlikely, Mozart did attend a recital in which young Beethoven performed.
- Sidelong Glance Biopic
- A Simple Plan: Salieri's plan to both trick Mozart into composing a Requiem and then kill Mozart.
Salieri: His funeral! Imagine it, the cathedral, all Vienna sitting there, his coffin, Mozart's little coffin in the middle, and then, in that silence, music! A divine music bursts out over them all. A great mass of death! Requiem mass for Wolfgang Mozart, composed by his devoted friend, Antonio Salieri! Oh what sublimity, what depth, what passion in the music! Salieri has been touched by God at last. And God is forced to listen! Powerless, powerless to stop it! I, for once in the end, laughing at him!
- Sweet Tooth: Salieri has a thing for candy (may also count as Genius' Sweet Tooth).
- Technician Versus Performer
- Toilet Humour: Mozart's sense of humor is rather... lavatorial.
- Too Good for This Sinful Earth: While by no means pure, Salieri admitted at the end that Mozart (or at least, his music) was so sacred that God himself called him home to Out-Gambitted Salieri's plot to kill him and steal the last laugh from right under the Most High's nose.
- True Art Is Incomprehensible: In-Universe, Mozart is seen struggling against everyone who can't comprehend the operas and music he's creating for them. Most of them — Emperor included — can't recognize good music even when it points them to the Crowning Music of Awesome tropes page, while the one person who can comprehend — Salieri — is working behind the scenes to sabotage Mozart's efforts. Parodied when Mozart, in a huff after being told that the Emperor has banned ballet in opera, Mozart just removes the music from the ballet scene in The Marriage of Figaro and has the dancers just dance to silence. When the Emperor attends a rehearsal, he asks an aide if this is just a new modern development?
- Unknown Rival
- Unreliable Narrator
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: In reality, Salieri and Mozart had a great deal of respect for each other, attended each others' operas and Salieri ended up teaching one of Mozart's sons.
- Also, it is true that Mozart did not know who was commissioning the requiem. The film depicts Salieri commissioning it with the intent of passing the work off as his own. Although Salieri did not actually commission the work, the man who did (Franz von Walsegg) was a known plagiarist who almost certainly had the same intent as Salieri in the film (minus the whole murder thing).
- Villain Protagonist
- "Well Done, Son" Guy: Mozart is both terrified and awed by his imposing father Leopold. He's hoping for the adoration he wants from his father (who never shows any) but unwilling to submit to his demands to leave Vienna. And when Leopold dies, Mozart pumps out Don Giovanni to express his rage and grief. And Salieri is the only one who understands it...
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