Blasphemous Battle With God
A CINEMATIC VIEW
Two films that are interesting adaptations from another medium are Amadeus and Cal, each being rewritten by its original author for the screen.
Peter Shaffer is extraordinarily successful in transposing his popular play onto the screen. The plot of Amadeus centers around the reactions of Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham), court composer to Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II, to the musical genius of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce). Salieri in Shaffer’s story seems to be the only person in Vienna to comprehend Mozart’s musical gifts.
That Mozart’s music should sound like the voice of God to Salieri is for at least two reasons a particularly painful cross for the Italian composer: first because the person of Mozart strikes Salieri as loud, boisterous, and obscene; second because though Salieri can appreciate a genius, he is not one. Rather he identifies himself as the patron saint of the mediocre. The question that plagues Salieri, who has consecrated his life to God in a kind of quid pro quo contract, is, “Why did God bless this vile, noisy upstart with musical genius instead of his loyal servant, Salieri?” That Mozart is beloved-of-God is clear to Salieri and this perceived injustice so tortures Salieri that he plots Mozart’s downfall. His scheme works so well that after Mozart’s death Salieri is plagued by guilt feelings that lead him to accuse himself of Mozart’s murder.
How close or far Shaffer’s plot is from historical truth should matter little in a viewer’s judgment of Amadeus as a work of art. In a number of ways the film version is better than the stage production, which was quite good. While Shaffer deserves special credit for the marvelous transposition of his play to the screen, he must share the accolades with director Milos Forman and with relative unknowns Abraham and Hulce. The supporting cast, especially Jeffrey Jones as Joseph II, Roy Dotrice as Mozart’s father, Elizabeth Berridge as Mozart’s wife, and Richard Frank as the priest who hears Salieri’s “confession” (that accounts for the flashback structure of the film) is very good. But Abraham and Hulce are two wonders. I can’t remember a film in which two unknowns shine so brightly.
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