I’ve just watched the director’s cut of Amadeus. I must have watched it close to sixty times over the years. To me, if there is such thing as perfection in films, then Amadeus is it.
I must admit to have had a special connection to Mozart’s music since I was very young. My father belonged to the generation of people who listened to the radio well after traditional evening family conversations were replaced by the fascination with TV. He played radio before going to work in the morning so as to keep up with national and international news and then there were the evening radio plays and classical music concerts. As far as I remember, that’s when I first heard Mozart’s clarinet concerto in A major floating out of my father’s radio, out into the central corridor of our house and flooding my bedroom with the unmistakable life force that characterizes his music.
Back then, I already instinctively knew that I was an actress and Mozart’s music helped me to connect with entire new worlds filled with sensations, images, colors and emotions that are pure nectar for a creative soul. Perhaps, also, it imprinted in me some of the significance of an artist’s function in our world.
As an adult, my visceral connection to his music grew into an equal fascination for his life. I read several books about him and, unable to resist the temptation any longer, I convinced a friend of mine to take a trip to Austria on a quest to get “closer” to the great composer. I lived in Paris at the time. My friend had a car and a tiny tent for two. Off we drove at dawn on a rainy summer day.
I had planned the trip so that we could visit the Salzburg house in which Mozart was born, and several places were he lived and gave concerts. I hadn’t planned where we would sleep. After being on the road for many hours, we spent our first night in Switzerland, by beautiful Lake Zurich… in the car.
But nothing could have dampened my spirit. And aren’t all actors adventurous anyway? I think creating is always about going on an adventure.
Off we drove, at the crack of dawn not wanting anyone to see where we’d slept. We would eat wherever, we would sleep wherever. Two students on a shoestring budget and on a big mission can be unstoppable.
I was only too happy to use my then fluent German when we got to the Austrian border. Finally, we were entering “his world”. What was I going to discover? What would I learn from this trip?
Not to be trivial but, to begin with, I learned that I could survive not breathing under an ice cold shower in an inexpensive camping ground in the Tirol mountains.
Interesting experiences and sensations are all to be stored in our “actor’s library” so we may draw on them at any time when we need them for creative purposes, right? So, my philosophy is to experience, to feel, to taste, to hear, to smell, to touch and to see Life.
Through watching Amadeus, I have no doubt that the actors involved in that film, as well as the writer, Peter Shaffer, the director, Milos Forman and of course, Mozart himself are on a similar journey. I suppose nowadays we call it “mindfulness”, living in the moment, all things that are an integral part of acting techniques and that extend to all creatives.
So why am I drawn back time and time again to Amadeus? It’s not just my passion for Mozart and his music.
As a production, there are many elements that make it great. From the music, to the locations it was shot in, and from the beautifully crafted costumes to the wigs and makeup, it seems that the whole team that worked on it went by the infamous saying that “God is in the details”.
Most importantly, it started with a riveting story in which the various points of view of the characters are explored in a way that moves me and keeps me on the edge of my seat (yes, every time I watch it!). Of course, it’s partly in the beautifully crafted dialogues. The humanity infused in them makes me cry and laugh and feel for all these characters. I feel like I know them and that somehow, I’m part of their world.
Who can forget lines such as:
Salieri: “On the page it looked nothing. The beginning simple, almost comic. Just a pulse - bassoons and basset horns - like a rusty squeezebox. Then suddenly - high above it - an oboe, a single note, hanging there unwavering, till a clarinet took over and sweetened it into a phrase of such delight! This was no composition by a performing monkey! This was a music I'd never heard. Filled with such longing, such unfulfillable longing, it had me trembling. It seemed to me that I was hearing the very voice of God.”
Mozart: “Come on now, be honest! Which one of you wouldn't rather listen to his hairdresser than Hercules? Or Horatius, or Orpheus... people so lofty they sound as if they shit marble!”
And then there are the outstanding performances by F Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge and ultimately by the whole cast.
For who can forget how both F Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce delivered the above dialogues? Even the most beautiful lines need an actor’s soul, guts and voice to be performed “in tune” and to be lifted from the page and into the living human dimension.
Don’t we all remember “that” Mozart’s laughter? What a fun and bold creative choice by an actor!
What makes Amadeus timeless is that all the actors chose to inhabit their characters to such an extent that I feel drawn into their world. Through their craft, they made it real to themselves, so it becomes real to me each time I watch the film.
And yes, I used that word, “craft”. Because, for all the crazy ideas that people have about actors, let’s bear in mind that acting is a craft that requires training and practice in the same way that Mozart trained and practiced his music skills everyday.
The other ingredient that makes the difference between good actors and the others is the journey of self-discovery that one willingly takes in their life and through their craft. As Leopold Mozart wrote to his son in one of the original letters I was fortunate enough to read while on my trip: “Know Thyself”.
And we all know that this requires curiosity, time and patience. However, one of the elements that helps taking one’s craft to the next level is to be able to connect one’s constantly evolving heart and soul to that craft.
Partnerships between actors who aim at serving a scene and a story that they recognize as being bigger than themselves can create extremely powerful results. Amadeus contains excellent examples of this from the beginning until the end, in that unforgettable scene where Mozart, on his deathbed and having the requiem in his head, dictates it to an eager and frustrated Salieri. The partnership between these actors combined with their incredible commitment to their respective characters is absolutely breath giving.
It’s an amazing lesson in both personal achievement and what I call “positive humility”. I’m talking about the generous give and take that takes place between the actors in each scene so as to serve the story itself.
Amadeus is an exquisite example of what skilled and dedicated thespians can do to bring a great script to life and to do it as an “ensemble”.
And this is what draws me to watch it again. There’s a lot to gain from watching great movies more than once.
I admire Milos Forman for having directed a movie in which, to use one of its lines: “Take out one note, and it would be diminishment”.
When it comes to movies, watching Amadeus is as close a look at greatness as I can take. That same greatness that I was looking for when I took my trip to Austria. That same greatness that I connect to when I listen to Mozart. That same life affirming greatness that artists can chose to bring into the world.
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