« Ben Gazzara, 1930-2012 | Main | Not sixteen years old »

February 08, 2012


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Gordon Cameron

>Largely missing throughout both the play’s and the film’s discussions of various Mozart works are…the librettists. It’s almost as if musical history has its own hierarchical variant on an auteur theory. When Mozart scandalizes the court by proposing an opera of The Marriage of Figaro, the original playwright Beaumarchais warrants a mention, but not only is actual librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte not a character in either the play or the film, his name never even comes up. Apparently collaboration is not a salient feature of genius as it is manifested in these cosmos.

Yes, but consider the Mozart/Schikaneder relationship in the film. Not only his his libretto specifically discussed (by Constanze, who derides it as 'ridiculous'), but he's depicted as an aesthetic influence on Mozart. He brings out an earthier side to Mozart's work (hinted at earlier when Mozart complains to the emperor, 'who wouldn't rather listen to his hairdresser than Hercules?), tells him at the vaudeville theater that 'you belong here, not at the snobby court,' and is seen actively participating in a rehearsal/party with the 'Magic Flute' cast. I think his powerful presence is as much worth commenting on as the absence of Da Ponte -- can't some of this disparity be accounted for by the fact that there's only so much you can cram into a single play/movie if you want to retain a realistic running time? Incidentally, the film does interesting things with the Earthy/Celestial, Life/Death dichotomy between Schikaneder and Salieri in the third act. Mozart confuses them when he hears ominous knocks at the door, and works himself to death to fulfill both of their commissions; and in a splendid bit of music editing, the playful overture to 'The Magic Flute' is merged with the terrifying 'Rex Tremendae' from the Requiem.

(I also love the bit where the shrill mother-in-law morphs into the Queen of the Night, but that's another matter...)

Victor Morton

Thanks for joining in the AMADEUS blog-a-thon, Glenn. I'll have a fresh piece later in the week.

But for now, since you mention Lorenzo DaPonte, let me point out Carlos Saura's recent I, DON GIOVANNI, in which DaPonte is the central figure. In this version of non-history, the inspiration for DON GIOVANNI is Lorenzo's apparently legendary promiscuity, which got him exiled from Venice. And again, a scheming Salieri is the villain of the piece (he does the "good deed" of pulling strings to get DaPonte the commission with Mozart, convinced it'll never work and wreck Mozart). I like IDG quite a bit (never made US commercial distribution), but it's no AMADEUS.

That Fuzzy Bastard

Slightly off-topic, but it makes me very sad that so many smart people only know Pushkin through Nabokov's terrible translations! Pushkin's poetry is like Mozart in verse---fast and breezy, but endlessly complex, and just plain pleasurable. Nabokov was a great writer, but he had an elaborate theory of translation which held that the word was more important than the line, and that attempts to make translations enjoyable are a betrayal of the translation's heavy lifting. So he produced translations that are useful as a crib for reading the Russian, but horrifically inaccurate when it comes to conveying the literary accomplishment of the source material---his Onegin makes on of the most purely enjoyable poems ever written feel like a thudding, ponderous mess. Seriously, there's loads of Pushkin translations out there, and just about any of them will give you a better feel for the bounce of his line, and the snappiness of his dialogue.

Mark Slutsky

What I love about AMADEUS is that Salieri isn't Mozart's arch-rival or enemy; he's his biggest fan... and perhaps the only person who truly comprehends his genius. It's beautiful.

Glenn Kenny

The grim elaborateness of his translation theory notwithstanding, VN made no bones about the blocky ugliness of his "Englished" Russian poems and almost admitted the effect was deliberate, the better to push the reader to learn Russian. I'm not gonna get into any kind of discussion of the issues raised in the above comment but since my points were all "content" based I figures VN's Pushkin would "do."

David Ehrenstein

Interesting that you bring this up because I was reminded of "Amadeus" by the recent, egregious "Anonymous." In Forman's film Mozart crude robustness is as one with his musical genius. In the Emmerich class snobbery conquers all Shakespeare "couldn't have been so low bred" so the Oxfordian's created a whole system of utter nonsense that the film goes for hook line and sinker to make him an aristocrat. It's Shakespeare is a crude lout thus "proving their point."


Forman has recently appeared as Catherine Deneuve's love interest in Christophe Honore's new musical "Les Bien-Aimes."

That Fuzzy Bastard

Oh yeah---Nabokov was always plenty up-front about his translations' ugliness, and it's certainly an appropriate choice here, where you're trying to get pure sense across. It just makes me sad that a lot of highly literate folks who aren't inclined to learn Russian think, "I'd like to try this Pushkin---let me find a good translation. Nabokov! He's a fine writer, this should be great!" And then they come away thinking this infinitely graceful poet wrote thudding, ugly verse, and don't see what the big deal is. It's especially painful in the verse dramas, where the liquid line of the dialogue is a big part of the effect.


And how about that Elizabeth Berridge, am I right fellows? Eh? Eh???

I'll show myself out.

Brian Dauth

One aspect of AMADEUS that has always struck me as being consistent with Forman’s other films is the presentation of the individual as under the pressure of the state/authority to conform. Amadeus/Salieri is McMurphy/Nurse Ratched in a different timeframe/place. Forman is interested in how the individual is under the surveillance of the state which is trying either to suppress her freedom/expression or to co-opt it. Forman brings a political element to the film, and I love the scene he created with Shaffer where Salieri, court composer and state agent, takes down the Requiem in his own hand to claim it for himself (and, by extension, the state). Mozart’s laugh on the soundtrack at the end is like Chief Bromden breaking out of the asylum, though a far bleaker conclusion more in keeping with THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT.

It is also interesting how AMADEUS is EQUUS (and THE ROYAL HUNT OF THE SUN) all over again with the quester after the divine – Dysart/Salieri – eventually destroying the person they feel is touched by the divine – Dysart does it in an attempt to cure Alan Strang, while Salieri does it from envy and anger. Shaffer revisions to the play subsequent to the film de-emphasize the political elements that were introduced by Forman.

Brian Dauth

One additional thought:

In Tim Grierson's post he writes: "I still consider this the superior version of Amadeus [the later revision], although I have great admiration for the film, which I initially caught in its 'director's cut' version during its 2002 theatrical run. The reason why I prefer the stage version is that I think it drives home the work's essential point: Like it or not, we're all Salieri."

For me, this is the major difference between Forman's vision and Shaffer's. For Shaffer, we are all Salieri's (Dysart at the end of EQUUS says that the bit will not come out [of his mouth]). Forman, however, shows that a person is only a Salieri if she aligns herself with the state. Mozart's laugh contradict's Salieri's luxurious sense of martyrdom: God doesn't divide the world between Mozarts and mediocrities -- one has to make certain choices in order to become a mediocrity. In parallel ways, Lumet in EQUUS and Forman in AMADEUS subvert/critique Shaffer's vision of the world.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Tip Jar

Tip Jar
Blog powered by Typepad