How do you make a highly fanciful version of history seem believable? For this adaptation of Peter Shaffer’s award-winning play, having a literate script and a superb cast helped tremendously. Another plus was the work of Oscar-winning art directors Patrizia von Brandenstein and Karel Černy, who built convincing 18th century interiors in Prague’s Barrandov Studios while also turning historical streets and buildings, including the Count Nostitz Theatre in Prague (now the Estates Theatre), into credible facsimiles of the places rival composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri worked and lived.
Shaffer’s play took off from the simple fact that while the two composers were contemporaries, only Mozart’s works have become part of the classical canon. From there he constructed a witty consideration of the nature of genius, as an aged Salieri remembers how, motivated by jealousy, he set out to destroy the career of the young but unsophisticated genius. Wanting relative unknowns in the leading roles, director Milos Forman bypassed actors like Paul Scofield, Ian McKellan and Tim Curry who had played the parts on stage to cast to lesser known but no less accomplished American actors F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce as Salieri and Mozart, respectively.
Von Brandenstein and Cerny did meticulous research on the composer’s lives. The sets for Mozart’s operas were based on sketches of their original productions, and portraits of Mozart and his father were copies of historical portraits adjusted to resemble the actors. Their work contributed to the film’s impressive box-office showing and its winning eight Oscars®, including Best Picture, Director, Actor (Abraham), Adapted Screenplay and Art Direction.
Amadeus will be screened in its 2002 “Director’s Cut” edition.
d. Miloš Forman, 180 minutes, DCP
Courtesy of the Saul Zaentz Company