Amadeus [1984)

In these waning hours of Christmas, I give you…

a fucking masterpiece.

Indeed, I regret that I cannot express myself at this time without resort to expletive, but this film by Miloš Forman is truly bone-chilling.

And it is especially so for me:  a former composer.

Oh, there is always still time.

To set pencil to paper (or pen, if [like Mozart], you make no mistakes).

And so we shall take under consideration the director’s cut of Amadeus as our subject.

This later, R-rated version is from 2002 and adds 20 minutes to this magnum opus.

Yes, dear friends…we shall consider many things.

The uncanny embodiment of Tom Hulce.

The deft, dastardly thespian skills of F. Murray Abraham.

And even the indispensably aghast facial expressions of Richard Frank.

You might wonder why I have chosen this film to honor God on this day rather than a movie like Ernest Saves Christmas.

I will let you ponder that one for a moment.

But in the meanwhile, we shall press onwards with the young Salieri.

Please remember the pious of Western classical music.

J.S. Bach.

Antonio Vivaldi.

Haydn.  Handel.

Ok, perhaps not so much the latter.

Because he too, like Mozart, was a man of the world.

Of the earth.

A joyful sinner.

A composer with a dirty mouth.

Yes, there are miracles in this film.

Too many to count.

Salieri’s father choking on a fishbone.

For starters.

But let us consider the whole city of Vienna a miracle on assumption.

Wien.

A city in which one could dial the number 1507 and receive an A (435 Hz) with which to tune an instrument.

We have long appreciated this bit of trivia from scholar Norman Lloyd.

It has always endeared Vienna to our hearts.

A place where [it must] music flows through every pipe and connects the city in divine harmony.

But that time period for which we yearn…that “common practice” period is just the era in which Mozart is plopped down with his hilarious little giggle.

Jeffrey Jones is magnificent as the judicious statesman the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II.

Which brings us back to Christmas.

A child was born.  To a woman by the Holy Spirit.

Yet the child had an earthly father:  Joseph II (not to be confused with the Old Testament Joseph).

Mozart was a child.

Childish.

A hellion.

Yet I would choose him over Shakespeare and Einstein when it comes to true genius.

I had heard it.

With my own ears.

In my days of getting my bachelor’s of music in music theory and composition.

I had heard that Symphony #39.  I played it.

I was inside the music.

And it is like none other.

I had discovered the ingenious counterpoint in Mozart’s Symphony #41.

What lightness!  What architecture!

What a vision of the beyond…

It takes memory to succeed.

And we guard our memories.

But it takes observation to create memories.

An eye.  An ear (in the case of Mozart).

Yes, Mozart’s prowess for hearing something once and then playing it back or either writing out all the parts (if a mixed ensemble) is legendary.

His fame grew with these stunts.

His novelty tours with father Leopold and sister Nannerl (not pictured).

I had at least one Harvard/Stanford-trained Dr. of music warn me about the historical inaccuracies in this film.

But this is Hollywood.

Of course there will be changes.

And yet, it is an incredibly moving picture.

To borrow a programmatic description from Richard Strauss, this film becomes (for much of it) a symphonia domestica.

Which, let me just say, happens to grace us with the presence of genius beauty:  Elizabeth Berridge.

But always in life (even into the bubble of music) creeps in business.

Economics.

Finances.

Debt.

Mozart was gifted with a once-in-humanity talent, yet he did not have the self-marketing skills to always position his talent at the best place in the market.

Meanwhile, Signor Salieri activates a little psychological warfare (captured by Forman’s camera lit by little gaslights all around…).

And so it is machinations versus manifestations of God’s glory.

The story is rich.

That a composer might write his own Requiem mass…and that the writing of that mass might just kill him.

We know how cursed the 9th symphony became after Beethoven (Bruckner, Dvořák, Mahler, Schubert…).

Musicians are subject to powerful forces which attack their necessary imaginations.

Superstitions.

Salieri’s character proves that those closest to us are not necessarily to be trusted.  His disingenuous psyop has Mozart working himself to death.

And that is a scary thing.

To push and push and push.

And yet, who will be remembered?

The expert in psychological warfare?

Or the symphonist?

Times have changed, but it is still the creator who has the benefit of creating goods.

Super-warriors aren’t even creating bads.  They are creating nothing.

But, it might be argued, that they are doing the most good in this world which no longer appreciates the music of its heritage.

Yes, European classical music is on life-support.

But we return to Mozart, who is in not-much-better condition.

Part of me longs for the treatment of Ingmar Bergman in his underappreciated film version of Trollflöjten (The Magic Flute in Swedish).

But Miloš Forman does everything else right.

The scene in which Mozart and Salieri are working on the Requiem is masterful!

And still…Mozart doesn’t realize that his greatest enemy is posing as a friend to help him compose his own death from exhaustion.

It’s only when they’re throwing the lime on you that you get real perspective.

But by that point, you’re wrapped up.

It is thus a fitting Christmas story…that hatred and jealously are futile.

And that a naive genius had the keys to the musical kingdom.

For his 35 short years on Earth.

Perhaps Mozart was not a pious man, but Salieri (who burned his own crucifix in the fireplace) consistently recognized the voice of God in Mozart’s music.

I hope you are all having a wonderful holiday season and that your hearts will be filled with melodies which could make the heavens weep.

-PD

Senso [1954)

How does love turn into hate?

Does it ever work the other way around?

Hate into love?

Because the natural course seems to be love into hate.

Vulnerability into hurt.

Hurt into resentment.

And somewhere along the continuum, God forbid, revenge.

Senso, despite its extravagant period costumes and generous budget, is still a product of neorealism.

Sure…it’s hard for most of us to relate to a Countess.

That’s why I can’t read Tolstoy.  I can’t read Fitzgerald.  Not even out of curiosity or hatred.

I can only read Dostoyevsky.  I have only ever related to the outlaw.

Of outlaw literature.

But cinema does a funny thing.

We may not be able to really “get into” Il Trovatore or Der Freischütz, but occasionally a talented auteur can make us appreciate the truly foreign:  a higher social class.

In this case, it is the highest.

The nobility.

In English we might (but probably won’t) know it as the Third Italian War of Independence.  How confusing.  That would seem to entail a July 4th (for us Americans) three times a year (assuming there wasn’t a fourth war).

In plain terms, it was Austria vs. Italy (rather like a soccer match).

Football.  Footie.  FTSE.  Yes…

All rather humdrum after the smoke has wafted away.

Idiots, they call us.

Those who fight.

Some join an army.  Very brave.

Others expose themselves needlessly.  What might be termed “impulsive” or again “thoughtlessness”.

What does this?

In both cases, pride (generally speaking).

Sure, a professional soldier makes a decent living (as long as he or she is living), but said soldier is a chess piece of one type or another…always manipulated from above…lacking autonomy.

And yet, perhaps, no price is too high to pay people who are willing to die to defend their country.

But we must define country.

Defending those who cannot (for one reason or another) defend themselves is indeed honorable.

Defending the abstract structures and mechanisms of a state, perhaps less so…

And yet, a pride can infuse the defense of all of this (either separately or collectively).

And then there is the rebel.

Perhaps the rebel will never again find his army in the first world.

In terms of class warfare, then, the United States is a frozen conflict zone.

Just like Abkhazia or some other little-talked-about blip on the map.

Is there a class war?

Should there be a class war?

Shouldn’t wars of all kinds have been evolved out of existence long ago?

Yes?

No…the rebel shan’t find his army in America.

The battlefield has changed.

And as bathos is my witness, “love is a battlefield”!

Discourse on Benatar.

Cannot contain the dodo on his perch.

But never does Luchino Visconti stoop to such poor taste.

No.

Fever pitch, yes.

But poor taste, never.

Because he is telling Spengler’s story.

And he is still telling WWII.

There can be no avoiding that.  Nine years later.

It must be couched in allegory.

And I, like Baudelaire, am nourished by my own misery.

All of this I owe to Walter Benjamin.

Avoid the jalapeno pronunciation.  ~ath do us part.

Alida Valli gets to show more of her breadth here than in the criminally underrated Paradine Case (no pun intended).

Pennies and “the” will be eliminated from the verbal money supply.

Farley Granger is more of a maniac than in Rope (the Hitchcock closest to my snob heart).

Most importantly, Visconti sets the mood with Bruckner’s 7th Symphony.

And now Carlo Maria Giulini’s recording for Deutsche Grammophon makes more sense.

Senso in what sense?

Direction?

Love leaves you with a worthless compass.

The sun begins to revolve around the Earth.

What a perilous pleasure.

That we hope for forever until our end of days.

No matter the hurt…always more.

For the romantic.

 

-PD

Passion [1982)

All you need is the first word.  The first sentence to get you going.

You can meditate.  Think too hard.

And now that it’s started it is gloriously ruined.  Like Kind of Blue.

Miles Davis would tell his players…one take.

Perhaps there were caveats.  But Bill Evans was ready.  Coltrane…

It is the same with “Sister Ray” by The Velvet Underground.

One take.  Make it count.

Everything proceeds from the first word.  But don’t take it too seriously.

It is like many other first words.  “Once upon a time…”

From a mist rises Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.  Bruckner would use the same device many times (no doubt in honor of Ludwig van).

Yes.  We say Ludwig Van in honor of Mauricio Kagel.  And the entire spirit of everything here might be compared to Joseph Beuys.

And just like that <bam> we go over-budget.

Jerzy Radziwilowicz plays the Jean-Luc Godard character here (with the wardrobe ostensibly taken right off the back of Jacques Dutronc).  Thus Godard still creates a distance between his story and THE story.  The whole bit about Poland is made to throw us off the scent (a bit like the glorious obfuscation of Joyce in Finnegans Wake).

We find Godard to be right.  The available forms are too mundane.  The audience stops thinking when they are comfortable.  So we must disorient them a bit–prod like a brainiac Hitchcock.

You see, the most important thing is not who acted in this film.  Rather, the crucial component is the juxtaposition which allows for revelation.

We see the most perfectly-placed tableaux of human paintings.  Come to life.  The proper term is tableau vivant.  Maybe you see them at Christmas.  Perhaps a manger and the Christian genesis.

Ah, but with Godard it is Delacroix and Rubens and Rembrandt etc.  I assume Ingmar Bergman missed this Godard film because the former had already made up his mind regarding the latter.  And thus the admiration flowed in one direction alone.  We see the delicacy of Bergman–that technique of the long shot (temporally speaking).  You can almost imagine Godard telling his cast of thousands in this mini-epic to have no expression at all.

There is a connection to Stravinsky.  Neoclassicism, but really a radical belief in the purity of music.  To paraphrase Igor, “Music doesn’t have meaning.  A note is a note.”  Perhaps I have done the great composer an injustice with my memory.  Yet, a paraphrase is a paraphrase.

We humans are not computers.  No matter how many books we have.  No matter how steel-trap our memory.  No matter how fast our Internet.

And thus, that which is juxtaposed against the meticulous composition of the tableaux vivants?  Everyday life.  Careless shots.  The beauty of the sky.  The natural sway of a handheld camera.  The sun as it burns up the lens upon peeking through the bare trees.  Hanna Schygulla running through the snow with a lavender umbrella.

Real life.  Labor.  A factory.  And who is the real star?  Isabelle Huppert.  Her character in Sauve qui peut (la vie) was not a sympathetic one.  Can we say?  WE had no sympathy for her.  Very little.  Not none.

Yet here…she is the lamb of God (of which she speaks).  Huppert is the labor element.  Workers’ rights.  It is intimated that her monotonous job has caused her to stutter.  Why?  Because it is not easy to talk about the factory.

And why, she asks, are people in films never shown working?  It is not allowed.  Filming in factories.  Indeed, I believe there is a specifically French meaning here.  [And Swiss, as the film is shot in Switzerland.]  But the real shocker?  Work and sex (“pornography”) are equally prohibited on the screen.

Only Godard would find this fascinating link.  And that is why we love him.

But mostly it is another thing.

Life is so much richer in the films of Godard.  Sure, there are some exceptions, but the exceptions themselves are merely the process being revealed.  It is “the thinking life” to paraphrase Henry Miller.

Once you have been there, you don’t want to go back.  Or you can’t go back.  But we do go back.  Thinking is hard work.

And as the world bemoans what havoc Europe has wrought, let it be noted…the Beethovens, Mozarts, Dvoraks…

This is the humanism which little by little comes to occupy the mature films of Jean-Luc Godard.

Most importantly, he never stopped being a critic.

And his film reviews?  They are his films themselves.

-PD