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

Je vous salue, Marie [1985)

Jean-Luc Godard has, in my opinion, made five perfect films.  Chronologically, this is the second of those five.

The first was 23 years earlier.  In 1962, Vivre sa vie let a 22-year-old Anna Karina shine as never before.  After a proverbial 40 days in the deserts of Varèse-like experimentation, Godard emerged to string together a series of films which paved the way for the style in which he continues to direct till this day.  Nevertheless, Je vous salue, Marie towers above the “middle quartets” which precede it.  Truly, this is one of the finest films ever to be made.

It is also a particularly difficult film to review as its history is laden with controversy.  Godard, ever the rebel, chose to retell the story of the Virgin Mary in a modern setting.  No doubt the sincerity of Godard was misinterpreted by many Catholics as blasphemy.

The key to understanding this film is watching the whole thing.  If you are offended, try to make it to the end.  Perhaps the method of storytelling will then make more sense.

It must, however, be admitted that Godard’s take on the Annunciation and birth of Jesus is highly mystical.  It is like the music of Olivier Messiaen.  Dissonance is a gift from God.  To hear the works of Messiaen is to hear devotion expressed in a highly unique way.  My guess is that the great French Catholic composer might have appreciated Godard’s timeless creation under review.  Perhaps even the current Pope Francis might sympathize with the heartfelt offering of Godard.

In 1985, this film was positively scandalous.  What a shame…

Continuing with our musical history lesson, one must only consider the great Handel (composer of Messiah).  Handel was reputedly able to curse proficiently in German, Italian, and English.  Handel was not a saint, yet he composed a tremendous amount of sublime religious music (including the aforementioned oratorio).

It makes me wonder about the great artists like Michelangelo (whose Creation of Adam graces the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel).  Was Michelangelo a particularly pious man?  I have no clue.  But it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that he was colorful in ways other than with his palette.

But Godard committed the greatest sin.  He let life enter his art.  God forbid that life and praise for the divine coexist in a single creation!

But let us return.  This was Myriem Roussel’s film.  It is the finest performance by an actress not named Anamaria Marinca or Dorotheea Petre ever committed to film.  Saoirse Ronan is still waiting for the right vehicle.  Hanna was frighteningly close.  Going back further I would nominate Lauren Bacall, but her range was curtailed somewhat by typecasting.

And so Myriem Roussel.  Godard.  The sublime.  Every shot in this film is perfect.  Every element is precisely placed.  It is intelligent design embodied.

I cannot begin to scratch the surface of this gem.  My lead is no match for this diamond.  No matter how much I scribble, it will not be enough.

This film will endure long after everything is gone.  Je vous salue, Jean-Luc.

-PD