This week in Hit Me with Your Best Shot, our dear Nathaniel invited us to revisit the big winner of the 1984 Academy Awards. Even though Mozart gets title credit in Milos Forman’s Amadeus, Antonio Salieri is widely acknowledged to be the meatier role (played here by F. Murray Abraham in an Oscar-winning performance). However, in my ever contrarian opinion, I’ve always found Mozart (Tom Hulce) to be the more interesting character.
Sure, Salieri has the big dramatic conflict of facing his own mediocrity, but I’ve always been fascinated by the movie’s more nuanced portrayal of Mozart. Salieri is burning with jealousy, but Mozart is more complex. He knows he’s a genius (he says so himself), but he also comes off as naive and surprised by the established aristocracy’s ambivalence towards his stardom. When he enters the Emperor’s office, he is surprised to find no chair for him to seat on. The most fascinating character moment comes late in the film, when Mozart falls ill and tells a helpful Salieri that he always thought he didn’t care for his job. He turns out to have been more aware than we thought. He still fails to see Salieri is pushing him towards his own doom, but at that point he is breathing his last breaths and thus can be excused.
The biggest inner conflict for Mozart, however is his relationship with his father, which Salieri exploits to bring forth his downfall. My pick for Best Shot deals with this relationship, but before I get into it, I want to talk about Amadeus’s visual style. It was hard for me to pick just one shot from the movie because its best visual moments come from the editing. I would say Amadeus is a masterpiece in clever cutting and juxtaposition.
Take, for instance, this shot of a mysterious figure -dressed in a costume previously worn by Mozart’s father- ominously making its way through a tunnel. It’s a visualization of The shadow of Mozart’s father chasing and haunting the composer long after he is gone.
And now, look at my pick for Best Shot, which comes later in the movie and plays on the above image, only what initially seems to be the returning dark figure turns out to be Mozart himself, identified to us by his drunken inability to walk up straight. In a way, the dark figure and Mozart are the same: one is the reason for the man’s suffering and the other the effect. The visual similarities between the shots just make it all the clearer.