There are many things to admire in Milos Forman’s Amadeus, not the least of which is the manner in which Forman tries to turn Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce) into something not too far removed from the hippie dropouts of his film version of Hair (1979). Perhaps Sophia Coppola should have studied this in addition to Ken Russell’s Lisztomania (1975), before she made her Marie Antoinette (2006). Also admirable is Forman’s ability to edit effectively to music. And, of course, there’s F. Murray Abraham’s central performance as the jealous Salieri, a rare case of a deserved Best Actor Oscar. So far, so good, right?
The problem—for me—is that the whole thing is too literary for its own good, and when Forman gets away from the music, his direction is dull and often trite. Another problematic aspect is the degree to which Hulce’s Mozart is made “contemporary.” His outspoken nature and his pleas for vulgarity in art are one thing, but the giggling jackassery business wears thin. (A friend of mine commented in 1984, “If Mozart was this cute, I don’t need to know it.”) But when Amadeus deals with the music—and with the theme of greater and lesser talents in conflict—it frequently justifies its reputation.