Movie review, 'Amadeus -The Director's Cut'

EntertainmentAntonio SalieriMoviesTom HulceF. Murray AbrahamMusic IndustryPeter Shaffer

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    "Amadeus -The Director's Cut" extends by 20 minutes Milos Forman's exuberant, shattering film from Peter Shaffer's play on the tragic career of the great composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce) and the contrasting fame - and later guilt-ridden obscurity - of his less-talented colleague, Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham).

    Shaffer's play is based loosely on the facts of Mozart's life - his latter-day poverty and the parallel success of Salieri (who, in old age, allegedly confessed twice to poisoning his rival). It's also a portrait of the conflict between artistic genius - wild, profligate and doomed - and mediocrity: a celebration of musical genius as a divine gift. The movie is shot in Czechoslovakia, in palaces and ancient streets, and the gorgeous music flooding the soundtrack is conducted by prime Mozartean Neville Marriner. As we watch "Amadeus" now, it seems doubly the product of a vanished age - not just the early 19th century, but a different movie era. Yet "Amadeus," which won the Best Picture Oscar in 1984 (and seven others), stood apart even then from its own trivial, youth-obsessed decade - even though it suggests those very same teen-sex comedies in the surprise casting as Mozart of Hulce, one of the "Animal House" boys. Hulce plays Mozart as a wild, foul-mouthed, joyously smutty boy - hot for his stacked, doll-faced wife, Constanze (Elizabeth Berridge) - while the ugly, jealous Salieri watches, silent and seething.

    Forman and Shaffer handle this material with the right mix of reverence and irreverence. They bring out the sweetness and joy of "The Marriage of Figaro" and the darkness of the Requiem. Their appreciation of the composer's comic brilliance makes Mozart's tragic ending, and Salieri's bizarre triumph and fall, all the more painful.

    The movie, if anything, looks better than it did in 1984, and not just because of the added 20 minutes (mostly grace notes and atmospheric passages). It still soars, but now it seems richer, more expansive. "Amadeus" reminds us that movies can be lyrical as well as vulgar, ambitious as well as playful, brilliant as well as down and dirty - just like Amadeus himself.

    4 stars
    "Amadeus - The Director's Cut"
    Directed by Milos Forman; written by Peter Shaffer, based on his play; photographed by Miroslav Ondricek; edited by Nena Danevic, Michael Chandler; production designed by Patrizia von Brandenstein; music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart & Antonio Salieri; music director Neville Marriner; produced by Saul Zaentz. A Saul Zaentz Co. release; opens Friday. Running time: 3:08. MPAA rating: R (brief nudity).
    Antonio Salieri - F. Murray Abraham
    Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Tom Hulce
    Constanze Mozart - Elizabeth Berridge
    Emanuel Shikaneder - Simon Callow
    Leopold Mozart - Roy Dotrice
    Emperor Joseph II - Jeffrey Jones
    Michael Schlumberg - Kenneth McMillan

    Michael Wilmington is the Chicago Tribune movie critic.

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