A Night at the Opera: Amadeus in 35mm with Special Guests in Exclusive Q&A

It was a shock for F. Murray Abraham when he landed the coveted role of Antonio Salieri in Milos Forman’s Amadeus. Ben Kingsley, Al Pacino, and Dustin Hoffman were among his formidable competitors – but Forman was intent on avoiding the casting of major stars whose familiarity would distract from the absorbing plausibility of the film. Tom Hulce in the title role of Mozart was also relatively unknown, though he had played a supporting role in the cult classic Animal House and had a successful run in the role of Mozart in Peter Shaffer’s original stage production. Both actors triumph in their roles, winning Abraham the Academy Award for Best actor among the film’s eight total wins including Best Picture and Best Director.

Hulce’s vulgar and contagious laugh, along with Foreman’s unconventional casting choices, punctuates the film’s air of irreverence. Opera, and classical music in general, are traditionally treated as erudite and forbidding subjects in film. Amadeus, however, titled after Mozart’s middle name meaning “beloved by God,” emphasizes the chaotic notion of genius versus mediocrity – seemingly divinely imparted gifts that dwarf the efforts of those who labor in their craft in the pursuit of greatness. Salieri, austere and embittered, lives a life of pious sacrifice to achieve his lifelong aspiration to be Europe’s greatest composer. When Mozart appears on the scene, the prodigy’s raucous manner and hedonistic lifestyle disgust his rival, prompting Salieri to renounce God and calculate Mozart’s gradual destruction.

Academy Awards in Art Direction, Costume Design and Makeup are additional testaments to the thrall of Amadeus. The irreverence is counterbalanced with the sheer magnificence of Baroque Vienna under Emperor Joseph II, another endearing irregular casting choice played by Jeffrey Jones (Beetlejuice, Ferris Beuller’s Day Off). The gilded halls, powdered coifs, and elaborate gowns adorn the scenery with magnificent beauty under a haze of vulgarity, delirium, and deception. Elizabeth Berridge, who landed the role of Mozart’s wife Constanza after the originally cast Meg Tilly broke her ankle one week before filming, is enchanting in her devotion and vulnerability through Mozart’s trials. Eminent choreographer Twyla Tharp staged the film’s opulent opera sequences as the plot delineated Mozart’s evolution through the compositions of The Marriage of FigaroDon Giovanni, and The Magic Flute.

This potent dichotomy in the film echoes the richness inherent to Mozart’s work. He was a master of merging the base with the sublime. His operas presented social class controversially – Figaro was based on a play banned in Marie Antoinette’s France for this transgression. Don Giovanni is ribald and comedic beneath its monolithic overtones of rape and eternal damnation. The Magic Flute was composed for the vaudeville theater outside of the aristocratic domain of the opera house and merges a fairy tale mythology with arcane mysticism and psychological conflict.

Amadeus was a worthy follow-up accomplishment for Milos Foreman, who had previously set Academy Award records with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the first film to achieve wins in all the major categories. Both films were produced by the late distinguished Saul Zaents, whose nephew and collaborator Paul Zaents serves as production coordinator on Amadeus and went on to co-produce blockbusters The English Patient and The Talented Mr. Ripley.

 The Roxy Cinema welcomes producer Paul Zaents and actress Elizabeth Berridge for a special evening featuring a Q&A session following the screening of Amadeus in 35mm print on the evening of Saturday December 23rd at 8:30pm.

Words by Micki Pellerano