Day 2: ACTORS Week of the 31 DAYS OF OSCAR BLOGATHON

Times may change, but some things stay the same. The Oscars has remained essentially a grand celebration to honor the best of the best in the film industry. TCM marks this tradition every February via the popular ’31 Days of Oscar’ and your humble co-hosts Aurora, Paula and I once again bring you the 31 DAYS OF OSCAR BLOGATHON.

Oscar selfie

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As we kick-off our second day of the ACTORS week for the 31 DAYS OF OSCAR BLOGATHON, I am happily overwhelmed by the creative array of talented bloggers’ contributions thus far from day one. But hang on to your hats, film fans, the follow-up today is a hum-dinger of a line-up too! Let’s get this party started…

First up, @CineMava of CineMaven’s ESSAYS FROM THE COUCH gets grooving with the 1976 classic, NETWORK. Theresa focuses on the stand-out acting performances of this acidic view on changing media.

Then, Rhonda aka @Rhonda0731 of SMITTEN KITTEN VILLAGE  embarks upon her first blogathon with a look at the queen of Oscar noms and of bitchiness, BETTE DAVIS. Love the video clip!

Next up @CaftanWoman of the CAFTAN WOMAN blog gives great insight on PAUL LUKAS, BEST ACTOR of 1944. She scribes how this studio-hopping actor brought a masterfully subtle performance to Oscar winner, even when competing against heavy-hitters like Bogart in Casablanca.

THE MOVIE GOURMET aka @themoviegourmet details the stand-out acting of the female prison flick that remains the classic and set the standard for all the others… CAGED: Eleanor Parker and Hope Emerson in the prototype for Orange Is The New Black.

Daniel aka @BarnesOnFilm of E STREET FILM SOCIETY paints a vivid picture of the layered performance of a mother in conflict as ELLEN BURSTYN in “ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE.” as he parallels the recent horror film “Babadook.”

Not to be outdone by his first entry yesterday, @WolffianClassic of the WOLFFIAN CLASSIC MOVIE DIGEST scribes on a ‘jewel of an actress,’ INGRID BERGMAN, An OSCAR WINNING DAME.   Check out the beautiful gallery of video clips and photos!

Debbie @DebbieVee of MOON IN GEMINI blog outlines a study on the CHILD ACTOR NOMINEES/WINNERS. So much talent in such pint-sized portions!

Virginie at THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF CINEMA flies in with her perspective on the Oscar winning skills of the “first lady of theater” HELEN HAYES as Ada Quonsett, AIRPORT’S Best Performance. (Be sure to check this blog during SNUBS week too!)

Co-host Aurora aka @citizenscreen of ONCE UPON A SCREEN submits a sensuous feast for the eyes and ears with the passionately, Oscar-winning performance of F. Murray Abraham in AMADEUS (1984).  

Le of CRITICA RETRO destroys myths of the first-ever winner of Best Actor Oscar of 1929, A PROFILE OF EMIL JANNINGS.

@NicNewtonPlater of MOVIE CRITICAL takes us on a comprehensive journey, IN THEIR SHOES: OSCAR WINNING PERFORMANCES of HISTORICAL FIGURES 

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More to come, so check back in throughout today and the rest of the ACTORS week. Along with my co-hosts Aurora @citizenscreen of ONCE UPON A SCREEN and Paula @Paula_Guthat of PAULA’s CINEMA CLUB, we welcome you to read (and give flattering feedback!) all of these fabulous posts all month long…

ACTORS WEEK – Feb 2 & 3 – Kellee hosts on OUTSPOKEN & FRECKLED

SNUBS WEEK – Feb 9 & 10 – Aurora hosts on ONCE UPON A SCREEN

CRAFTS WEEK – Feb 16 & 17 – Kellee hosts on OUTSPOKEN & FRECKLED

PICTURES & DIRECTORS WEEK – Feb 23 & 24 – Paula hosts on PAULA’S CINEMA CLUB 

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AMADEUS (1984), the Director’s Cut

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One of the greatest composers of all time, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, was the subject of the ambitious and epic film, Milos Forman’s AMADEUS (1984). The biopic tale of arguably the most brilliant musical talent from the 18th century classic era follows his true life story with some modifications and a few assumptive leaps based on Peter Shaffer’s screenplay and original stage play.

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This film is told through the perspective of the twisted mind of the mad-with-envy Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham), a fellow composer who is deeply frustrated by his own mediocre talent in contrast to that of the musical genius Mozart. It begins with Salieri as an old man at the insane asylum, where we find him after he has attempted suicide. He is visited by a priest who has heard that Salieri admitted to killing a man and he arrives to offer his religious duties of contrition.

a story of decent into madness

a story of descent into madness

Salieri tells his story by playing a few chords from a couple of tunes, explaining that they were enormously popular at the time and shocked his visitor was completely unaware of these songs and that he was its composer. He then plays another tune which the young priest immediately recognizes and hums along. He smiles and compliments the old man of this charming tune, yet Salieri concedes that well-known song was not his own but rather Wolfgang Mozart’s.

Now we begin at the origin of Salieri’s journey with Mozart. Salieri explains he spent a somewhat typical childhood as an Italian boy with an ambitious desire to compose music. He felt his family and humble surroundings held him back from his full potential of greatness. He prays to God that he will devote his sacrifices of hard work and loyalty in exchange for opportunity and fulfillment of superior music, befitting of God’s glory. Then his father dies and he claims his father’s death was a gift that changed his course of history to later propel his career as the court composer in coveted Vienna.

young Amadeus, child prodigy & circus animal

young Amadeus, child prodigy & circus animal

In parallel, we see the child prodigy, young Wolfgang grow up quite differently. Wolgang Amadeus Mozart was playing multiple instruments by three, wrote his first symphony by the age of eight and his first opera by twelve. Young Mozart’s father Leopold relentlously drives his son and parades him around to royalty across Europe to perform like a circus act. (This is very similar to Mozart’s real upbringing with his father.)

playing tickle under the table

playing tickle under the table

Salieri’s first encounter with Mozart (Tom Hulce) reveals their striking differences and highlights Salieri’s grave disappointment in the young man he’s admired from afar since his youth. Salieri is looking for Mozart at the royal palace of his anticipated performance, studying each face in the room to see if he can recognize such genius by a glance. As he slips into a side room that is stacked with culinary delectables to sneak a nibble, he hides from the young couple frolicking under the table in young love’s playful chase. Salieri finds their behavior unbecoming, brazen and vulgar. Just then, coming from the main room, the music starts in the absence of their star conductor. The young man with an uniquely distinctive laugh stops his bold pursuit, abruptly stands up and dashes off, announcing his discovery they’ve begun his music without him. Salieri is beside himself in dismay.

Mozart is not interested in playing politics to appease royalty whom controls any chances to garner opportunities for his music career. His cavalier and immature attitude offends his home court so he’s kicked out of Salzberg and off to Vienna, where Salieri is the court composer. In an awkward first introduction, Mozart blithely insults Salieri’s skills in front of the Emperor and ruffles several feathers of the court by showing off his superior talents. Mozart expresses enough boyish enthusiasm to convince the Emporer to allow him to write an opera- not in the traditional Italian, but in German.

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1st impressions: ruffling feathers

The production is received well but the Emporer and his court reveal Mozart’s genuis is well beyond their comprehension when they respond that it was a fine effort but “possessed too many notes.” Mozart is bewildered. This is further complicated when Mozart’s unsophisticated fiancee Constanze and future mother-in-law force their introductions which reveals that Mozart has evidently been having an affair with the lead soprano. Salieri is in love (or “in lust” as he admits) with the lead soprano, his pupil. This is merely the beginning of the end for Mozart and Salieri.

awkward introductions

awkward introductions

The rest of the story travels throughout the unraveling of Salieri, followed by both Salieri and Amadeus falling deeper into madness. From the start, they both show hints of instability- in different ways. For Salieri, his obsession with Mozart is pushed over into quiet rage when he continues to observe Mozart’s flaws in all his vulgar, impractical ways as his continuing growth of talent shows unlimited trajectory. His pact with God has turned into an insane pact with the devil, hellbent on destroying Mozart due to his unhealthy envy of his musical genuis.

For Amadeus Mozart, part of his undoing he brings upon himself; so it’s almost an easy path for Salieri to destroy him. Salieri is acutely aware of his flawed idol’s weaknesses- his lack of social skills, his open-book naivte, his creative drive at all costs, his insatiable need to please his unforgiving father- all these play a part in Mozart’s deeper trip into madness and fatal destiny.

If you’ve never seen this film or if it’s been a very long time, this is a MUST SEE. It’s beautiful, it’s charming, it’s moving, it’s incredibly sad. When a well-known, historically signific biopic comes around, sometimes we’re prone to avoid it when we assume it won’t be entertaining simply because we already have a general idea of what happens and how it ends. Don’t make that mistake here.

The costumes are divine, the setting is atmospheric, frequently moody. The performances are exquisite. F. Murray Abraham as Salieri certainly deserved the Oscar he earned. As a matter of fact, this film earned a well-deserved total of eight Oscars. And that music. There’s a reason why Mozart’s music has lived on since the eighteenth century. The music is not background here, it’s showcased as a main character. There is a scene early on when, despite Salieri’s unwavering pursuit to end Amadeus, as he reads his icon’s pages of notes, he is visibly brought to tears. You don’t have to be a musician but perhaps only a music fan to react that deeply to this music. La Requim in particular.  The first time I saw this film in the theater I was moved to tears at the death mass and it’s always been an emotionally stirring piece for me.

What is truly sad and compelling is that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s real life cause of sudden death at the age of 35 is still a mystery. Times were different back then in terms of evaluating and recording causes of death so it’s tough to claim with any certainty. Some said poisoning and others have more recently claimed a liklihood to strep infection. But all of these theories are to this day conjectures so this premise of such a secretly antagonistic plot by Salieri is not proven to have any merit, but not completely impossible either. Peter Shaffer’s ability to fill in these blank’s of this moving story with his stage production screenplay then this adapted screenplay for the big screen is impressive.

This review is my contribution to the STAGE TO SCREEN BLOGATHON hosted by The Rosebud Cinema and Rachel’s Theatre Reviews. Please take the time to read all the participating bloggers’ entries!

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