Movie Appreciation: Amadeus

I guess I’m kind of revealing my own personal Internet secret here, but for over two years now, I’ve had a tumblr that I use expressly for my pop culture obsessions. It started as a home for pictures of New York and the Beatles but morphed into something more when I started caring about movies. I didn’t want to put my name on it and a 49ers game was on TV when I decided to make it, so I threw “harbaugh” in the username, and added 71 because 7/1 is my birthday.

The posts are mostly expressions of whatever’s in my head, an overflow of the moments and quotes and scenes that fill my mind. Looking at the first page of my tumblr this morning, I thought the three most recent posts were an especially good representation of three movies that have lately had an affect on me: Silver Linings Playbook (I’m pretty much always watching that movie but I went to Philadelphia yesterday and had it playing in my mind all day), Amadeus, and Some Like it Hot. And because it’s Sunday and I want nothing more than to sit on my bed with a cup of coffee and write while looking out my window across a sunny New York City, I’m just going to start writing appreciations of those three movies. First, Amadeus.

Amadeus floated to the top of my mind because it was just added to Netflix. When I wanted to watch it for the first time a couple months ago, I ended up buying it on iTunes because, to my knowledge, it wasn’t streamable or rentable. But somehow watching a movie on Netflix seems easier and more accessible than watching a movie I already own.

It quickly became one of those easy-to-watch movies for me, where you just know and love it so well that you can pick up at any place, have it on in the background while doing other stuff and not miss anything (actually, Silver Linings Playbook and Some Like it Hot are like that for me, too, which is probably why I feel the urge to write about them).

I started retracing my steps to remember how I decided to watch it in the first place. It started in January, when I re-watched The Grand Budapest Hotel in preparation for awards season. I like that movie a lot, and who doesn’t love Ralph Fiennes, but the whole beginning part, set in the 60s with Jude Law as the young author, is my favorite part. And I’d forgotten that the whole movie is basically presented as a story told by F. Murray Abraham’s character.

He doesn’t have much screen time, but there was something I liked about Abraham in the film, so I went down my usual Google/IMDb rabbit trail and found that he had won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1985 for his performance in Amadeus. At that point, the only way I knew about Amadeus was from a 30 Rock joke – when Tracy briefly lives with Liz and she gets mad at him for charging pay-per-view adult movies to her cable bill, she asks about a movie called “I’ma Do Us” and Tracy replies, “It’s a pun on Amadeus, dummy!” I knew that was a movie and I guess I assumed it was about Mozart, but truly – that was the only way Amadeus ever entered my consciousness before a couple months ago.

[SIDE NOTE: I just Googled “30 Rock Amadeus” to confirm that line, and learned there is AN ENTIRE AMADEUS SUBPLOT in the episode “Succession,” from season 2. So of course I just sat here and watched the whole episode. Fitting for a Tracy and Frank storyline, it again involves adult films, with Tracy as Mozart and Frank as Salieri as they attempt to create a pornographic video game. I’d never watched that episode with the context of Amadeus, so obviously the parody was completely lost on me until now. Just another layer of that show’s brilliance.]

Where was I? Oh, the actual movie. I watched it after learning F. Murray Abraham won an Oscar for his performance, and I loved it right away. It was totally different from what I expected, and totally unlike anything else I’d seen. I assumed it was a boring biography movie. I wasn’t expecting Mozart to be portrayed as a disruptive, punk-ish revolutionary who wore pink wigs and had a ridiculous laugh.

But that’s what I love about it. In this movie, Mozart is the Beatles, basically. No one knows what to do with him, or how to accept this totally revolutionary force. He doesn’t act like anyone else and he doesn’t make music like anyone else. He is completely original and effortlessly brilliant.(Roger Ebert named this to his “Great Movies” list, and the Jordan-to-Barkley, Kennedy-to-Nixon comparisons he makes with Mozart and Salieri really helped me understand Mozart’s creative power.)

I think this scene, from early in the film, is a perfect illustration:

 

I didn’t really think much of it in my first viewing, but I’ve been watching pieces on Netflix over the last couple days and am now head-over-heels in love with the colorful wigs. Mozart’s, of course:

mozart pink wig

But also Constanze, his wife, who – and maybe it’s just the way it looks with her outfit – wears a colorful look of her own.

Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 2.04.54 PM

F. Murray Abraham won the Oscar, and I wholeheartedly think he deserved it, but Tom Hulce was nominated as Mozart, and his performance is probably my favorite of the two. Well, actually, it’s probably more that Mozart is my favorite character. They’re both insane performances. Watching Amadeus is probably the first time I’d consciously realized that the film was great because the performances were great. With any other actors, it would have been different, and…less great.

At the height of my obsession with the film, I watched a feature called “The Making of Amadeus.” Typical DVD bonus stuff, like behind-the-scenes photos, interviews with Milos Forman, the actors, etc. The most interesting part is the discussion of casting, especially when Forman talks about casting the smaller roles, and how it was important for all those actors to be distinct. He said it drove him crazy when you couldn’t tell minor characters apart in a film. I totally agree. (Other best part of that feature: Forman talking about his decision to shoot in Prague, saying it was perfect because the city still looked exactly the way it did in Mozart’s time thanks to “communist inefficiency.”)

One other major thing I love about this movie is how the characters speak in totally modern, Americanized English, using contractions and phrases like “they shit marble.” Of course they didn’t actually speak like that, but who cares? It’s the best way to convey the essence of the characters and their time.

There are a million other aspects to this movie I adore, but a lot of them are subtleties in performance that are hard to put into words. It should also go without saying that the music is fantastic, too. The whole thing is big, colorful, perfectly acted, and a pure joy to watch.

“Mysterious and Utterly Reliable”

I recently watched The Grand Budapest Hotel for the first time all the way through since I saw it in theaters early last year. I almost think I may have lessened my enthusiasm for the movie as time went on, convincing myself that it was good but not too good, or anywhere near as good as The Royal Tenenbaums. 

It may not be, but I thoroughly enjoyed the second viewing, and came to appreciate it as its own film, not just as another volume in the Wes Anderson library.

I find it hard sometimes to write about lines that stood out to me in a film, because there’s no way to convey with words how it feels to watch something and have some random phrase rise up from the rest of the work and go straight to your heart. In my recent Grand Budapest viewing, it was a line spoken through voice-over by Jude Law’s character, the 1968 version of the author whose book, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” frames the movie’s story. He explains how his chance meeting came about with the hotel’s owner, which leads to him learning about the establishment’s storied history:

“…until, in what I’ve found to be its mysterious and utterly reliable fashion, fate, once again, intervened on my behalf.” 

This really makes no sense out of context, and I can’t find a clip of this exact moment. But I just thought that was a really beautiful way to describe fate, or whatever force you believe causes events to happen. “Mysterious and utterly reliable.” You never know what will happen, but when whatever happens does happen, it seems to be perfectly timed.

and a split of the brut

Also, as is my wont, I have developed a newfound obsession with an actor in a movie whose performance I enjoyed but who I didn’t know much about. That would be F. Murray Abraham, and I’m working on watching more of his stuff. Though I did already know – because everything in my life has some weird Watergate connection – that he played one of the cops who busts the Watergate burglars in All the President’s Men.

One other random movie tidbit: I was so distraught over Oregon’s loss to Ohio State in the college football title game on Monday that all I wanted to do to cheer myself up was watch Juno, so I could reminisce about the role that made me love now-Golden-Globe winner and Oscar nominee J.K. Simmons.

Juno is one of my all-time favorites, and while Simmons has a smaller part, he plays it perfectly. You totally buy everything he says and does. He’s a small-town dad who has a simple life but who works hard for his family and knows the little things are the most important. And his wife is played by Allison Janney! The best couple, basically.

I love awards season. For some reason all the races and the controversies and the glamour are fascinating to me. And while there’s obviously a fair share of big names nominated this year (and a lot of love for Grand Budapest), I love that J.K. Simmons, the dad from Juno, whom I’ve known of for years because of that role, finally found the role that’s getting him his due.