by Walter Chaw
PETER SHAFFER'S AMADEUS: DIRECTOR'S CUT (1984/2002)
starring F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge, Simon Callow
screenplay by Peter Shaffer, based on his play
directed by Milos Forman
Bringing the highbrow to the status-hungry middle and lowbrow in the same way as those "Bach's Greatest Hits" collections and the awful faux-llies of Andrew Lloyd Weber, Milos Forman's bawdy, jittery adaptation of Peter Shaffer's fanciful play "Amadeus" is not so much about Mozart as it is about genius and its burden on the mediocre. Mozart (Tom Hulce) is an adolescent boor touched by the hand of God. Emperor Joseph's (Jeffrey Jones) court composer Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) becomes obsessed and desperately jealous of Mozart's gift, leading him to the madhouse and confessions of murder. Amadeus works because of Forman's gift for the seedy (and portraying asylums--he directed One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) and Abraham's deeply-felt performance.
Although Peter Shaffer's Amadeus never elevates itself beyond its theatrical limitations, its cleverness as an adaptation is almost unparalleled in the annals of stage-to-cinema translation. Restored now to a three-hour "director's cut," Amadeus unfortunately suffers from its additions, reminding of the Coen Brothers' ill-conceived director's cut of Blood Simple in that regard. Extended opera sequences push the now-R-rated film from deliriously structured melodrama towards Topsy-Turvy, while a scene detailing wife Stanze's (Elizabeth Berridge) humiliation at the hands of Salieri feels unnecessary and mistimed. Unlike Coppola/Murch's Apocalypse Now Redux, Peter Shaffer's Amadeus: Director's Cut hasn't benefited from a remixing and complete re-editing; rather, the additions feel choppy and obviously inserted, giving the film a lack of fluidity fatal to our rapturous suspension of disbelief. A line spoken by Tom Hulce's Mozart encapsulates the greatest irony of this version of Amadeus: "I don't rewrite what's perfect." This is not to say that the Amadeus that won eight Academy Awards in 1984 was perfect, merely that the urge to revisit old successes in an attempt to "improve" upon them is a risky venture at best. Here's hoping Ridley Scott's long-awaited final final cut of Blade Runner falls on the side of Touch of Evil and not Star Wars: The Special Edition. Maybe he should get Walter Murch on the horn.