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Amadeus: The Director's Cut

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From 1975's One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest to 1999's Man On The Moon, Milos Forman's best-known American films explore creative rebellion and the stubborn outsiders that perpetrate it on their unappreciative (or outright hostile) societies. But his other works don't approach the subject with as much complexity and passion as 1984's Amadeus. The film earned eight Academy Awards with its highly fictionalized account of the life of 18th-century composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce), a celebrated child prodigy whose star fell as he grew older, until he died poor and alienated at 35. Forman's tormented, iconoclastic subjects are often pitted against iconic or impersonal antagonists, but Amadeus' conflict remains rivetingly intimate, in spite of its sumptuous, larger-than-life settings. The film's tremendous drama comes from the prim demeanor and savage, outsized emotions of successful composer Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham), the only person in Vienna who truly understands Mozart's genius. Overwhelmed by his rival's music, Salieri drinks it in at every opportunity. But his own lamentably paltry talents, and Mozart's insufferable vanity and crudity, drive him to protest God's unfairness by destroying the man whose music channels God's voice. The cinematography of longtime Forman partner Miroslav Ondrícek makes Amadeus visually stunning, the cast is spectacular, and Forman deftly shapes and informs the narrative with exquisite use of music, making Mozart's genius enormously accessible. But Peter Shaffer's deft, layered script—adapted from his far more artificial and self-conscious play—is the key to the endeavor. That may explain why the beautifully refurbished director's cut of the movie, which adds some 20 minutes of footage, seems slightly dry and unbalanced. Salieri's newly restored attempt to extort sexual favors from Mozart's wife Constanze (Elizabeth Berridge) does significantly alter both characters, though Berridge's topless scene is both jarring and excessive. But most of the other restored sequences are redundant (Mozart argues with Constanze about money) or unnecessary (Mozart briefly takes on a humiliating tutoring job). The superbly edited original version of Amadeus used overlapping sound cues for a lively flow between scenes, and the new version breaks up some of that flow with lengthy, talky interludes. Still, Ondrícek's breathtaking images and Forman's essential craft are best appreciated on the big screen, and another theatrical run for Amadeus is a welcome gift, no matter how much this edition unnecessarily gilds what's already a near-perfect lily.