The Top 10 Films About Music and Musicians

By May 5, 2015December 27th, 2017Top 10 Lists


(1984, Directed by Miloš Forman and Written by Peter Shaffer, based on his play of the same name)

Perhaps I spoke too soon. Perhaps it is not Brian Epstein who is the ultimate FM, but Antonio Salieri, the anti-hero of Amadeus, who is all the more frustrated because although he is a musician (and a successful one at that) he knows he cannot compete with the genius of his younger, more uncouth but more brilliant rival, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Before researching this piece, I had not realised that Peter Shaffer’s play, Amadeus, which he adapted for the screen, was itself based, at least in part, on an earlier play, by the great Russian writer, Alexander Pushkin. Entitled Mozart i Salieri, it was written in 1830, a mere five years after Salieri’s death. Now I know, it seems entirely fitting, because just as much music is based on earlier music before reshaping it, much literature is based on earlier stories and tales before it is transformed into something new. The past is a palimpsest, on which we all write and rewrite our names and tales.

There are other great classical music movies, notably Ken Russell’s Lisztomania (which, like Tommy, was made in 1975 and also starred The Who’s Roger Daltrey) and A Clockwork Orange (the soundtrack to which, by Wendy Carlos, reimagined Beethoven for the age of electronic music). However, Amadeus outdoes them all, not least because it features arguably the greatest music ever written by the greatest musician – Mozart.

There is another reason why Amadeus is so successful, and that is its director, Miloš Forman, who is perhaps cinema’s greatest chronicler of insanity. In his two finest films, Amadeus and One Flew Over A Cuckoo’s Nest, he shows very different men succumbing to overwhelming mental pressure and ultimately mental illness. In Cuckoo, it is Jack Nicholson’s Randall P. MacMurphy who initially pretends to be mad but is ultimately driven mad – literally – by the lobotomising effect of mental institutions. In Amadeus, however, it is not only Mozart himself who loses his mind but Salieri, as he is forever tormented by the fact that he could have done more to save his younger, more talented rival, and in failing to do so has deprived the world (and even his own ears) of the marvellous music that Mozart might have gone on to create.

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