A Tale of Two Constanzes in Amadeus

AmadeusMilos Forman’s filmed version of Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus was a huge hit. According to Box Office Mojo it made over $51 million in the United States alone, and this is just the money it made during its theatrical release. You can imagine the kind of money it made worldwide and via tape and disc sales. And it was better reviewed than just about any film I’ve ever heard of. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 96% on it tomatometer. Metacritic gives it a score of 93 out of 100.[1] And, of course, it won so many awards that it would be very difficult to list them without being boring. It was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, and won 8. Amadeus is generally considered a great film.

I disagree.

Don’t misunderstand me, however. Amadeus is an excellent film. It just isn’t up there with the very best films—things like F for Fake or Gosford Park or His Girl Friday or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or The Conversation (to name just a few). There was always something wrong with it—something not quite right. The surprising thing is that I was not able to explained why Amadeus wasn’t quite great until I saw Amadeus: Director’s Cut.[2]

Differences

The director’s cut contains 20 extra minutes, pushing the already long original to a full three hours. Forman has claimed that he cut the film down for practical reasons because it was so long. I don’t believe this. It was already two hours and forty minutes long. I believe they cut it down to make it a more pleasant viewing experience.[3] And is it ever! At the end of the original, I sympathized with Salieri. Sure, he was evil and pathetic—but aren’t we all? However, in the director’s cut, I hated him easily as much as Constanze Mozart does.

Salieri’s Vow to God

The first change is relatively subtle. We get more back story about Salieri and his relationship with God. In general, it makes him a more pathetic character. In the original, Salieri offers God “the proudest prayer a boy could think of”:

Lord: make me a great composer. Make me celebrate your glory through music and be celebrated myself. Make me famous through the world, dear God. Make me immortal. After I die, let people speak my name forever with love for what I wrote. In return, I will give you my chastity, my industry, my deepest humility every hour of my life.

In the director’s cut, we learn what this means. He asks the priest:

If you had been me, wouldn’t you have thought God had accepted your vow? And believe me, I honored it! I was a model of virtue. I kept my hands off women. I worked hours every day teaching students—many of them for free. Sitting on endless committees to help poor musicians.[4] Work and work and work: that was all my life. And it was wonderful!

Sounds petty, doesn’t it? God makes him the most famous composer of his time and in exchange Salieri gives a few free piano lessons? So in just over ten minutes of film, we already don’t like him.

Salieri Hopes for a Fluke

The film continues on as in the original for a while with a tiny section removed where Salieri reflects that the piece played at the residence of the Prince Archbishop of Salzburg (an abbreviated version of the third movement of Mozart’s Serenade for Winds K. 361) must have been an accident. “It had to be… It better be.” It is important to note that this is the first time that Salieri is sympathetic. He describes the Serenade for Winds so beautifully and with such love, his trepidation in the face of a new perfect art is understandable.

The Rape of Madam Cavalieri

The next change is major, but unimportant. It takes place after the performance of The Abduction from the Seraglio. In the original version it is shown very economically that Mozart has “had” Caterina Cavalieri, Salieri’s student whom he lusts after. It is a fun scene, but it detracts from the film. What’s more, it shows Salieri to be obtuse in a way that is out of character with him throughout the rest of the film. On the plus side, it shows that there was perhaps a chance that Salieri could have accepted Mozart if he weren’t, in his own unique way, a bore.

Constanze!

Now we come to two additions involving Constanze Mozart and I believe their absence from the original release cost Elizabeth Berridge the Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress (and many other awards). Acting awards are given as much for characters as for actors. For example, Dustin Hoffman did not get the Academy Award for Rain Man because his acting was that great. In fact, I would argue that it was some of his worst acting. But the part! It screams “Acting!” It calls attention to itself. What the two scenes removed from Amadeus did was deprive the character of Constanze Mozart of her primary motivation. So her acting in the final scene with Salieri has no context, and Berridge’s acting tour de force seems downright banal.

The first scene is an argument between the newly wed Mozarts. Constanze shows herself to be strong and prophetic. And it leads directly to the second, far more important scene.

This is a five minute extension to the scene in the original when she goes to Salieri to ask for his help in getting Mozart a royal appointment. In the original, Salieri simply walks away. In the director’s cut, he makes a sexual play for her, thinking that she will not go along with his tit-for-tat proposal—sex for the appointment. When she does—but in a way designed to make him feel the cad he appears to be—he humiliates her and breaks the bargain they had struck. From his perspective, God is abusing him; God will allow him Mozart’s wife but not Mozart’s talent. From Constanze’s perspective (the objective one), Salieri is simply cruel.

This scene also sets up the most devastating line in the movie. After Constanze undresses before Salieri, he rings a bell calling his servant who he tells, “Show this woman out.” At the end of the film (in both versions but obviously not with much power in the original), Constanze tells Salieri, “I regret we have no servants to show you out, Herr Salieri.” The restrained hatred with which this line is delivered is annihilating. If looks could kill, Salieri would have beat Mozart to the grave. And Berridge would have beat Abraham to the stage at the 1984 Academy Award Ceremony. Instead, her performance in the original just lays there on the screen, and we are forced at ask, “Why is she so angry?”

We also miss the sweetest scene in the whole film when Mozart comes home to find Constanze in bed, inconsolable. It contrasts beautifully with the end of the film when Constanze comforts Mozart in his death bed. A short, but powerful scene.

Salieri’s Campaign of Lies

There are a number of other scenes that generally establish Sarieri as a villain. He spreads the rumor than Mozart molests his female students. He also sends him to a rich but uncouth family who treat Mozart very poorly. And he even tries to set Mozart’s patron, the Baron van Swieten, against him.

The Director’s Cut is a Great Film

That about sums up the differences between the original and the director’s cut versions of Amadeus. As you can see, most of the differences are in the first half of the film. But they affect the second half of the film, especially the resolution. When I had only seen the original version of the film, the ending just didn’t quite work for me because of the confrontation between Constanze and Salieri. At that point, Mozart is all but dead; he is irrelevant. God is nowhere to be seen; he only exists in Salieri’s mind. So the denouement is really in Constanze’s line, “I regret we have no servants to show you out, Herr Salieri.” And this line, as I indicated above is meaningless in the original. I asked myself again and again, “Why does Constanze hate Salieri so much?” In the original, we really don’t know. In the director’s cut we do. Not only that, we wish that she had a servant who was really big so he could show Salieri out through one of their upstairs windows.

So if you want an enjoyable movie with great characters and music that you can watch year after year, buy the original 1984 version of Amadeus. If you want a great film that will thrill you on each viewing, buy the 2002 Amadeus: Director’s Cut. The director’s cut has another advantage: it is all on one disc. The original is on a double-sided disc that must be flipped over after the performance of Don Giovanni. Or own both—probably the best option!


[1] This is for the 2002 release of the director’s cut. It appears they do not have an entry for the 1984 version. It doesn’t matter. The original was extremely well reviewed.

[2] As I think will become clear, most people will prefer the original released version of the film. I’m talking art here, not diversion.

[3] It also had the advantage of changing the MPAA rating from R to PG—not always a good thing, but for this film, I expect a very lucrative change.

[4] The portrayal of Salieri in the film is almost completely false except for this. By all accounts Salieri was a good man who was involved in many philanthropic activities, especially in relation to other, less successful musicians. In addition, except for one nasty comment in a letter to his father, Mozart seemed to get on well with Salieri. They even worked together. And unlike in the film, Mozart did become Court Composer under Joseph II (although he was paid poorly). Also, Mozart’s financial troubles have been greatly over-stated. Most of the money he borrowed was to pay other money he had borrowed so that he didn’t owe anyone for very long. What’s more, his finances really took off the last two years of his life. If he had lived longer, he would have become very wealthy. And finally, he was not given a pauper’s funeral. He was buried in a communal grave, but that was the fashion of that time. So other than little tidbits like the fact that Salieri did have a sweet-tooth, Amadeus is total fiction.

7 replies on “A Tale of Two Constanzes in Amadeus”

  1. budapest hen says:

    I always thought the most interesting character was Sydney Carton and how he changed his perspective from being a thoughtless person to being a noble one. Couldn’t you do something on this? I never read the book until last year and I love it.

  2. admin says:

    budapest hen: I’m not a big Dickens fan, but I tend to like *A Tale of Two Cities* a fair amount. Still, there is a lot of the usual Dickensian nonsense. Perhaps some day I will stop writing about Cervantes and Beckett. Other than Thomas Hardy, I’m not sure I have a lot to say about 19th century novels. And I don’t need to discuss *Jude the Obscure* because I’m living it.

  3. Guangzhou Travel Guide says:

    Amadeus was the most enjoyable movie about classical music for me, a classical musician. In addition to respecting the music itself, the characters were also 3-dimensional. Immortal Beloved and Impromptu were totally cheeseball compared to this great movie

  4. victoria falls says:

    Ever since i saw the movie Amadeus, i really liked the name Constanze. I’ve always thought the name Constanze Marie sounds good together, what do you think?

  5. admin says:

    @victoria falls – I think it is an odd name, but to each his or her own…

  6. filmfan says:

    I have to say, I disagree completely. I think the theatrical release was brilliant. With a few exceptions, the scenes were primarily from Salieri’s POV. It was his story, and it worked. I didn’t feel anything was missing when Constanze told him to leave. Sure, we missed the original context. But I felt she was cold to him because of his ultimately cold dismissal of her when she visited him to present her husband’s work for review.

    Also, I recall the director’s cut include a truly bizarre scene where Mozart was asked to play for some rich nobleman’s barking dogs. It was completely superfluous, broke the narrative momentum, and was completely out of step with the tone of the rest of the film. It was like someone slipped in a scene from a National Lampoon’s film.

    Forman was incredibly lucky his editor got rid of all the excess and brought out the brilliance there. There is no way the director’s cut of this film would have won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Zero chance.

    This to me is a crystal clear instance where the director’s cut is as bad as someone painting a mustache on Mona Lisa.

    • Frank Moraes says:

      The “dog” scene was not superfluous. It showed that Salieri could set Mozart up with students but instead he sends him to a coarse family that he knows will humiliate Mozart.

      I fully understand that most people prefer the producer’s cut. But I don’t think they know why. The reason is that Salieri is a far more sympathetic character in it. Thus, the director’s cut is harder on the audience. The director’s cut would not have performed nearly as well and it certainly wouldn’t have won the Academy Award for Best Picture. But as a work of art, the director’s cut is far better. And it’s hardly fair to watch the producer’s cut many times, watch the director’s cut once, and deciding that it isn’t as good. Have you given it a serious look?

      Also, editors do what producers and directors ask for. I assume Forman oversaw the producer’s cut, given that it required F Murray Abraham to come in and do some voiceover work. You will note that the difference between the director and producer cuts are not bits of this and that scene. They are all complete scenes. The producer’s cut greatly understates Salieri’s Machiavellianism. And that is what the film is about!

      But again: I understand that as a commodity, the producer’s cut is far superior. They made a lot of money by creating something that was comforting for viewers. The director’s cut challenges the audience. In a century, people will watch the director’s cut and see the producer’s cut as a pale imitation.

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