Amadeus on TCM

Amadeus plays on Turner Classic Movies on Tuesday, February 22, as part of the channel’s “31 Days of Oscar” festival. I wrote an essay for the TCM website in conjunction with the broadcast screening.

How could the Academy give the Oscar to Salieri over me?

Based loosely on the lives of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, one of the most revered composers of all time, and Antonio Salieri, the once respected but long-since forgotten court composer of Emperor Joseph II in Vienna, Austria, in the latter years of the 18th century, Amadeus (1984) is a not a traditional historical drama in any sense of the term. Peter Shaffer’s 1979 play and subsequent screenplay adaptation, partially inspired by a 19th century play by Alexander Pushkin and subsequent opera by Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov, takes the lives of these artists as a starting point for a highly fictionalized drama of envy and audacity; it’s the anguished cry of a cultured artist with aspirations beyond his talents who declares war against a crude, boorish young man who has been graced with the genius he so desperately craves.

The story of Salieri’s pathological jealousy and scheming attempts to sabotage Mozart’s reputation and career is historically dubious to say the least–historians have noted that their professional rivalry was also marked by mutual respect and they even collaborated on a (now lost) cantata–and his “mediocrity” a matter of context. Salieri was an influential composer and teacher in his day, no genius but a consistent creator of popular works whose work (like those of so many of his contemporaries) fell out of favor while the undeniably magnificent work of Mozart became part of the classical canon. But it is that contrast between the revered and the forgotten that makes Amadeus so compelling, with the aging artist living out his life in the shadow of the dead Mozart and recounting the story of how he killed Mozart (or so he says) to a dubious priest.

Continue reading on the Turner Classic Movies website.

Plays Tuesday, February 22 on TCM. Also available on DVD and Blu-ray.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest on TCM

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest swept the top awards at the 1975 Academy Awards. It plays on TCM this month and I wrote about it for the website.

Jack Nicholson as McMurphy

A rare screen adaptation of a beloved novel that maintains the emotional and dramatic power of the original while establishing its own distinctive approach to the story, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) is an underdog masterpiece. “It was a classic story: the story of an individual fighting the system,” is how producer Michael Douglas explained his attraction to Ken Kesey’s novel about a strong-willed rebel fighting a domineering head nurse in a mental hospital. “Particularly in the Sixties, people identified with this individual trying to overpower the system…” Yet it took more than a decade to come to the screen. Kirk Douglas bought the rights to Ken Kesey’s novel before it was even published in 1962. While the book became a bestseller and a counterculture classic of the time, Douglas produced a Broadway adaptation with himself in the lead role of Randle P. McMurphy and spent years trying to get a film version off the ground. Turned down by every Hollywood studio and most of the major American directors, it was finally made independently by a pair of first time producers—actor Michael Douglas (who bought the rights from his father) and jazz record impresario Saul Zaentz—and émigré director Milos Forman. It became a box office smash (eventually earning $200 million on a budget of less than $5 million) and the second picture in Hollywood history to sweep the top five Academy Awards.

Read the complete feature here. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest plays on TCM on Tuesday, May 18, and is available on DVD and Blu-ray.