Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Best Actor 1984: F. Murray Abraham in Amadeus

F. Murray Abraham won an Oscar from his only Oscar nomination for portraying Italian composer Antonio Salieri in Amadeus.

Amadeus is a favorite film of mine, I just find that everything comes together just about perfectly from the direction, the story, the acting and possibly most importantly the brilliant use of Mozart's music. It is one of my favorite films of all time and my favorite Best Picture winner.A note I must make is I am only talking about the original and far superior edit of the film. The Director cuts adds only time and takes away some of the strength of the original film.

This is a fascinating film and F. Murray Abraham's performance is essential to this. His performance has to key sides to it which demonstrate the incredible strength of his performance. He plays his character as both a younger man well he is a popular composer in Vienna and also as an old man living in an asylum whose music has been almost all forgotten. Both parts of his performance are important to the film and exceptionally difficult to pull of correctly.

For the younger half of his performance Abraham is given actually less focus in terms of the film. A greater focus is put upon the other nominee Tom Hulce who plays Mozart. He in these scenes can be regulated to the background with actually very little dialogue. The amazing thing here is that I never felt I ever forgot about Abraham even when he was in the background.When ever you see him among others in the background, he always holds incredible attention because he always shows so much more Salieri in his, which he changes throughout these scenes so perfectly, but with incredibly subtlety since usually the scene is not even really focused on him. He shows that Salieri always carries on a fake facade for his internal feelings. He shows a fake respect and kindness to others and Mozart even though he hates Mozart at the same time. I really like how he shows that when he loses the facade briefly at times because it is when he can barely hide his hatred for Mozart.

He is just perfect in everyone of his scenes where he so slyly convinces others to do what he wants by acting is a perfect underhanded way. He always has Salieri look like he is trying to help everyone even though he is always in only his own self interest. He is just perfect at accomplishing this with making every single thing Salieri does convincing and fully believable. Another aspect of his younger performance that I truly enjoy though are when he shows a he has a certain spinelessness to him when challenged to disagree with the emperor (Jeffrey Jones). Every time the emperor says something challenging Mozart or perhaps someone else Abraham says Salieri's perfectly written lines that show his lack of a spine are made even better by his delivery that makes the lines as enjoyable as possible.

Abraham never actually has that many scenes where he directly interacts with Hulce's Mozart. He does mostly react to him but again these reactions are perfect. His hateful reaction to seeing Mozart make fun of and change a piece of music he wrote is brilliant and his surprised reaction to finding out that Mozart is an immature "creature" is just astounding.  He shares three scenes where they interact directly in which every time Mozart requires help from Salieri. The first two are great in the way Salieri perfectly speaks to him  in a completely sincere way even though we as the audience know he is always hiding his hatred toward him. These scenes are great because of the way the two interact and the perfect way Abraham shows Salieri always must stay underhanded so well. These two scenes where great but there final scene together is incredible. Salieri takes an almost dead Mozart home and the two of them slowly work on Mozart's last piece his Requiem.  Salieri still stays underhanded in this scene since he convinces Mozart to compose for completely false reasons, but Abraham shows more of Salieri's real self in this scene without fault. This scene is just perfect both actors excel, and the use of music is brilliant. Abraham is excellent in taking dictation as Salieri. I love how he can barely keep up with Mozart but also shows Salieri's fervent admiration for Mozart's music, and finally allows Mozart to know. After Mozart says he was sorry to Salieri for thinking Salieri did not care for him, Abraham's reaction is simply outstanding. He sums his whole relationship with Mozart in that scene incredibly with just this small reaction.

Now if you had not noticed I was rather impressed by his scenes as the younger Salieri well that leaves his even more impressive scenes as the elderly Salieri. Salieri as an old man is a sad and lonely man confined to a asylum because he attempted suicide. Abraham is masterful in all of his scenes as the elderly Salieri. He is the old man, he does not let his make up distract or take over the part yet he only lets the age add to the power of his performance. This part of his performance shows the true pathos and mental state of Salieri. He never hides a single thing in this part of the performance allowing Abraham to strive for raw emotional power at its fullest. His entire performance is astounding throughout these scenes and he shows Saleri in and out, his performance allows you to fully know this man who is more complex than most.

One half of his performance is the scenes of describing his love for Mozart's music and his lust to have achieved the same greatness in music. His describing of the song are key to the film and Abraham adds an incredible amount of power to these scenes. His love and passion for this music is absolutely brilliantly shown by Abraham. He and the music together, as the music plays and he describes the beauty of it, are true cinematic magic at its finest.  Abraham is essential to these scenes and these scenes are essential to the strength of the film. His power in these scenes as to the greater power of the film. Without him could have wrong falsely but with him these scenes I find are utterly unforgettable.

As the old Salieri he also shows the strange mental condition of the character. A man who fervently believes that God is against him, created Mozart almost to spite him, and purposely gave him the desire to compose but not the talent to. Again every scene again is completely amazing partially due to the directing and the music, but also most definitely to Abraham's outstanding performance. He exceptional in showing the odd nature of the character who consistently talks directly to God who he believes is always mocking him. He makes his character's odd view of himself and his relationship with God.  Again his scenes where he calls out to God are magnificent. Two scenes in particular are fantastic. One scene where he says he will have his laugh at God before he dies, Abraham is brilliantly chilling, and the other scene where he tells of his plan to use Mozart's Requiem against him. He is excellent never seeming false at all despite what he is doing and making his proclamation simply something amazing to view. His performance though is not only this emotional powerful scenes but he also adds a surprising amount of humor along with these scenes. I particularly find his delivery hilarious when after his Requiem speech he mentions that killing Mozart was not as easy as it sound. Also his final scene proclaiming himself the patron Saint of Mediocrity is an exit like none other.

F. Murray Abraham is an actor who seems he will only have this single performance and film of any real note. Besides Amadeus he is either in terrible films, unknown films, or if it is a good film he usually has a incredibly small part. But it seems a shame that he never received good parts after this film because this completely proves that he can give a great performance. Not only great but incredible one that I will never forget and shall always be amazed by. He only seems like he will give one memorable performance but to me you could not have a more memorable performance than this piece of art.


Fritz said...

Yep, one of the greatest winners ever (even if I prefer Hulce). An extra-long and great write-up for your favorite winner (if I remember correctly)

Louis Morgan said...

Thanks Fritz. Yes he was and still is my favorite winner, but we shall see how I like Hulce soon.

Anonymous said...

I agree....very well written.

joe burns said...

Great review....... He'll be your pick.

Louis Morgan said...

Sage and Joe: Thanks, I really appreciate it.

dinasztie said...

Good job. And he is definitely going to be you pick. :)

Louis Morgan said...