'Amadeus' plays with musical genius, and strikes wrong chord
Boston — In Rod Serling's ''Requiem for a Heavyweight,'' desperate men connive to turn a great champion, who can no longer fight for himself, into a fake wrestler, all dressed up as an Indian chief and whooping around the ring. Then people cheer at his shame.
Now we see a champion of the human spirit, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, dressed up (no doubt by men of high ideals and good intentions) and paraded before us as ''an obscene child,'' a mechanical scribbler with no dignity.
One might be content to let the movie, ''Amadeus,'' pass among us as another in a long line of questionable entertainments. Film critics have, quite rightly, examined it for its artistic merits. But the issues go beyond a good or bad film.
* Playwright Peter Shaffer's image of Mozart as a shallow, sexually obsessed case of arrested development, for instance, does violence to history.
No musical scholar I have spoken to takes this picture of Mozart seriously. They point to his letters, which yield - aside from the scatological asides the film has ballooned out of proportion - a wealth of humanity and depth of character. They see in him an uncommon chronicler of the human spirit.
It gives no relief to pardon the charade by saying that we are seeing Mozart through Salieri's green eyes. A woman was heard, saying, as she left a performance of the play here last season, ''I guess that's what he was like.'' Well, it's not what he was like.
* Along with the picture of Mozart as God's copyist, the film gives us wholesale misconceptions about genius.
Beethoven once said that musical ideas came to him so clearly he could almost reach out and grasp them with his hand. His genius, and that of Mozart's, however, had as much to do with the laborious development of these ideas as it did with the reception of them.
Shaffer ignores mounting evidence, especially in later manuscripts, that Mozart painstakingly worked out musical problems, sometimes with great mental struggle. The longer he wrote, the more insight and depth his work showed.
* At the same time that the movie takes Mozart's music away from him and gives it to an uncertain god, it gives the rest of us the bread of mediocriy to eat.
''How lucky to be used up like (Mozart),'' Shaffer wrote in the New York Times, ''rather than, as most of us are, by the trillion trivialities which whittle us away into dust.'' Interestingly enough, the clearest refutation of this bleak statement comes in Mozart's own work.
Bruno Walter once said that Mozart's music ''speaks to anyone with a human heart.'' And the reason, obvious to anyone who listens to that music for very long, is that his music illuminates the stuff that is in the human heart.
To listen to it is to be exalted.
Quite the opposite of the effect one gets from this grossly inaccurate film.