3.5 Visual language
Amadeus on screen is a very colourful costume drama displaying elaborate, rich costumes and wigs. They are, in fact, so elaborate and exaggerated that Gilbert Adair calls the film "a cartoon of the eighteenth century" (Adair, 143). The Rococo setting requires wide hooped skirts, tight corsets exposing much of the voluptuous breasts, high and powdered wigs, and fanciful hats with feathers and veils. In addition, in Amadeus there are whole crowds of extras, for example the audience in the opera house, people in the streets, and dancers at balls. In some scenes, the result is an impressive sea of wigs, silk and lace, frills and feathers. Nevertheless, the individual costuming and make-up of the actors are also very carefully designed, and consequently Amadeus won the Academy Award in the Best Makeup and Best Costume Design categories.
The most remarkable achievement in this field is the make-up and clothing that transformed the forty-year-old Salieri into a doddery, wrinkled, toothless old man. F. Murray Abraham's excellent acting completes the illusion: his gaping mouth and wrinkled brow, along with the yellow skin and white strands of greasy hair, make him appear like a living mummy. Similarly, Mozart's make-up throughout the film transfigures him from a radiant, rosy-cheeked youth into a pale and ill drunkard. This change applies also to his overall appearance. In the beginning of the film, Mozart is a dedicated dandy, which is most apparent in the scene at the wigmaker's shop where he cannot decide which of the three wigs to buy:
They're all so beautiful! Why don't I have three heads? (Film)
Finally, he buys all three wigs. He is always neatly and stylishly dressed. Towards the end of the film, though, his appearance becomes increasingly dishevelled and we see him more often at home, without a wig and carelessly dressed. Shortly before Constanze leaves him, he even sneaks out to a drinking party in a nightdress. On the night of his death, his skin looks ashen and his lips are chapped. These make-up effects help the spectator to follow the development of Mozart's illness and to witness his physical exhaustion. Constanze, on the other hand, remains fresh and glowing even in times of poverty, and thus she does not seem to participate in her husband's hardships.
One of the most prominent elements of the Amadeus costumes is the wig, which Adair calls "the bubble bath periwig [...] pink, punk and high as an elephant's eye" (Adair, 143). The wigs are indeed extravagant, varying from white, over pastel tones of blue, yellow, and pink, to sinister black. They are often changed according to mood and situation, and equally often treacherously disarranged, as for example Mozart's wig after his obscene play with Constanze on the palace floor. On the whole, the rich and lavish costumes serve to illustrate the hedonistic way of life of the Viennese upper class. They are also used extensively in Mozart's operas, for example in the exotic Abduction from the Seraglio or the fantastic Magic Flute. All of the operas shown in Amadeus display the characteristic, modern choreography of Twyla Tharp, who had already worked with Milos Forman in Hair.