3.5.3 Camera, shots, montage
In order to make Amadeus a cinematic rather than theatrical experience, Milos Forman applies various technical means to convey emotion as well as information. One device that he uses often is a series of fast cuts from one scene to another, almost in the manner of a comic strip. On its own, this technique might have a comical effect, but in Amadeus it serves as an illustration of Salieri's simultaneous account. The series of cuts becomes a counterpart of the natural sequence of scenes flashing up in the old man's memory. One example of Forman's combined narrative technique is a scene in the beginning of the film, in which Salieri tells the priest about his youth and the death of his father. In his monologue, Salieri talks about his wish to become a famous musician, about his restrictive father who thinks little of his son's wish, and about his father's death that enables him to come to Vienna and study music. On screen, we see the fourteen-year-old Salieri singing in church and praying for fame, then the Salieri family eating outside, Salieri's father choking on a fishbone, and then again the young Salieri singing in church over his father's coffin. Both image and sound are very condensed and carry a great amount of information. In this short scene, the viewer not only learns about the course of events, but also sees the ecstatic face of young Salieri listening to music, as well as the wooden Christ on the wall whose image returns throughout the film.
Another example of the same technique is the series of cuts following the news of Leopold Mozart's death. When Constanze tells Mozart that his father is dead, there is a sharp cut to Leopold's portrait hanging on the wall, which seems to stare back at his son. The next shot shows the vengeful figure of the Commendatore in Don Giovanni breaking through a brick wall. The costume of the Commendatore clearly resembles Leopold's cloak and mask, which he wears at the masquerade during his visit to Vienna. This serves to associate Leopold with the Commendatore, and later with the masked messenger who commissions the requiem from Mozart.
The most striking characteristic of the narration in Amadeus is the constant switching between scenes from the past and the face of the old Salieri commenting on them. For example, the first step back into the past occurs when Salieri starts conducting an imaginary orchestra in his hospital room. The moment that he raises his hands from the piano in a graceful conductor's movement, the music begins and there is a cut to Salieri, now thirty years younger conducting a real orchestra in a real opera house. Then, when the music ends and Salieri bows to the applauding audience, the camera returns to old Salieri, who is bowing to applause that he alone can hear. The transitions between past and present are usually smooth, and the shots of the old Salieri form a frame for complete episodes from the past, which are accompanied by Salieri's commentary in voice-off. Sometimes, though, Forman inserts unexpected shots of old Salieri in order to emphasise a particular comment. This technique helps him to keep the viewers alert throughout the long film.
In other cases, Forman often uses surprising but effective cuts. For example, when Salieri tells the priest about his youth in a small town and his admiration for the prodigy Mozart, he says:
OLD SALIERI (VO)
I was still playing childish games when he was playing music for Kings! Even the Pope in Rome! (Screenplay, 9)
Simultaneously, he shows the six-year-old Mozart playing the piano blindfolded before an audience of cardinals, and then makes a sharp cut to the fourteen-year-old Salieri playing blind man's buff in the streets of his Lombardy home town. In this example, the visual elements are a vivid complement to the information contained in Salieri's speech and express the contrast between the musical skill of the two boys.
In another case, a fast cut is not used to achieve contrast, but to introduce a new subplot. After Mozart has married Constanze, he writes his father a letter informing him of the marriage. Leopold is shaken by the news and he crumples up the letter in distress. The rustle of paper is followed immediately by a shot of startled deer in a park. This gives the impression that it is the rustle of paper that startles the deer, whereas in reality it is the Emperor approaching on horseback. The new scene is the beginning of a subplot dealing with Mozart's unsuccessful attempt to be appointed as the instructor of Princess Elizabeth.
Two other scenes, which are always very popular with the audience, concern the introduction of Mozart's operas. The first opera shown in Amadeus is The Abduction from the Seraglio. After it has been revealed that the action of the opera is set in a Pasha's harem, Salieri's pupil Katherina Cavalieri arrives for her lesson dressed á la turque. She hopes to get a part in the new opera, but Salieri assures her that it would not be proper for her to play the part of an odalisque. Katherina agrees and starts to sing her scales, but when she reaches the highest tone, we suddenly see her on stage, dressed in a fantastic Turkish costume and singing the exceedingly florid aria "Martern aller Arten" from The Abduction. This cut indicates a lapse of time and a change of circumstances. The other famous cut is used to show how Mozart gets the inspiration to an aria for his last opera, The Magic Flute. After Constanze has left her husband and gone to the spa, Mozart visits his mother-in-law to find out what has happened. Madame Weber fiercely berates Mozart for not taking care of her daughter and grandson well enough. She works herself into a rage and "with a scream Madame Weber's voice turns into the shrill packing coloratura of the second Act Aria of the Queen of the Night" (Screenplay, 139) in The Magic Flute.
Aside from these spectacular effects, Forman uses conventional cinematic techniques. One example of this is the lighting. When the situation in the film requires suspense, the screen is dark or lit by candles, as for example in the beginning of the film when Salieri cuts his throat. Lighting effects are also used to show the contrast between the luminous National Theatre and the dimly lit popular theatre of Emanuel Schikaneder, which symbolises the decline of Mozart's career. Another conventional device is used in the scene of Mozart's agony to show the approach of Constanze. She suddenly decides to return home, and from then on the shots of Mozart dictating the Requiem to Salieri are interlaced with shots of Constanze travelling in a stagecoach in a desperate race against time. The camera movements are remarkably steady and natural, and seldom surprising. Nonetheless, the camera work is not boring: it is merely so smooth that one hardly notices it at all throughout the film. The effects that are usually achieved through camera work are brought about by means of aural elements.