Amadeus (1984) short review

I’m sure I saw Amadeus back when it first came out, but I was young, and didn’t really remember it. Every time I thought about rewatching it I saw a glimpse of the wigs and decided against it. A conversation at the recent Costume Society of America conference, plus a long flight back home, made me think, “What the hell?” So this is a review of a VERY old movie… and I’m immediately going to say that I know it’s probably not fair to judge it by current movie costume standards. I read something where either the director or costume designer was talking about how hard it was to even GET a period movie made at the time, and how foreign all of the costumes seemed to movie execs, so really, I’m sure it was a major coup just to get it made. And then to have it do so well, including winning the Academy Award for best costume design! It must have been a huge accomplishment.

But, of course, I can’t help but review it through my current lens, as that’s all I’ve got! And lemme tell ya…. SIGH!

There are many good things about the movie. There’s tons of energy, great performances, lots of sparkle. Tom Hulce certainly turns the idea of a staid composer on its head, and F. Murray Abramson as Salieri does a very good job seething. Even if the whole idea of a rivalry between the two conductors is made up, I get the desire to have a different lens on the biopic — it allows the movie to only cover a few years, without the endless sprawl that can happen to some biopics, where you’re like, “Yeah yeah, something else happened. Whatevs.”

But let’s talk costumes, shall we? There’s certainly lots to like — lots of fabric, lots of wigs, a definite 18th century aesthetic (at least when compared to our modern times). It probably paved the way for amazing feats like Dangerous Liaisons, which was four years later.

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But… (and you knew it was coming)… THE WIGS:

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She’s thinking what I’m thinking.

 

THE PRINCESS SEAMS:

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THE VICTORIAN CORSETS (can’t find a pic, but when Salieri tries to seduce Constanze and she strips down, she’s wearing a Victorian corset. With a front-closing busk. Which she pops open, to remove the corset.)

THE FAUX-FRANCAISE BACKS (and the NUMEROUS dresses that laced up the back):

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WHY DOES SALIERI HAVE MARCEL WAVES IN HIS WIG. AND WHY IS HIS WIG A LACE-FRONT, WHEN THEY CLEARLY SHOW HIM WITHOUT HIS WIG IN SOME SCENES.

like the crazy stripes, though!

like the crazy stripes, though!

So, was it worth watching? Sure! I enjoyed it! Was it probably groundbreaking for its time? I’m sure it was! Are there some problems with the costumes? Oh yes indeedy!

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About the author

Kendra

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Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

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