TBT: Amadeus (1984)

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We’ve talked about Amadeus (1984) a little bit before and even snarked the costumes, but as the sole defender of this film, I’m finally here to give this movie a proper deep-dive. Because I saw it in the theaters in 1984, and I remember what a game-changer Amadeus was for historical costume on the big screen back in the day! This was a major production, hugely influential in style, and without Amadeus‘ worldwide box-office success and awards (including the Best Picture and Best Costume Design Oscars), future frock flicks might not have been done by Hollywood on such a grand scale. Making a costume drama about classical music was a big risk at the time, and it paid off. Amadeus paved the way for the success of A Room With a View (1985), Out of Africa (1985), Dangerous Liaisons (1988), and all the great historical costume movies of the 1990s.

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7 Responses

  1. hsc

    “Amadeus paved the way for the success of A Room With a View (1985), Out of Africa (1985), Dangerous Liaisons (1988), and all the great historical costume movies of the 1990s.”

    This seems like a bit of an overreach to me. To use your examples:

    A ROOM WITH A VIEW was one of a long series of Merchant-Ivory period pieces– their most recent, THE BOSTONIANS, beat AMADEUS to U.S. screens by about a month– and was already slated for production well before the release of AMADEUS.

    ROOM’s increased success at the box office ($21M worldwide on a $3M budget) compared to previous M-I films was more likely due to its having a broader audience appeal with attractive young leads in a romantic situation– not to mention the skinny-dipping scene– than audiences suddenly having a wider appreciation for period films after AMADEUS.

    OUT OF AFRICA’s main selling point was its leads– Meryl Streep and Robert Redford were highly “bankable” at that point– rather than its period; as a result, it pulled in an even greater profit-to-cost ratio ($87M domestic / $227M worldwide on a $31M budget) than AMADEUS ($52M domestic / $90M worldwide on a $18M budget).

    In contrast, DANGEROUS LIAISONS was an adaptation of a recent Broadway success– like AMADEUS, but with a more “bankable” cast– but was only a modest success at the box office ($34.7 worldwide on a $14M budget)– perhaps due to its subject matter, which some viewers found off-putting.

    Sure, AMADEUS was a hit– and it was somewhat pre-sold by being an adaptation of a recently successful Broadway play– but I don’t see that its success opened the way for these films, which would’ve been made and performed the same regardless.

    And it also overlooks the recent box office and awards successes of earlier period films, like CHARIOTS OF FIRE and THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT’S WOMAN (both 1981) and GANDHI and SOPHIE’S CHOICE (both 1982).

    I just can’t agree that it was that much of a game-changer.

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      You’re looking in the wrong direction. Previous to Amadeus, Hollywood had almost two decades without significant successful costume movies that weren’t set in the 20th century. Meaning, nothing that required significant expense on the studio’s part & imagination on the audience’s part. Like your examples: Chariots of fire is set in the 1910s/20s & is about male runners, not much costume content. French Lieutenant’s Woman is only half set in the Victorian period, it’s mostly a modern story, so again “relatable” & not much of a risk for studios. Gandhi was more of a risk due to the scale & subject matter, but it’s also set in the 1940s, so fairly modern. Sophie’s Choice is also 1940s. There were also PLENTY of successful 1920s-1940s set flicks in the ’70s / early ’80s, but again, that’s not a major risk for Hollywood or a stretch for audiences.

      Now go backwards. You have to go to 1975’s Barry Lyndon (which I mention in the post) for a Hollywood produced film that’s set pre-20th-c. It wasn’t a particular box office success either. Kubrick got to make it bec. of who he was. The late ’60s was the last period with a lot of successful frock flicks on the big screen, but the expense & behind-the-scenes drama of Cleopatra burned out Hollywood. It took the surprise success of Amadeus to turn that around.

      Reply
  2. Peacoclaur

    I personally choose to believe that, even though it wasn’t intentional on the part of the filmmakers, the issues with the costumes are yet another sign that Salieri isn’t 100% with it and that it’s yet another reason what happens within his narration to the priest should be taken with a grain of salt. He’s relating events that took place 5 decades prior so of course it would all look a bit janky in retrospect, it’s how he remembers it, not how it was.

    Reply
      • Jennifer Schillig

        That’s the same reasoning I use for the historical inaccuracies in A Christmas Story. If a song plays on the radio that was released later than 1940, or the model of the cars is a year or so off…I just figure it’s because this is supposed to be Ralphie looking back on his childhood, and don’t we get details in our memories mixed up? (It’s the same sort of Fridge Brilliance that answers the question of just where a small-town department store would store that HUGE Santa mountain and throne in the off-season–of course it’s bigger and more elaborate than it would have been in real life, because that’s how Ralphie remembers it!)

        Reply

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