Synopsis: Mozart dies an orchestrated death while orchestrating a death mass for his dead father assisted by a man who brought death on his own dad and now wants Mozart dead because God orchestrated Mozart’s music to mock him and now he makes like Mozart’s dead dad to make Mozart make a death mass that will make him dead so he can mock God by making mozart orchestrate the music that accompanies his own death and which he plans to take then make God listen thereby mocking God as revenge for Mozart making music. Got that?
Just-a-moment, you go too fast! Two questions, quickly: How do I make that curly-q calligraphy thing at the beginning and-don’t read too much into this but, uh-what. precisely. is. a ‘bassoon’?
Two men in a room. One fish belly white, broke, drunk and dying, the other flush, well-tanned, sober, serious and at the peak of physical health…but only one’s a genius. He’s in bed while scurvy, TB and, what looks like, a bad enchilada vie for top billing in one of the 18th century’s most ironic death scenes (let’s leave it at that, you read the title). Nobody knows Mozart’s actual cause of death but the film insinuates its genius itself.
His would-be murderer, the peanut-butter-and-jealous Court Composer: Salieri, a real man who really, really hated Mozart and used all manner of court intrigues and rumor campaigns to harry and undo his rival, sits across from the dying genius to help him capture his final opus, a Requiem Mass, one the movie slyly states was commissioned by a ruthless Salieri on an overworked and grief-feeble Mozart in order to push him into the great abyss.
There is no evidence of that. We know Mozart’s father did die. He was messed up about it. His drinking and whoring got worse. It could very well be the requiem was for his father. It could also very well be, given his complaints about painful volcanic digestion in the weeks before, that he died of a stomach ulcer which was the leading cause of death in men 18-35. But it’s more fun to think he was murdered by his own genius and the satanic pursuit by a lesser artist in a grand attempt to rub it in God’s face. That’s a movie. ‘Genius dead by ulcer while working’: that’s a church bulletin. So, Salieri contrives to have this desiccated man work himself to death, and after he passes out at a burlesque performance, he brings him home and, bringing him the burlesque theater’s receipts, tells him it is from his mysterious benefactor i.e. his father’s ghost, and if he can finish the Mass by tomorrow night…-you get it. But that isn’t the memorable part.
It’s like the Olympics. If you watched Usain Bolt practice the 400-meter, then hung around to watch that one German guy who always places sixth, you couldn’t really eyeball the difference between them. But as soon as they race together you see the difference between ‘unearthly’ and ‘all-too-terrestrial’ talent by the 1.5 Astronomical Units of daylight between Bolt and Deutschland Uber Alles.
More than any movie moment I can recall, this one scene is the best depiction of the contrast between genius and everything else. There are other cinematic options, the tabulation sequences in A Beautiful Mind, the insult scene in Cyrano, perhaps– one shows the existence of genius against the average observer and one the presence of genius against a dullard, how does one show genius in such a way that it demonstrates the difference between great and god-level.
Because Salieri was great, he was gifted, he was talented and he could hear the ‘secret tones’ present in God-level work, he just couldn’t replicate them, and there, sitting at the foot of Mozart’s bed we don’t see ‘why’, we see ‘in what way’ genius distinguishes itself. Salieri understands the words and jargon, the octave structure and esoteric theory being utilized in that Requiem as Mozart tries desperately to explain what to write in clumsy, ugly words.
We hear the melodies and harmonies tom apart and isolated in his head and Salieri begs Mozart to slow down. Salieri cannot do, nor see, nor hear what Mozart so easily can and, if situations were reversed easily could, even if only talked through it with clumsy, ugly words. But Salieri is not a genius. HE must think and conjure the solution from experience, not belch it out whole from a chamber in his soul through an unseen process understood only by angels. Great as Salieri was, compared to that dirty, giggling man he was still a boy playing childish games in the street.
Look at all that COWBELL!
In Salieri’s defense, only a fool would call him dumb or untalented. He was neither. But what we saw in that scene was the starkest of disparities between two points the unschooled would mis-measure as laying only inches apart.
Profound. And, to date, alone.