Monday, November 26, 2018

Who wants to know?

“There will, indeed, be some incredible passages, but, when you write a comedy and want applause, you must exaggerate somewhat and not adhere with too much fidelity to the reality of things.”
                                                     –Mozart, letter to his father, 1781

It's not exactly my favorite part of Amadeus. In fact, it makes me a little queasy.

It isn't part of the movie itself. It's the trailer. I played it for the class I taught about the movie, mostly to show how material from the opening of the play had been re purposed in the theatrical trailer. Said trailer focuses on all of the rumors and innuendos, all the outrageous bits, all of the scandals and the things that would absolutely shock you, good little theater goer with your high-end morals. But of course, you are there because of the rumors, and the gossip, and the naughty bits, because, as the narrator slimily breathes "that's what you reallllly like."

That doesn't exactly stick the landing for me. It's not quite up there with "we were just following orders" but it does have the ring of every person who has ever shown violence on the screen or in other forms, or peddled any product that kills, telling anyone who has a problem with this that, hey, they are just giving people what they want.*

Which has the advantage of being largely true.

It also has the air of anxiety. This is a film that will seem to be about the life of a classical composer. And he's dead. And he's got a wig on. Why on earth should we care? Oh, right. Revenge. Betrayal. Intrigue. Lust. All the good stuff.

This is presumably why they tried so hard to market the movie this way. To get people to see it.

It does not suggest that historical truth is going to be their first priority. Unless it just happens to be really "dizgusting."

Add to this the natural mechanism whereby human beings tend to remember fiction much more readily than they do history. Why, you ask? Another time. But they do. Ask a certain generation about George Washington and out come stories about cherry trees and silver dollars. Ask people about Mozart and...

There is much about this movie that is either historically accurate or at least might be. And a great deal that isn't. And the way to get a handle on it is this: if it's the stuff you remember, the stuff that sticks with you when you leave the theater, it is probably false. The historically accurate stuff is the part you don't really notice. It's in the details.

Those details are fascinating, based on copious research, and played with endlessly to produce new combinations. They are, in the end, not what the movie is about. But if you want the truth, and you are able to go out and find it independently of the movie, it is a very interesting thing to see.

It's the plot that doesn't ring true, and all of the dramatist's decisions to move it forward and make a gripping tale out of a mass of circumstances.

And it's not that the author lies to you, exactly. Most of the time he just presents the material in such a way that you do that yourself.

* This is also why our mothers fed us cookies and cake for every meal as children. Because that is what we really wanted. Really? Yours made you eat vegetables? Sucker.

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