A to Z of Films Meme (A)

Some people watch films only for feel-good entertainment. “Going to the movies” is often a synonym of “having a nice time”. I respect their wish to avoid serious, dark, or depressing films. Somehow, I was able to nurture an open-mindedness that allowed me to appreciate a wider range of films than those intended purely for the box-office. Some of these films have affected me personally to a profound level, and hence I will include them in my list.



To say that I’m a big fan of Mozart would be a gross understatement. If anyone will believe it, I spent 16 years searching for a Divertimento that I ultimately discovered was composed by him at the age of just 16. Child prodigy, genius, art, artist, come together in this compelling drama of music in the 18th century. In Amadeus, the score is not secondary to the visuals, it is an equal and integral part of the cinematic experience.

AmadeusCharacterizing Mozart as a 18th century classical hippie rock star brought him down from a pedestal and made him accessible to the masses. Forman says he needed an unknown face, not a well-known celebrity, for playing Mozart and this explains the casting of Tom Hulce. Both Hulce and Abraham deliver strong performances – Hulce’s slight overacting was required of the script.

The film is based on Peter Schaffer’s fictional play, which takes plenty of dramatic license in altering Mozart and Salieri’s true character and relationship. Composition did not come easily to Mozart (the supposed ‘dictation from God’), they mutually respected each other, and Salieri did not squeeze The Requiem out of him during his last hours. Peter Brown’s “Amadeus and Mozart” set the record straight for those interested in separating fact from fiction. However, no other art work has popularized Mozart in over 200 years since his death, as Shaffer’s play and Forman’s film.

The filming of Don Giovanni is in the actual opera house where Mozart conducted its premiere. The costumes, streets, apartments, and palaces provide lots of ‘eye candy’. The Making Of Amadeus documentary describes the difficulties of shooting on location in Prague. The Director’s Cut has 20 minutes of additional footage, most importantly the scene of Salieri asking Constanze for sexual favors, Constanze visiting him at his apartment, and the burial of Mozart’s corpse.

Independent producer Saul Zaentz worked with Milos Forman to bring us Amadeus and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, and we should be eternally grateful. Forman went on to direct the excellent The People vs. Larry Flynt.Apocalypse Now

Runner Up

Apocalypse Now

Adapting the germ of Heart of Darkness to the Vietnam War, Coppola paints a masterful cinematic canvas unparalleled in its operatic scope. Brando’s Kurtz discovers the horror of war that we hope never to discover. The exhilarating and terrifying helicopter attack with Wagner at the background is an achievement in film-making. If the ending doesn’t make sense – it is not supposed to, for that is the brutality and horror of war, and there is no light in the heart of darkness. Coppola transports you magnificently into the insanity of war.

Other contenders were:

  • Ardh Satya, Nihalani’s landmark in Indian cinema
  • After Life, which made me think of what single memory would I like to carry with me after death

25 thoughts on “A to Z of Films Meme (A)

  1. I haven’t seen Amadeus but will add it to my list – damn it’s 2 in a row 😦

    My personal favorite would be ‘American Beauty’. (Disclaimer: I saw this movie, liked it, recommended it to others which resulted in some angry/frustrated responses, and watched it multiple times – all before it got the awards). The movie is based on the last year in the life of an average person. The frustrations of his wife and insecurities of his teenage daughter are beautifully portrayed. The other characters in the movie are also very well defined. Both Kevin Spacey (the central character) and Annette Bening (his wife) did a phenomenal job. The movie depicts various ‘things’ (incidences, situations, etc.) involving Kevin Spacey. Now it’s nearly impossible that one person will experience all of these ‘things’. However, any isolated ‘thing’ could happen to any average American living in the suburbia. That’s what I liked the best about the movie.

  2. Very nice! You know what, I’m going to play a game with myself now – I’m going to predict to myself what movie you might mention next and see if you really do 🙂 Yes, I happen to have Amadeus (Director’s Cut) here too – watched it on a friend’s recommendation; liked it enough to want to own it.

    Didn’t know about Peter Brown; will look it up for certain. After Life and People Vs. Larry Flynt have been on my to-watch list for a while now – let me do something about it right away – thanks! 🙂


  3. Mahendra

    Amadeus is one of the few DVDs I own. I have watched it a few times and each time one finds something more. The consistent thing is the portrayals of both Mozart and Salieri are so dark. Evil – or hints to its existence – makes a far more interesting tale than good-egg-ness.

    Ardh Satya came out when I was very small (“A-certified”). And then I never got around to seeing it. But I remember my elder sister telling me it was a profound film, if somewhat brutal. I have a long list of DVDs to watch already. I shall look for this on LoveFilm.

    PS: Playing Mozart is eye-wateringly hard, especially if one is a “mature student”. When I began, I wanted to learn to play Beethoven’s bagatelle “Fuer Elise” which I did manage. But Beethoven’s music seems quite affected by Mozart’s so that remains a superset which I am uncertain of mastering unless I spend hours practising every day :-/

  4. I liked American Beauty enough to add it to my collection and saw it multiple times. Both Spacey and Benning are superb. I sometimes think that each element of the story – the estranged marraige, the middle-age crisis, the teenage disillusionment, and the lolita fixation, are all handled better in many other films individually. This movie brings them all together in a nice family setup. The ending seems too contrived, but that’s excused for Hollywood. 🙂

  5. 🙂 Nice game! Please share the results as we go along!

    Like Shefaly mentioned, Amadeus is like an onion with many layers to it. I can’t simply imagine how one would grasp all of them in a couple of viewings. Glad you’ve enjoyed it. There are many sources and articles like Peter Brown’s – Wikipedia is also updated with some of the newer ones – but his was the first one to comprehensively separate fact from fiction.

    After Life highly recommended. I enjoyed People vs. Larry Flynt but need to watch it again as there’s still more juice to be appreciated in it. 🙂

  6. Great! Somehow the fact that someone you know to some extent likes the same films you do makes us happy, right? 🙂

    Yes, the characterizations are deep and not simplistic. Shaffer did adapt the script to lay more emphasis on Mozart for the film – the play is said to be centered heavily only on Salieri. I am going to listen to a BBC audiobook version of the play soon.

    Watch Ardh Satya in the context of its time and period. You’ll appreciate it more. Amrapurkar is fascinating. Nihalani wanted to adapt Tendulkar’s script and change the ending but was hesitant to do so. He then filmed both versions – his modified one and Tendulkar’s original. Tendulkar watched both of them and agreed to permit Nihalani’s version to be released!

    Wow! I didn’t know you played! I can’t even play Fur Elise. I’m not sure if one needs to master Mozart in order to play Beethoven, but in terms of complexity, most of Beethoven’s works would be much more complex than Mozart’s. ***Note to classical music experts: this is a generalization.***

    Seems like you’re like an onion too: the more I know about you, the more layers emerge! 🙂

  7. Oh, that’s a lifelong dream of mine. I want to spend a month or so in Vienna and Salzburg. They draw me more than Paris. I’m happy I did this to you! 😀

  8. Mahendra

    I went to Vienna 10 years ago. My heart broke to see that die schoene Donau is not blaue but gruene. But I saw the house Mozart lived in and I saw Hundertwasser Haus (I wrote about it briefly here: http://tinyurl.com/5vhzfn). I should have visited Salzburg 3 years ago, on Mozart’s 250th. But what was I doing? Oh, I remember, the PhD. :-/

    Yes I play (ish – a handy Britishism which suggests amateurism/ not-quite-100%-there-ness of something) but I am a learner. I haven’t had a lesson in some time. I need to find a piano tuner first because in the move, some notes have lost their ping…

    Vienna is great in a way that many European cities aren’t. They do, to some extent, look samey-samey. Not Paris though. Paris is now a lazy person’s choice here. The train takes 2 hours. If I could I would use it like a shuttle bus. 🙂

    So do go. You will like it.

  9. Mahendra

    That Tendulkar story is quite amazing. As a child I saw many of his plays, performed in Hindi and Marathi (incl Shaantataa court chaaloo aahe). I think Sadashiv Amrapurkar is a kind of villain who typifies villainy oozing from every pore of his body. Poor man, he might be a perfectly nice chap but I hear his name and I feel fear. I have added Ardh Satya to my films queue.

    Fuer Elise is not an easy piece. The first jolt is of course having to play all the notes we had not been hearing. I must admit having the Vladimir Ashkenazy/ George Solti recording doesn’t do wonders for one’s self-confidence either 😦 I like Mozart’s piano concertos but I just feel not up to the task. I must apply myself more to it to become better, or at least good enough.

  10. Much like the Ganges, eh? Sad. I envy you saw the house he lived in. As I said, my lifetime dream. I had even commented on it on Ruhi’s blog where she mentioned the same desire.

    Ph.D. How these pursuits of ours keep us away from our dreams…sigh.

    You’re giving me inspiration to get back to my keyboard. After having learnt (:-)) harmonium in my childhood, playing with both hands doesn’t come easily. Your tuning need brings back memories of An Equal Music! 🙂

    The samey-samey look of European cities is way better than US, where each and every block area seems ‘manufactured’. Not like in Europe.

    Someday I will travel the underground link between London and Paris. I didn’t have time for excursion during my stay in London, and like always, left it for the future. I know I will like Vienna and Europe in general. I sometimes think I’m made for it. 🙂

  11. You said it. Not many people have played the villain so convincingly in Indian films like Amrapurkar. Oozing evil from every pore of his body – excellent expression!

    Is there a difference between listening to a piece of music in general and listening to it as if you were going to perform it? I have never experienced the difference. Somehow, since childhood, I trained myself to listen to music as if I was the one composing it and playing it. Both aspects made me appreciate music to a much greater extent than I would have otherwise. So, there’s nothing like ‘playing all the notes we had not been hearing’ in my case.

    I haven’t gone beyond listening to Van Cliburn play Beethoven. Sometimes, it is difficult to choose after being overwhelmed by both the composition, and the conductor/performer. I have a very, very long way to go. Like I said elsewhere, I’m only playing with pebbles on the beach with respect to classical music.

    You are being an inspiration in that you’re keen to learn playing. Do share more of your learning experiences. I’m trying to learn on my own, but Danika, my two-year old daughter, makes it so difficult, that my keyboard is presently stored unused in a corner of our bedroom!

  12. Mahendra,

    I am learning sight-reading. It shows us painfully what we are have just not been listening to. It is a bit difficult to learn as we grow older (I am aware of my own metacognitive limitations, as well as physical because my hand doesnt’ span an octave so I have to use a finger stretcher to limber up before I play; some songs like ‘somewhere over a rainbow’ right on the second note need one to span an octave; yes, I could choose other songs but hey “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” and all that.)

    I have not been listening to music much in the last couple years. Various reasons. But listening is essential to discovering rhythm in playing. Just as reading is essential if one has to write well. :-/

  13. Mahendra

    The underwater bit of that London-Paris train ride is about 20 minutes or shorter I think. 🙂 Paris is quite small, smaller than London by far. I think Vienna will suit you. The city has several smoky cafes and nice cellar restaurants. Nice to walk in and around. Major European cities have a river that defines them – true of Prague, Paris, London, Vienna. I want to do a train journey sometime. Will see this summer for a bit. We all take our own backyards for granted. 😦

  14. Mahendra:

    On a tangential note, BBC’s Radio 3 (which you can listen to online) is having a Mendelssohn weekend today and tomorrow.

  15. I have worked and lived in Berlin and London, but never did a tourist journey through Europe. Because I didn’t want to do it in a hurry…

  16. great! that’s a lot of research. ur review makes me want to watch it, thanks 🙂

    on a tangential note, have you watched The Other Boleyn Girl? I thought it might be a good idea to watch this and Elizabeth together…

  17. “Ardh Satya” was path-breaking by being one of the first movies that depicted the criminal-politician nexus in Hindi films, and an honest cop up against it. Bollywood movies copied that depiction, amplified it, pumped in melodrama and made it larger-than-life; and then ran away with it, with countless movies using the same plot till it became cliché. So, Nihalani’s film was a trend-setter in the history of Indian cinema. His earlier movies are easily the best among Indian films, and he got amazing performances (रोंगटे खड़े हो जाते हैं) from Om Puri (Ardh Satya, Aakrosh).

  18. Hey Amit, welcome! Thanks for writing more on Ardh Satya. I chose Ardh Satya over Aakrosh as I wanted to limit the no. of films I listed. Aakrosh has a stunner of a performance, but Ardh Satya took on a more important role in Indian cinema.

  19. Mahendra, thanks for the welcome (again?). This wasn’t my first comment on your blog and we’ve had some in-depth discussions in the past. 🙂

  20. Hi Amit, yes I omitted the ‘back’ and meant welcome to this meme…it’s become a sort of film-lovers community out here with everyone chipping in with their suggestions. So it was a sort of welcome to the club! 🙂

  21. Pingback: A to Z of Films Meme (Q) « An Unquiet Mind

Comments are closed.