There’s a reason I can pretty much recite the film Amadeus all the up till the maid hired by Antonio Salieri to spy on Mozart begs the maestro to quit her job.
My parents never wanted to pay for cable, let alone a subscription to a video rental store. Nor did they like going to movie theaters. So it was many years before anyone in my family watched Amadeus, when it finally aired on broadcast television.
Being such a thrifty family, we taped it off the TV, pausing the recording to cut out commercials. Let me mention now that my parents decided to hitch our home video options to BetaMax instead of VHS. I was trying to get them to buy a LaserDisc player.
The BetaMax started going haywire after a few months, but instead of replacing it, we developed coping mechanisms. That meant rescuing tape caught in the rollers whenever we ejected a cassette, and it meant dealing with a distorted picture when we would play those same damaged tapes.
Our first few viewings of Amadeus went all the way to the end. Subsequent viewings would not be so kind. The picture and sound cut out just as the maid, played by the timeless Cynthia Nixon, sought to end her employment.
We tried rewinding, then fast-forwarding. Nothing.
On another attempt, my brother discovered it would play to the end so long as we didn’t advance or rewind the tape — we had to let it play from start to finish without interruption. That worked a few times, but then it stopped.
It became a contest. Would the damaged tape once more deny us the conclusion of the movie? Or would it be cooperative and play to the end? Most times, it was a game we lost. It was also a game we played multiple times.
When it became apparent BetaMax was obsolete, my brother bought a VHS player, and I bought a copy of Amadeus on VHS. By that time, I had lost the contest so often, I was reciting the lines before the actors.
I borrowed the soundtrack from the library and played it so often, I eventually bought my own copy. Now, the only ensemble I want to hear perform Mozart is the Academy of St. Martins-in-the-Field.
Peter Shaffer’s story fascinated me, of course, despite its tenuous connection to history. Salieri’s rants against God mirrored my own questioning of religion, and the scene where Mozart and Salieri work on the Confutatis in Requiem served as a crash course on arranging.
Some musicians don’t see Amadeus in a very good light, but without it, I probably wouldn’t have dove into classical music as deeply as I have. And so it sits on top of my list of favorite movies.