Sunday, April 27, 2008

“Mediocrities everywhere... I absolve you.” - Amadeus

I rewatched "Amadeus" again and I've got to say, it is still in my short list of all time great films. So much of the movie works so well, not only to convey an interesting story, but to create such a great character as Salieri and to delve into so many different themes. In addition, the DVD version contains the director's cut, which adds a couple new scenes and fleshes a few more out. Most of the added footage actually enhances the movies and it's themes. This is the way a director's cut should be (for another great director's cut, check out Ridley Scott's "Kingdom of Heaven").

One of the themes of this film deals with mediocrity, something that Salieri is striving to avoid. He's a good composer, but he never seems to be able to achieve anything "great". Instead of accepting his limitations, or working to improve them, he lets his jealousy of a musical genius, Mozart, drive him to become a despicable nasty human being.

This is something I think all artists struggle with. As a writer I can admire the skills and success of Stephen King, J.K. Rowling or Neil Gaiman. I can dream of becoming as big a hit as they are. I can set them up as my goal, or at least learn from their stories. What I don't want to do is become Salieri. But in the back of my mind I might wonder, "Why do I have this desire to be great, if I don't have that level of talent?"

Of course Salieri is also convinced that a higher power is attempting to stifle his pursuit of happiness. I know a lot of writers who believe in the power of luck and feel that being in the right place at the right time has a lot more power then actual talent. I guess that if you are bent on success in the publishing industry, that could be a solid observation. But personal success, or at least feeling good about your writing should be something we strive for as well. Can we be happy with being the best writer we can be? Do we have to be the most successful writer we can be? Are they tied?

Maybe the key is to accept your skills, hone them, keep trying and enjoy your life and your writing. This is one of the main things that Salieri never grasps. He's so jealous and bitter he doesn't enjoy the riches he has, the fame he obtains, and the admiration of others. He is a popular composer, one who has the ear of the Austrian Emperor - but he doesn't care. He wants to be something he can not and it destroys him.

Do you think mediocrity is a demon to be feared? Is there line between admiring a famous artist and coveting their skill? What did you think of "Amadeus"?

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