Envy, or, The Last Infirmity

Sven Birkerts in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

1336866570It was the face of F. Murray Abraham playing Antonio Salieri in Milos Forman's film adaptation of Peter Shaffer's Amadeus that finally touched me off. Who knew that envy had so many expressions, that it was such a great subject? Why hadn't I gotten it before? I had seen Amadeusseveral times over the years, but this is how it is with movies, with books, with everything — you need the eyes to see what is to be seen. But even so, how could I still have thought that it was about Mozart. About — what does “about” even mean? Centering on? Mapping to? Representing? Mozart in the film has nothing to do with the Mozart of artistic imagination or our received notions of greatness. He is a silly little grasshopper, a buffoon, even though sublime melodies are seen to issue from his every pen stroke. He very clearly cannot help his genius; it has been stuffed into him like an irrepressible filling. I never understood: how could the man, the boy-man, be such a fool? It made no sense. At least not if Amadeus was viewed as his movie, about him. But the other night — it took this long — I got that I'd been dense. Amadeus was about Salieri, first to last, and if Mozart came across as he unflatteringly did, it was because Salieri cast him so in his rancorous memory. The gulf between Mozart's personality and his gift was what his rival saw, what his jealous rage projected.

More here.