| Sean Connery at the premier of Amadeus in Prague. (Reuters)
Prague, Sept. 29 (Reuters): In the year 1781, composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart premiered his opera Don Giovanni on the stage of Prague’s Estates Theatre.
More than two centuries later, the Austrian-born musical wunderkind has made a triumphant return to the same stage, albeit this time on video.
With a theatre full of A-list guests that would have impressed the maestro himself, director Milos Forman unveiled the director’s cut of his Oscar-winning film Amadeus this weekend, which includes about 20 minutes of new scenes, enriched video and, most importantly, digitally remastered sound.
Adding 20 minutes to a film that in 1984 won eight Oscars — including best film, best director, best actor (F. Murray Abraham playing the bitter rival composer Antonio Salieri) — might seem at first glance like fixing the smile of Mona Lisa.
It might also seem like a crass grab at generating more sales revenues.
But Forman, relaxed and basking in a return to his native country, rejected such talk and said the new version actually brings the audience back to the film’s original cut, the way it was intended to be shown.
“When we made the film and then watched it for the first time, these 20 minutes were in the film. But it was being released at the time when MTV was hitting the airwaves,” Forman said after an evening gala on Saturday attended by Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel.
“To expect an audience to sit for over three hours and watch a period film about classical music, we just thought we better cut anything that doesn’t push the plot forward. This just brings the movie back to where we originally had it.”
The film almost didn’t get made at all. Forman smiled when talking about how Communist authorities of then-Czechoslovakia continually refused him visas to return to Prague.
They considered him a threat to social stability, someone who left for the West and could rile the masses with his new ideas. Then they realised he had a project — and more importantly hard currency — to offer.
“There were few places we could make the film: Vienna, Budapest, Prague. Vienna was too expensive, so it couldn’t be done there. Budapest is beautiful but it was damaged over the past few wars somewhat, so in the middle of an 18th-century street there are modern buildings,” he said.
“But time had stood still in Prague. And when I applied for the visa, they smelled dollars and they let us in!”
The movie’s rich soundtrack sparked a popular renaissance for Mozart’s music. Forman said the music is one of his favourite parts of the new version.
The reworked sound features the latest audio technology — which can make even Mozart sound better.
“The extra scenes add to the relationships of the film... but the third main character in the movie is the music. Sometimes the music is even more important than words, it works on your heart in a different, more passionate way. The new soundtrack brings that out even more,” he said.
Music to Mozart’s ears, even after all these years.