18th century, costume in cinema

New Movie Review: Amadeus (1984)

Costume designer: Theodor Pistek

I’m sure I saw Amadeus back when it first came out, but I was young, and didn’t really remember it. Every time I thought about rewatching it I saw a glimpse of the wigs and decided against it. A conversation at the recent Costume Society of America conference, plus a long flight back home, made me think, “What the hell?” So this is a review of a VERY old movie… and I’m immediately going to say that I know it’s probably not fair to judge it by current movie costume standards. I read something where either the director or costume designer was talking about how hard it was to even GET a period movie made at the time, and how foreign all of the costumes seemed to movie execs, so really, I’m sure it was a major coup just to get it made. And then to have it do so well, including winning the Academy Award for best costume design! It must have been a huge accomplishment.

But, of course, I can’t help but review it through my current lens, as that’s all I’ve got! And lemme tell ya…. SIGH!

There are many good things about the movie. There’s tons of energy, great performances, lots of sparkle. Tom Hulce certainly turns the idea of a staid composer on its head, and F. Murray Abramson as Salieri does a very good job seething. Even if the whole idea of a rivalry between the two conductors is made up, I get the desire to have a different lens on the biopic — it allows the movie to only cover a few years, without the endless sprawl that can happen to some biopics, where you’re like, “Yeah yeah, something else happened. Whatevs.”

But let’s talk costumes, shall we? There’s certainly lots to like — lots of fabric, lots of wigs, a definite 18th century aesthetic (at least when compared to our modern times). It probably paved the way for amazing feats like Dangerous Liaisons, which was four years later.

But… (and you knew it was coming)…

THE WIGS.

THE PRINCESS SEAMS.

THE VICTORIAN CORSETS.

(Can’t find a pic, but when Salieri tries to seduce Constanze and she strips down, she’s wearing a Victorian corset. With a front-closing busk. Which she pops open, to remove the corset.)

THE FAUX-FRANCAISE BACKS. (And the NUMEROUS dresses that laced up the back).

WHY DOES SALIERI HAVE MARCEL WAVES IN HIS WIG. AND WHY IS HIS WIG A LACE-FRONT, WHEN THEY CLEARLY SHOW HIM WITHOUT HIS WIG IN SOME SCENES. Like the crazy stripes, though!

So, was it worth watching? Sure! I enjoyed it! Was it probably groundbreaking for its time? I’m sure it was! Are there some problems with the costumes? Oh yes indeedy!

Previous Post Next Post

You Might Also Like

11 Comments

  • Reply Trystan July 8, 2014 at 5:07 pm

    But that movie was the whole reason I tried any kind of historical costume other than renaissance faires!!! I made the blue & white Constanze dress :-) Yeah, yeah, I’ve rewatched it a dozen times since first seeing in the theaters when it came out, & it doesn’t compare re: historical accuracy. Btw, that scene where Saleri tries to seduce her is TOTALLY in the new director’s cut & was not shown in the original, theatrical release. I only saw it recently on cable & was shocked, shocked I tell you. There’s a lot of longer scenes now being shown, like more of the Turkish singer backstage.

    Anyway, the men’s costuming isn’t bad — they typically show the old fuddy-duddies at court in older styles & Mozart in exaggerated latest fashions, emphasizing how he’s an upstart. And the sets are pretty awesome too.

    Definitely has a place in film costume history, a stepping stone for Hollywood & audiences alike. And me, don’t forget that!

  • Reply Isis July 9, 2014 at 6:17 am

    I saw Amadeus when it came and I must have been 13 or 14. It is still one of the most memorable movie experiences I ever had and certainly helped fuelling my love for 18th century clothes. I have a hard time re-watching it now just because of the of the costumes. And even if it may have been hard to make costume movies at the time, I suspect that Forman isn’t that interested in getting it right either. Compare his Valmont to Dangerous Liasions for example, they are made the same year, but the difference in accuracy is staggering.

  • Reply athene July 9, 2014 at 9:39 am

    I remember it as being super lavish and just filled with costumes – I didn’t work at all in 18th century at the time, so didn’t have a basis for a lot of the hair and clothing critiques, although I do remember thinking that a busk-front corset didn’t look quite right.

  • Reply kendra July 9, 2014 at 10:36 am

    Trystan, I totally thought of you as I watched the film and wrote this review. Like I said, I know it was probably a big deal back when it came out… but I was 8! In fact, I may not have even seen it back in the day, although I feel like I have since I’ve seen clips of Tom Hulce laughing so often. Anyway, like I said, the costumes definitely had a lot of sparkle and luxuriousness!

  • Reply Vienna La Rouge July 9, 2014 at 1:14 pm

    Amadeus was the absolute first catalyst that launched me into sewing and historical costume obsession. Even when I saw it as a little kid, I knew there was something ‘off’ about the fashions. Something wasn’t quite right…I think I even glimpsed a zipper in one scene on an extra. But it was still such a beautiful and fun film, and if you ever get to see the director’s cut, it’s even better ;-) you will indeed see the full Salieri/Constanze scene plus many others.
    One must remember, too, the cold war turmoil they were filming smack dab in the middle of in Prague. The nuthouse scene location for instance; that was the entrance to KGB headquarters.
    I highly recommend watching this excellent documentary if you haven’t seen it already; The making of Amadeus…
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uWeqBI-Xsj4

    xoxox

  • Reply Caroline July 9, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    Oh gosh! I love that movie! It never gets old for me. The costumes, of course, are totally off, but it has so much frilly, cupcakey, rococo ambiance, that it’s somehow redeemed.

    I must say, though, watching it as a kid definitely sent me in the direction of historical costuming.

    Caroline

  • Reply kendra July 9, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    I will definitely watch that documentary, thanks for the link! Now I’m trying to think which are the costume movies that really got me interested…

  • Reply Patience July 10, 2014 at 2:59 am

    I love this review! I think I was 15 when it came out, and I do remember thinking that the wigs were awful. I also remember my Seventeen magazines displaying the trend for “baroque” fashions which the movie inspired.

  • Reply Lylassandra July 14, 2014 at 7:55 pm

    I would LOVE a blog post about which movies (and other experiences) first inspired your love of costuming.

  • Reply Frock Flicks – TBT: Amadeus October 23, 2014 at 9:02 am

    […] will complain that, costume-wise, it hasn’t aged well in comparison to productions that came after it. But […]

  • Reply Aleksandra January 12, 2016 at 8:34 am

    Neví n?kdo z vás, n?co o té r?žové chlupaté paruce, kterou m?l AMADEUS. T?eba kde ji vyrobili, kdo ji vyrobil, jak ji vyrobil.

  • Leave a Reply to athene Cancel Reply