Script To Screen: “Amadeus”

January 16th, 2013 by

The glorious “Requiem” scene from the 1984 movie Amadeus, screenplay by Peter Shaffer based on his original stage play.

Setup: On his deathbed, Wolfgang Mozart conveys what he is hearing of his final composition to his rival Salieri.

               INT. MOZART'S APARTMENT - BEDROOM - NIGHT - 1790'S

               Mozart is sitting up in bed, propped against pillows. The 
               coins lie on the coverlet; many candles burn in the necks of 
               bottles. Salieri, without coat or wig, is seated at an 
               improvised worktable. On it are blank sheets of music paper, 
               quills, and ink. Also the score of the Requiem Mass as so 
               far composed. Mozart is bright-eyed with a kind of fever. 
               Salieri is also possessed with an obviously feverish desire 
               to put down the notes as quickly as Mozart can dictate them.

                                     MOZART
                         Where did I stop?

                                     SALIERI
                              (consulting the 
                              manuscript)
                         The end of the Recordare - Statuens 
                         in parte dextra.

                                     MOZART
                         So now the Confutatis. Confutatis 
                         Maledictis. When the wicked are 
                         confounded. Flammis acribus addictis.  
                         How would you translate that?

                                     SALIERI
                         Consigned to flames of woe.

                                     MOZART
                         Do you believe in it?

                                     SALIERI
                         What?

                                     MOZART
                         A fire which never dies. Burning one 
                         forever?

                                     SALIERI
                         Oh, yes.

                                     MOZART
                         Strange!

                                     SALIERI
                         Come. Let's begin.

               He takes his pen.

                                     SALIERI
                         Confutatis Maledictis.

                                     MOZART
                         We ended in F Major?

                                     SALIERI
                         Yes.

                                     MOZART
                         So now - A minor. Suddenly.

               Salieri writes the key signature.

                                     MOZART
                         The Fire.

                                     SALIERI
                         What time?

                                     MOZART
                         Common time.

               Salieri writes this, and continues now to write as swiftly 
               and urgently as he can, at Mozart's dictation. He is obviously 
               highly expert at doing this and hardly hesitates. His speed, 
               however, can never be too fast for Mozart's impatient mind.

                                     MOZART
                         Start with the voices. Basses first. 
                         Second beat of the first measure - 
                         A.
                              (singing the note)
                         Con-fu-ta-tis.
                              (speaking)
                         Second measure, second beat.
                              (singing)
                         Ma-le-dic-tis.
                              (speaking)
                         G-sharp, of course.

                                     SALIERI
                         Yes.

                                     MOZART
                         Third measure, second beat starting 
                         on E.
                              (singing)
                         Flam-mis a-cri-bus ad-dic-tis.
                              (speaking)
                         And fourth measure, fourth beat - D.
                              (singing)
                         Ma-le-dic-tis, flam-mis a-cri-bus ad-
                         dic-tis.
                              (speaking)
                         Do you have that?

                                     SALIERI
                         I think so.

                                     MOZART
                         Sing it back.

               Salieri sings back the first six measures of the bass line.  
               After the first two measures a chorus of basses fades in on 
               the soundtrack and engulfs his voice. They stop.

                                     MOZART
                         Good. Now the tenors. Fourth beat of 
                         the first measure - C.
                              (singing)
                         Con-fu-ta-tis.
                              (speaking)
                         Second measure, fourth beat on D.
                              (singing)
                         Ma-le-dic-tis.
                              (speaking)
                         All right?

                                     SALIERI
                         Yes.

                                     MOZART
                         Fourth measure, second beat - F.
                              (singing)
                         Flam-mis a-cri-bus ad-dic-tis, flam-
                         mis a-cri-bus ad-dic-tis.

               His voice is lost on the last words, as tenors engulf it and 
               take over the soundtrack, singing their whole line from the 
               beginning, right to the end of the sixth measure where the 
               basses stopped, but he goes on mouthing the sounds with them.  
               Salieri writes feverishly. We see his pen jotting down the 
               notes as quickly as possible: the ink flicks onto the page.  
               The music stops again.

                                     MOZART
                         Now the orchestra. Second bassoon 
                         and bass trombone with the basses. 
                         Identical notes and rhythm.
                              (He hurriedly hums 
                              the opening notes of 
                              the bass vocal line)
                         The first bassoon and tenor trombone -

                                     SALIERI
                              (labouring to keep up)
                         Please! Just one moment.

               Mozart glares at him, irritated. His hands move impatiently.  
               Salieri scribbles frantically.

                                     MOZART
                         It couldn't be simpler.

                                     SALIERI
                              (finishing)
                         First bassoon and tenor trombone - 
                         what?

                                     MOZART
                         With the tenors.

                                     SALIERI
                         Also identical?

                                     MOZART
                         Exactly. The instruments to go with 
                         the voices. Trumpets and timpani, 
                         tonic and dominant.

               He again hums the bass vocal line from the beginning, 
               conducting. On the soundtrack, we hear the second bassoon 
               and bass trombone play it with him and the first bassoon and 
               tenor trombone come in on top, playing the tenor vocal line.  
               We also hear the trumpets and timpani. The sound is bare and 
               grim. It stops at the end of the sixth measure. Salieri stops 
               writing.

                                     SALIERI
                         And that's all?

                                     MOZART
                         Oh no. Now for the Fire.
                              (he smiles)
                         Strings in unison - ostinato on all - 
                         like this.

               He sings the urgent first measure of the ostinato.

                                     MOZART
                              (speaking)
                         Second measure on B.

               He sings the second measure of the ostinato.

                                     MOZART
                              (speaking)
                         Do you have me?

                                     SALIERI
                         I think so.

                                     MOZART
                         Show me.

               Salieri sings the first two measures of the string ostinato.

                                     MOZART
                              (excitedly)
                         Good, good - yes! Put it down. And 
                         the next measures exactly the same, 
                         rising and rising - C to D to E, up 
                         to the dominant chord. Do you see?

               As Salieri writes, Mozart sings the ostinato from the 
               beginning, but the unaccompanied strings overwhelm his voice 
               on the soundtrack, playing the first six bars of their 
               agitated accompaniment. They stop.

                                     SALIERI
                         That's wonderful!

                                     MOZART
                         Yes, yes - go on. The Voca Me. 
                         Suddenly sotto voce. Write that down: 
                         sotto voce, pianissimo. Voca me cum 
                         benedictis. Call me among the blessed.

               He is now sitting bolt upright, hushed and inspired.

                                     MOZART
                         C Major. Sopranos and altos in thirds.  
                         Altos on C. Sopranos above.
                              (singing the alto 
                              part)
                         Vo-ca, vo-ca me, vo-ca me cum be-ne-
                         dic-tis.

                                     SALIERI
                         Sopranos up to F on the second 'Voca'?

                                     MOZART
                         Yes, and on 'dictis'.

                                     SALIERI
                         Yes!

               He writes feverishly.

                                     MOZART
                         And underneath, just violins - 
                         arpeggio.

               He sings the violin figure under the Voca Me (Bars 7,8,9).

                                     MOZART
                              (speaking)
                         The descending scale in eighth notes, 
                         and then back suddenly to the fire 
                         again.

               He sings the ostinato phrase twice.

                                     MOZART
                              (speaking)
                         And that's it. Do you have it?

                                     SALIERI
                         You go fast!

                                     MOZART
                              (urgently)
                         Do you have it?

                                     SALIERI
                         Yes.

                                     MOZART
                         Then let me hear it. All of it. The 
                         whole thing from the beginning - 
                         now!

               The entire Confutatis bursts over the room, as Mozart snatches 
               the manuscript pages from Salieri and reads from it, singing. 
               Salieri sits looking on in wondering astonishment. The music 
               continues right through the following scenes, to the end of 
               the movement.

Here is the movie scene:

This is one of those scenes which flows directly from the page onto the screen, yet beautifully elevated by the performances of the actors. One of my favorite all-time movie scenes.

I’ll see you in comments for a discussion of this scene from Amadeus.

One of the single best things you can do to learn the craft of screenwriting is to read the script while watching the movie. After all a screenplay is a blueprint to make a movie and it’s that magic of what happens between printed page and final print that can inform how you approach writing scenes. That is the purpose of Script to Screen, a weekly series on GITS where we analyze a memorable movie scene and the script pages that inspired it.

One thought on “Script To Screen: “Amadeus”

  1. MLSBaisch says:

    Thank you for this.

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