Friday, December 01, 2006

The Artist Speaks


I awoke this morning singing to myself.

Confutatis maledictis
Flammis acribus addictis
Flammis acribus addictis!

I sing this to myself from time to time, as I hear it in my head, as I heard it in my head in 1984.

The first movie I ever saw in my life was CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG. It was my favourite movie throughout my childhood, my teen years and up to my 20th year. Then there was a changing of the guard and I chose a new movie to be my favourite. It wasn't a movie, though; it was a film. I did a complete 180 and switched from a whimsical children's movie to an intellectual, grown up movie, heady as hell and about something that was so far beyond my comprehension that I had to focus, really focus, if I thought about it. I didn't know from the classical music world and I, especially didn't know from opera. But the film AMADEUS was so accesible--it made the jargon and the specificity of that world secondary to the story that was being told--the story about art, longing, disappointment, love and hatred. Well. That meant it was right up my alley.

I was a student at North Texas State University. I had few friends and was alone, a lot. I was obnoxious and irritating, so no small wonder that I was alone so very much. I didn't drive but Denton was a small college town. I could walk or take cabs; no big deal. I walked, one dusky winter's eve, to the movie cinema and chose to see AMADEUS, even though I had no knowledge of the story and no interest in classical music. It was a completely random act.

It is a cliche to say this but it is true: the movie changed my life. Maybe it didn't change my life in earth shattering ways but it did change my life. It was my first grown up movie. It became the first movie poster one sheet that I would ever buy. For a long time that one sheet was the only real artwork that hung in my house that said I was no longer a child--I had chosen that artwork, made the money to buy and frame it, chose where it would hang in my home to best showcase it. That poster hanging in my apartment was proof that I had my own personality, my own tastes, my own intellect. I was no longer a child whose home was decorated with paintings my mom had given me and wall hangings from my childhood. I was a man, smart, intellectual and deep. It was one of the first times that I made a decision based, solely, on what it meant to me and not on what it might make others think of me.

I loved that movie. I loved the story, the art direction, the cinematography, the music, the acting, even the lip synching. I loved the characters. I loved Tom Hulce as Mozart so much that I attempted to affect a braying laugh so that I could be more like him. (That didn't last too long--it irritated people and it hurt my vocal cords. Isn't it funny how we, in our young and dumb days, find places from which to piece together a personality, distilling ourselves into some crazy quilt, until our real selves emerge?). The film AMADEUS definately changed my life.

It has been years since I saw the picture. I own the dvd but do not watch it. A few years ago there was a limited release of the movie, in which the filmmakers restored cut footage. Pat and I saw a screening, then. Not since then have I gotten down my dvd to look at it. I have, nevertheless, always put it on any list when asked what my favourite movies are. AMADEUS has remained an important part of my history and my make up.

Even though I did not understand, fully, until the year 2000.

Pat and I went to see the production of the play version when it played the Music Box theater with David Suchet and Michael Sheen. It was, quite frankly, a lackluster production. I do not like David Suchet as an actor and he is, hands down, the most unpleasant celebrity I have ever met. I have not one good thing to say about him, he is (in this artist's humble opinion) rude, mean, inconsiderate and ego maniacal; indeed, I would say that the human parts of him are missing. This knowledge came to me, only, after I had seen the production and (at that point, without having met him and learned about his true nature) I still didn't like his performance as Salieri.

Michael Sheen, though....

Michael Sheen. I will always remember that name. I will, forever, respect the actor. I will never be able to forget his performance in the play AMADEUS because he showed me the truth. He found, in pockets of his person, untold aspects of the character he played in this award winning piece. He opened my eyes to sides of Mozart that I hadn't seen in all my previous viewings of the film. I don't want to detract from one frame of Tom Hulce's performance on film. I consider that it a simple matter of this: I was young, very young, when I saw the movie AMADEUS. I had (and have) changed so much by the time I saw Michael Sheen's performance onstage that my perception of the character was, vastly, different. When I saw the movie, I saw that Mozart was a genius, that he was a heavy partier, that he was unappreciated, that he was conspired against, that he was egotistical, that he was selfish, that he had an unhealthy relationship with his father, that he was off the beam a little, and then a lot, that he died early because he lived a harsh life, because he did not care for his body. I got it all. There are many layers to the character.

Michael Sheen simply added one more.

Mozart went crazy because he percieved he was a failure.

In the film, he is simply arrogant and petulant. He is angry because his opera closed after nine performances, because the Emperor wanted some notes removed from SERAGLIO, because the other musicians didn't appreciate his work and because they conspired against him. Onstage, Sheen took the opportunity to show me (oh, yes, this was JUST for me--the other audience members were just lucky to be there to see it) that his descent into madness was because he wanted approval and couldn't get it; he went mad because he thought he was talented and percieved that no one else did--that no one thought he was any good. He lost his mind because he couldn't get a break; he lost his mind because he was butting his head up against an unbreakable brick wall. His father had set him up to be perfect and he spent his life creating artwork to get approval and no one ever gave it to him, absolutely. Perhaps it was because his personality was irritating and people could not give him their full approval because they didn't like HIM, not the music. Perhaps it was that he tried to break too many boundaries. Maybe it was just his perception. Maybe people praised him but it wasn't enough praise. Maybe he couldn't hear the praise. Perhaps it was praise with condition. Who knows? The fact remains, though, that (in his own eyes) Mozart was a failure.

I know a little about that. Maybe I had to live the life I have lived to understand the character a little more. It could be that the combination of my life's experience and Michael Sheen's performance had the right chemistry to bring a new perspective to the role. As I saw it, though, Mozart was just jumping through hoops, trying to get someone to say 'you done good', trying to make a living at his artwork, and failing. The funny thing is, Salieri felt he was a failure, too, because he could not match the artistry that he admired in Mozart. Poor fellows. Each one a success, in his own way, and unable to see it. Salieri had financial reward and the respect of the court, while Mozart created artwork that was revered but no money. Is one more preferable to the other? In a perfect world, an artist works and gets paid and that, as they say, is that. We live in an imperfect world. What a shame.

I am in the fortunate position of understanding both characters. I have envied other artists to the point of obsession, as Salieri does in the piece. I have felt mediocre and wished for greater gifts, as does Salieri in the piece. I have loved and hated someone, equally, for their talents. I have, also, felt that I was an underappreciated genius (it doesn't happen often--but there are times when I look at a photo I took and I say it right out loud: 'damn, I am good') as does Mozart in the piece. And it is no secret to anyone who knows me or reads what I write: I consider myself a failed artist. No, no. Please, no arguments. I simply cannot tolerate compliments and disagreement with regards to my status as an artist. It only gets on my nerves, as I explained to my dear friend (and agent) Mitchell, two nights ago. It seems insincere and false; and nothing anyone says will change my PERCEPTION of my life, my work and my failures. You see, the thing is, I'm fine with all of it. I am happy in the life I have. Every success, every flop, every joy and every pain, every experience has made me the person that I am, whoever that may be. And I think that if I met myself; if I were introduced to me at a party or on the street, I would probably say to myself 'that guy...he's alright.' I might have failed at my career as a performer, I might have failed at PARTS of my career as a photographer; but I didn't fail at all of it. I turned in some damned nice performances when I was acting. And I continue to produce some damned beautiful headshots for some beautiful actors who need beautiful headshots (at beautiful prices). I am fine with my life as one of the masses. I don't need celebrity. I don't need praise .. well, not like I used to. I just know where to find it, and when to believe it, now. But imagine how empty my experiences with the film and the play AMADEUS would have been, had I not experienced what I have, in this life? I am so grateful for the opportunity to STILL learn new things from a piece of artwork that I have loved for, literally, half my life.

I awoke this morning singing to myself.

Confutatis maledictis
Flammis acribus addictis
Flammis acribus addictis!

Naturally, I did what I always do when I am reminded of an old friend. I paid the friend a visit.

There was dust on the dvd of AMADEUS when I pulled it down from the highest shelf and opened the box, the shiny disc inside, ready to be loved, once more...

4 Comments:

Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

What an inspired read, Ste. You certainly took me on an unexpected journey over my lunch!

I've seen your photography (no, I OWN your photography thanks to The Sweater Book) and know that you're extraordinarily talented. You've created art out of living, breathing human beings, and it's beautiful. I'm in awe.

But your writing is equally mesmerizing and one of the reasons why I keep coming back for more every day. Thank you so much for baring your soul and touching so many lives the way you do!

Cheers,

Steve

P.S. As for Martin Sheen....have you seen him as Tony Blair in "The Queen"? He's spot-on as they say across the pond, and I'm anxious to see him on Broadway opposite Frank Langella in Frost/Nixon this coming spring.

12:48 PM  
Blogger Timothy Hogan said...

Confutatis maledictis, flammis acribus addictis, voca me cum benedictis. "When the damned are being confounded and when they are being consigned to the sharp flames, call me among the blessed...

...unless the Damned are having a better time!"

10:13 AM  
Blogger StephenMosher said...

Hi Timothy. Thanks for sharing your wit with us. I adore wit and so few people have it. I'm also interested to read the translation you sent. The one I know is almost the same; different by a word or two: When the accursed have been confounded and given over to the bitter flames call me with the blessed.

Interestingly, the dialogue in the film runs as follows:

WM: How would you translate that?
AS: Consigned to flames of wall.
WM: Do you believe it?
AS: What
WM: Fire which never dies, burning you forever.
AS: Yes.

I love that the word consigned comes up in two instances but not in the other; while the flames are sharp, bitter and a wall.

Translations, as perception, are so personal, aren't they?

11:44 AM  
Blogger StephenMosher said...

Steve:
As always, your compliment honours me and I am grateful. For your validation and your confidence in me and my work. All of my work. Thank you!

I haven't seen THE QUEEN, though it is high on my list. And believe you me, when Michael Sheen is on Broadway I am there.

xoste

11:45 AM  

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