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COMMUNICATION: Media, Arts, & Society | April 2, 1985


An Unpublished Letter to Los Angeles Times

Joseph Epstein refers to the Mozart of Amadeus as "a vulgar little man who managed to produce a stream of imperishable works of art." Epstein sounds like Mozart's archrival, Salieri, the film's personification of mediocrity (although even Salieri seemed to more appreciate Mozart's art).

Mozart, grasping life intensely, practiced personal excesses, which eventually cost him his wife and life (although his hostile environment must share the blame) -- this probably was a historically accurate portrayal. However, the word "vulgar", which Mr. Epstein chose, refers to things not only unappealing but also common. Mozart's character, painted realistically, in shades of gray, not simplistic strokes of black and white, was indeed human; and that illustrated the major theme: Humanism, the creative force of classical Greece and Rome, rediscovered in the Renaissance and under attack ever since.

Humanism stresses that although nobody's perfect, all people are created equal and, yet, are individuals. Modern history has often been graced by a humanistic courage to believe in the artistic, technological, and political potential of sometimes "vulgar little" people, such as you or me, and not to simply give in to the whims of a powerful, all-too-often superficial and mediocre ruling "Dynasty", as in Mozart's day or our own.

America, herself, was established as an experiment in such Humanism, relegating the notion of an inborn superiority of nobility to the dustbin of history; and art such as Amadeus that celebrates Humanism and is appreciated by critics and the public alike is an encouraging sign that our democratic experiment (although badgered by the likes of the "Moral Majority", who hate "secular Humanism") may indeed endure. Kudos to the film's makers and fans and to wise, courageous Oscar®!

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