We’ve talked about Amadeus (1984) a little bit before and even snarked the costumes, but as the sole defender of this film, I’m finally here to give this movie a proper deep-dive. Because I saw it in the theaters in 1984, and I remember what a game-changer Amadeus was for historical costume on the big screen back in the day! This was a major production, hugely influential in style, and without Amadeus‘ worldwide box-office success and awards (including the Best Picture and Best Costume Design Oscars), future frock flicks might not have been done by Hollywood on such a grand scale. Making a costume drama about classical music was a big risk at the time, and it paid off. Amadeus paved the way for the success of A Room With a View (1985), Out of Africa (1985), Dangerous Liaisons (1988), and all the great historical costume movies of the 1990s.
Yeah, yeah, we all know that Amadeus is NOT a historically accurate story — it’s based on a play that invented the whole Salieri / Mozart rivalry. And, more importantly for our purposes, yes, I admit that the costumes are not always great, especially the women’s wear. But the main characters are men, and their costumes, specifically Mozart’s, are often fan-freakin’-tastic from both a design perspective and historically. So that’s what I’ll focus on, though I’ll look at a few of the women’s outfits too.
First, some background … the film’s director Miloš Forman wanted to adapt the Broadway play of Amadeus, and he didn’t want it to just look like a filmed play. He wanted to set it in the actual historical locations, but filming in Vienna was too expensive. As he told the AV Club:
“In the ’80s, with MTV on the scene, we are having a three-hour film about classical music, with long names and wigs and costumes. Don’t forget that no major studio wanted to finance the film, for these reasons.”
So Foreman turned to Prague, in what was then the Soviet-controlled Czechoslovakia. The director himself was Czech and had immigrated to the United States in 1968, and he knew he could find historical locations there at an affordable price. Forman noted:
“Many parts of Prague contain streets or squares where you can turn the camera 360 degrees and don’t have to alter anything. There are wonderful palaces whose interiors are preserved as museums that are just breathtaking.”
The director and his American crew did have to deal with some harassment from Communist Party officials in exchange for opening up Prague as a Hollywood film set!
Czech costume designer Theodor Pištěk was a natural choice for this production with his extensive local film experience and his artistic background as a painter. In an interview, Pištěk told Vice:
“When the main production designer flew in for a meeting, he was mixing up Romanesque with Roman culture. But they wanted to truthfully capture the atmosphere of Mozart’s time so they wanted to hire someone from Prague, which is connected with Mozart. That’s why Forman asked me.”
Similarly, he told the Washington Post:
“I live in rococo surroundings with buildings that are rococo. An American could study that and create that feeling, but for me it was a bit easier.”
He was inspired by the 18th-century paintings of Jean-Honoré Fragonard and Jean Antoine Watteau, and based his costumes in historical research. Again in the Washington Post, Pištěk said: “You must start with the information — the rest of the job is one’s own imagination.”
Materials were sourced in Vienna and Salzburg, though Pištěk was familiar with getting fabric from a particular shop used by wives of top members of the Czechoslovakian Communist Party. Of the approximately 700 costumes in the film, he designed 100 for the main characters. The rest were rentals from around Europe (and I’ll bet those are all the back-lacing dresses too!). Production designer Patrizia von Brandenstein commented on a making-of feature that: “There were so many extras, we were hard pressed for enough wigs and enough costumes” and wrangling makeup, hair, and wardrobe for 500 people “was like a battleground.”
The director wanted to film many scenes using mostly candlelight. Barry Lyndon (1975) is one of the first theatrical productions to successfully film using mostly candlelight, and it’s still rarely done because of the difficulty. Theodor Pištěk collaborated with cinematographer Miroslav Ondříček to decide what colors and fabrics would work best in this lighting, and according to the Washington Post, they even dressed up Ondříček’s wife to help test candlelit costume theories.
Now let’s look at the movie costumes, starting with a little overview of the period. The majority of the film takes place from 1781 to 1791, the last decade of Mozart’s life. So here’s the fashionable men’s styles:
The movie sticks pretty much in the early to middle part of the decade, which works fine. Mozart basically gets a new wardrobe when he moves to Vienna at the start of the film, and rewears it continuously throughout the film with small changes or additions. Considering his money problems (both real and as shown in the movie), this makes sense. As the decade comes to a close, Mozart is running out of money in the film, so his clothes become shabbier, and he can’t afford new fashions. And the other male characters who do have money are much older and more conservative than Mozart, thus they wouldn’t be wearing the latest styles.
Side note that isn’t really a side note: The movie opens in 1823 and is framed by Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) giving his “confession” long after Mozart’s death. One of my huge frock flick pet peeves is when movies don’t accurately portray the passage of time, so I’m quite pleased that Amadeus got this right! The camera briefly passes by a window showing a ball where the people dancing are wearing 1820s clothes. It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss it thing, but I’m happy it’s there.
OK, on to the meat of the movie! Salieri attends the 1781 performance of Mozart in Vienna, where crowds of randos in questionable costumes have gathered for some good tunes.
I know this is some nitpicker’s favorite game — pointing out all the zippers and weird shit the extras are wearing in these scenes. I’m not denying it’s there, and at home where you can hit “pause” it’s totally obvious.
However, imagine you’re a teenager in a time when there had been NO movies in the theater showing a historical period before the 20th century. You have no access to art house, indie, non-American films unless they show up on PBS. The only frock flick anything set pre-1900 you’ve seen is on a TV, and a fairly small screen at that. Now picture that first walk-through scene with Salieri in gorgeous Rocco rooms filled with people in powdered wigs and panniered gowns and lace cravats with classical music swirling in the background. I’m telling you, it was fucking impressive!
But here, have your snarkable pix. I know that’s all the young ‘uns want these days:
Before we meet Mozart, we see the girl he’s chasing, Constanze Weber. Another dress the nitpickers can complain about, but I’m unduly fond of it, not the least of which is that this was the first non-16th-century costume I tried to make for myself.
The wig is rather face-eating (as are all of the women’s wigs), but the huge size is purposeful. Continue through the film and you’ll see how the younger, louder, more outrageous, more bon vivant characters tend to wear bigger wigs and hats. The older, conservative, quiet, fuddy-duddy characters usually wear headgear that’s smaller and more subdued. This is quite literally the punctuation on the head of their costumes. Costume designer Theodor Pištěk said in the Washington Post of the film’s headgear designs:
“They are the crown, the summit, the most important thing. Besides, in film you often see figures just from the waist up. The headpiece completes the character.”
He’s making that obvious from the start here with Constanze, and soon Mozart will get his own scene devoted to the topic. But not yet.
Elizabeth Berridge replaced Meg Tilly in this role at the last minute due to an accident, and I have to wonder if that’s why there’s such massive cleavage on all her costumes.
There’s a few tiny pix from Meg Tilly’s screen test, and this appears to be the same costume. But not as squished. Being tight on time and budget, I’m guessing the costume department just had to make over the costumes to fit Berridge.
Others here have snarked this gown, but might I generously suggest it’s an attempt at a robe à la piemontaise?
That’s basically a pleated-back gown where the back pleats are cut separate from the dress, and it was a tiny trend in the late 1770s to early 1780s. The white lace on Constanze’s costume isn’t part of the dress fabric, but I did say attempt and will give points for trying.
While Constanze’s gown isn’t historically accurate, I can tell what Theodor Pištěk’s design is going for. There are several extant gowns (not piemontaise, but still) that suit the character, time, and place.
The first time we see Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce), he’s wearing a plain livery suit provided by his employer, Prince-Archbishop Colloredo of Salzburg. He’s rumpled and his wig is messed-up because he’s been rough-housing with Constanze, but also because he doesn’t care much about about this job and doesn’t respect authority.
There are very few contemporary images of Mozart as an adult. This one rather idolizes Mozart and was created for a fan.
Soon enough, we get to see Wolfgang in his element — he’s free of the stuffy archbishop and off to court to see the equally stuffy emperor, which he doesn’t realize yet. So here’s the scene everyone loves, because how could you not?
Paul LeBlanc was the chief wig designer for the film, and he shared an Oscar with head makeup artist Dick Smith on Amadeus. While not always strictly historically accurate, the wigs on Mozart serve a specific purpose of emphasizing his youth and recklessness, showing him as a wildly unique creature, the genius, in contrast to those around him, especially Salieri.
The big, shaggy cut of this first wig on Wolfgang seems inspired by late 1970s/early 1980s punk hair cuts, but it’s also a riff on period shapes. For example:
The real Mozart, in his few portraits, is usually shown wearing a wig of a rather sedate style, but this film is playing fast and loose with history already.
With wig sorted, it’s off to court in the first, and IMO best, of Mozart’s fancy suits. He’s got a purple velvet coat, purple satin breeches, and a cream-colored waistcoat with embroidery. He wears the whole, formal, proper outfit in this scene, then wears pieces of the suit throughout the movie until it looks rather shabby and sad, as the character progresses from hopeful to ill.
There are a bunch of lavender and purple men’s suits extant from this period, so here’s just one example.
Next to Wolfgang’s wig scene, the next one most people remember is “it’s Turkish, darling!” This is when the soprano Katerina Cavalieri (Christine Ebersole) arrives at her lesson with Salieri, and she’s dressed in this outfit:
It’s a silly outfit, and it’s meant to be — the point is that Mozart’s new Turkish opera is causing a stir in town and making Turkish things trendy, but this is an upper-class 18th-c. Viennese idea of what’s “Turkish.” And that did happen, to some extent, because fetishization of orientalist themes did happen among the fashionable folk of European cities in the 18th century. The robe à la Turque was a French fashion trend in the 1780s, and I can see elements of these period fashion plates in the movie’s Turkish costume.
Here’s the swagged stripes:
Here’s the sleeves, plus a giant hat (different style but same proportions):
No, the movie’s costume isn’t exactly accurate, but it’s taking historical references and using them to emphasize the story. Likewise Katerina’s stage outfit for the opera is an exaggerated, over-the-top interpretation of historical styles.
Going for the style of a court gown with those sleeves and that skirt:
For his stage debut, Mozart gets a new suit, this one in a very 18th-c. floral brocade, topped by a wig similar to his first one but tinted pink.
Haters can suck it because not only is this wig properly styled with the side buckles (rolls) and the tied queue in the back, there’s precedent for men powdering their hair pink. Punk rock meets historical \m/
His brocade coat is worn with tan breeches and another embroidered waistcoat.
He also wears this suit (plus, I think, the wig he wears at their wedding) in a series of promo pix with Constanze. I cannot for the life of me find where in the film she wears this dress. She wears the brown wig later when they’re negotiating about “The Magic Flute” at the Volkstheater. But this dress is a cheap satin, princess-seamed, back-lacing mystery!
The coat appears to have been reused in episode 3 of John Adams (2008) on an extra.
And we simply must admire the suit on display! Thanks to our friend Maija Hallikas-Manninen who took these pix at the Glamour: Famous Gowns of the Silver Screen exhibit of Tirelli costumes.
Back at Mozart’s first opera, Constanze is reintroduced, now as his fiancée. Her wig is very Marge Simpson, and while she’s wearing some kind of brocade gown, only glimpses are shown in this scene or the next two times she wears it.
Wolfgang and Constanze were married on August 4, 1782, with only her family present, so that much in the movie is true. The wigs are pretty crazy here, making a theatrical point, sure, but the 1980s wave on his wig looks cheeziod.
Wolfgang’s wedding suit is so totally inspired by this extant one at the Met, I screamed when I found the promo pic. I couldn’t tell in the movie itself but dayum.
The wedding guests are Constanze’s mother, Frau Weber (Barbara Bryne), and while uncredited, I’m calling the others Constanze’s sisters Aloysia and Sophie. Gaudily dressed in cheap fabrics because they’re not particularly wealthy, but the styles and silhouettes are fashionable for the period because they’re aspiring.
Now we start coming to scenes that were cut for the theatrical release and only added back in 2002 for the director’s cut. Mostly they were cut for length (see above from Miloš Forman re: three hours with costumes and classical music), and I don’t think they add to the story, in fact, they distract.
Such as this brief scene of Salieri with an unnamed student, no real point except to show that he has students and Mozart doesn’t, which the dialog also accomplishes.
Some have mocked the dress, but I can see the inspiration, even if the execution isn’t up to 21st-century, big-budget standards.
Then Constanze comes to beg for Salieri’s help getting her husband a job.
Constanze wears the same dress with a different hat and sash when they get costumes for the masquerade party.
I think this one fastens up the front and doesn’t have back pleats, so let’s call it a robe à l’Anglaise a la:
In an other scene only found in the 2002 director’s cut, Constanze’s returns to Salieri later that night to have sex with him in exchange for Mozart getting a job. This is a scene from the source play, where Salieri intends to seduce Mozart’s wife as revenge on the hated rival. When she begins to acquiesce out of desperation for the money, Salieri is disgusted and makes her leave, humiliated. The scene in the director’s cut is too short and abrupt, it’s unclear if offering sex for a job is Constanze’s idea or Salieri’s, and all it adds is a glimpse of a good hat and a close-up of a bad corset.
Moving on, Wolfgang can’t get work and takes it up with Salieri, not to beg, but to complain. He has a new suit with a blue velvet in a tonal stripe and a floral stripe waistcoat. New wig too, his most old-fashioned with three buckles on each side.
In a continuing quest to get paying work, Wolfgang tries to get a student. All but the very end of this scene was deleted from the theatrical version and only appears in the director’s cut. But this blue suit appears throughout. The coat is in a beautiful fabric with a thin gold stripe and floral, while his waistcoat is a deeper blue floral and his breeches are a solid blue.
Wolfgang’s wig may seem overly sloppy, but the soft, loose style was done in the 1780s.
Entirely from the director’s cut are the Schlumberg family, and Mozart hopes to become tutor for their daughter. The family seems to be wealthy or maybe nouveau riche — they have fancy stuff but also have a lot of dogs running around, as if they’re used to a country house not a city one.
On to my very favorite scene, which I think still holds up best of all — maybe because it reminds me of Carnevale in Venice! It’s the masquerade party that Wolfgang and Constanze drag his dad to and where Salieri secretly watches himself get mocked. Everyone’s wearing fantasy costumes and masks, so anything goes.
Wolfgang wears a unicorn mask and a pale grey suit.
Salieri stands out by being so drab. But check out the crowd with all their delightful costumes!
The woman behind Salieri in a white dress trimmed with green seems to be wearing a robe à la polonaise or maybe a variation called the robe à la Circassienne. It’s hard to tell since she’s on screen just in passing, but this would be a great chance for Kendra to weigh in because she’s literally writing a book on the topic. BUT she thinks this movie’s costumes don’t merit a second look, so y’all are just going to have to suffer along with me, lol.
During Snark Week, this butterfly costume got complaints, but it-is-a-masquerade-costume! It’s supposed to be silly and fun!
Alas, the party’s over, and Constanze’s lounging around in this gown that makes her look pregnant because she’s supposed to be by this point.
Mozart performs outdoors for the emperor, and the red velvet coat Mozart wears coordinates with the red of the soldiers and the musicians’ livery. It’s almost as if Mozart is back in livery again because he has a job.
Brief glimpse of Constanze watching her husband. +5 for the hat, -5 for the crappy trim on her dress. No points either way for the face-eating wig, I’m immune to them by now.
It’s extra-funny now to see Ferris Bueller’s principal as Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II.
His look and costume are spot-on.
Compare with costume designer Theodor Pištěk’s design for the emperor:
Again on the hustle, Wolfgang is looking for a court appointment, and he has a new suit in a tan floral stripe with a teal embroidered waistcoat. He wears this suit through the end of the film in parts.
This softer wig is close to the last images made of Mozart during life.
Salieri finally gets something nice to wear when he conducts his own opera. Still wearing black and brown, but with beautiful embroidery!
Maija Hallikas-Manninen also has pix of this suit from the Glamour: Famous Gowns of the Silver Screen exhibit of Tirelli costumes.
Mozart shows up with some friends to see Salieri’s opera. And he’s wearing a new green brocade suit with a cream brocade waistcoat, plus a pink wig. I think it’s the same pink wig as before with just slightly different styling.
When Wolfgang comes home wearing that green suit, Constanze tells him of his father’s death, which was May 28, 1787. And thus begins Wolfgang’s downhill slide, visually expressed through his increasingly sloppy versions of previous outfits.
When they make a deal for “The Magic Flute,” Constanze wears a new red-white stripe dress, and this is the first time she wears a brown wig.
And while her wig looks very round, that’s not unheard of for the late 1780s.
And Wolfgang’s gone back to brown, like this final image of him.
The rest of the new costumes are on Constanze because Wolfgang just keeps rewearing stuff in a more haphazard style. When she briefly leaves home, Constanze wears a cute black and white stripe dress that is barely seen.
And when she comes home to see Wolfgang die, she wears this travel outfit with another giant hat.
Last of all is Mozart’s funeral on December 7, 1791, where everyone, of course, wears black, and, of course, it’s raining.
OK, do you think Amadeus holds up as a frock flick? Were you there in 1984?