We live in an age of rabid hyperbole. Worse yet, we live in an age of uninformed hyperbole. Day after day, you will read somebody somewhere declare something to be best of this, or the worst of that. Moments are seen as deeply unique that really are not. Our memories are getting shorter, and the bar is getting lower.
It’s enough to make one wonder: What’s it like to stand in the presence of true genius?
Thirty years ago, Milos Foreman brought to life a script by Paul Shaffer about the burden of talent in the shadow of excellence. Our narrator, Antonio Salieri, is a particularly gifted composer. He is not gifted enough to have any lasting impact in the music scene of Vienna, but he is gifted enough to recognize true brilliance on a level the average enthusiast cannot. True brilliance will reveal itself in the form of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. What Salieri sees in Mozart’s music isn’t just how truly marvellous it is, but how effortless it comes to Mozart.
Hence the image above.
As Salieri holds Mozart’s compositions for the first time, he sees something he could never achieve on his own. In examining the score, Salieri notices that there are no corrections of any kind made to the master copy. He observes “(Mozart) had simply written down music already finished in his head. Page after page of it as if he were just taking dictation”. It’s a measure of pure talent that we often take for granted – the way in which a talented person can make things look so easy. It’s like watching Usain Bolt run; the man breaks world records, but never seems to be more than just jogging. While Salieri pores over every stroke of his pen – and even prays to the almighty for guidance – Mozart can crank out miraculous results in between glasses of wine.
That was his true talent, his true genius. It’s why his name is still revered today, more than 200 years after he died. These days when we throw around the names of artists and their works as being “genius”, “brilliant”, or “the greatest”, one wonders if we’ll still feel that way in 100 years….or 50…or even 10? Further, one wonders what the contemporaries of these so-called geniuses would think? Would they look at us as fawning admirers of a lesser god? Or would they appreciate the work we are worshipping on a whole other level because they can see how hard it is…and how effortless it seems.
Perhaps it’s a combination of the two that we lack, and thus the reason for our disrespect. Perhaps if more of us were more talented, we’d be able to recognize true genius when it arrives, and hold tighter to it in our memories. Of course, if that were the case, a few more of us might also be driven mad…doomed to become patron saints of mediocrity.
Here’s three more from AMADEUS for the road…
This series of posts is inspired by the “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” series at The Film Experience. Do check out all of the awesome entires in their series so far