Director’s Chair Introduction: Miloš Forman

by Tony Cogan · May 29, 2018 · Director's Chair, Uncategorized · 6 Comments

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Deadline: 30th June 2018

Hello everyone, it’s time to announce the director I’m going to be highlighting for June and this month I thought it would be right to dedicate this month to the memory of one of the most influential directors of the past 50 years, Miloš Forman.

Forman’s early life was one of hardship, his parents being arrested by the Nazi’s during the occupation of Czechoslovakia for being members of the anti-Nazi underground, his dad dying during interrogation and his mum being killed in Auschwitz, with Forman being raised by relatives and family friends.

Now Forman got his start in the former country of Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic), becoming one of the leading figures in the Czechoslovak New Wave, his films, particularly The Firemen’s Ball being seen as critiques of the Communist regime of Czechoslovakia, which resulted in the film being banned in Czechoslovakia for decades. At the time when Forman was starting out his career, there was a period of upheaval in Czechoslovakia, Forman getting expelled from his original university for making fun of a Communist party official, with the only school that would take him being the Prague Film School. During the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, Forman was in Paris negotiating the production of his first American film, with the Czech studio that employed Forman firing him whilst he was in Paris, with this leading Forman to emigrate to America, becoming a naturalised citizen in 1977.

Whilst in America, outside of the films he made, he served as a professor of film at Columbia University. With his films, Forman initially started poorly with his first American film, Taking Off, being a critical and commercial failure, with Forman owing money to the studio because of how poorly it did. Despite this, Forman was hired to direct the adaptation of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (with Forman believing it was because of how cheap he was to be hired as a director), with this being the film that put Forman on the map in America, with Forman connecting to the story, seeing parallels between Nurse Ratched and the Communist regime of Czechoslovakia. The film ended up being a massive critical and commercial success, becoming one of only three films, alongside It Happened One Night and The Silence of the Lambs, to win the Big Five Oscars of Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Screenplay. After that, he went on to direct the film adaptation of the musical Hair, it receiving positive reviews, but being disowned by the writers of the original musical and not doing well financially.

Forman had his next big critical hit with Ragtime, taking place in turn of the century New York, after Robert Altman left the project, the film being the final film of James Cagney and gaining 8 Oscar nominations. Following Ragtime, Forman had another one of his defining films with Amadeus, with Forman returning to Prague to film it, even filming in the Count Nostitz Theatre, where two of Mozart’s operas were first performed. Despite complaints about historical inaccuracy (a great video about it I’ve embedded below), the film was an enormous success, winning 8 Oscars.

Following Amaedus, Forman did an adaptation of Dangerous Liasons in the form of Valmont, although his version was overshadowed by the Stephen Frears version released the year before. After that, Forman got his third Oscar nomination for Best Director for The People vs Larry Flint, although he lost to Anthony Minghella for The English Patient (although it should have gone to Joel Coen for Fargo). After that, Forman made Man on the Moon about the life of Andy Kaufman, with Jim Carrey taking the role of Kaufman. The film received mixed reviews, but heavy praise for Carrey’s performance as Kaufman, even though there were tensions over Carrey staying in character for the duration of the shoot, as chronicled in last years documentary Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond, although the working relationship between Forman and Carrey was so strong that Forman named two of his sons after Jim Carrey and Andy Kaufman. Following that, Forman’s next film came 6 years later with Goya’s Ghost, which opened to mixed reviews.

During his career, Forman has had a few projects he tried to get off the ground but without success. In the early 2000’s he had an idea for a film about two men in the Austro-Hungarian military reuniting after 40 years, but the film fell apart after Sean Connery, who was the only person Forman wanted in the lead role, left the project. He also had an idea for a film about the Munich Agreement, which allowed Hitler to take Czechoslovakia, but funding for the film fell through. After a short illness earlier this year, Forman died at the age of 86, leaving behind a great legacy of film.

Now, as usual, I want anything you’ve done on the films of Miloš Forman sent to me, be it reviews, podcasts, whatever, with the deadline for these submissions being the 30th of June. If you want a quick reminder of Forman’s films, I’ve put a list in below.

  • Loves of a Blonde
  • The Firemen’s Ball
  • Taking Off
  • Visions of Eight
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  • Hair
  • Ragtime
  • Amadeus
  • Valmont
  • The People vs Larry Flint
  • Man on the Moon
  • Goya’s Ghosts

Thanks for reading this, and I look forward to whatever you send me on the films of Miloš Forman.