Miloš Forman (18 February 1932 – 13 April 2018)
Miloš Forman once said, “It all begins in the script. If what’s happening is interesting, it doesn’t matter where you shoot from, people will be interested to watch. If you write something boring, you can film from mosquitoes’ underpants and it will still be boring.” Forman knew the value of a good script, and even a cursory look at the movies he made reveals a grasp of that essential provision. Though he was a master visualist, and an expert at creating the relevant mood for each of his projects, his affinity for the written word always made his movies stand out from the crowd. Through dialogue he could reach the emotional heart of a character and show that emotional heart to audiences around the world. From his beginnings in his native Czechoslovakia, through to the movies he made as a continual outsider within the Hollywood system, Forman was a director who pursued the projects that interested him, and through doing so, ensured that his body of work would remain fascinating and thought-provoking.
At a young age, he wanted to be a theatrical producer. He attended boarding school with the likes of future Czech president Václav Havel, and future movie makers Ivan Passer and Jerzy Skolimowski. He studied screenwriting at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, and later worked for Alfréd Radok, the creator of Laterna Magika. He began making movies in the early Sixties, creating a comedic style that brought him to the attention of festival programmers around the world, and soon to much wider audiences than could be found in Czechoslovakia. The Prague Spring of 1968 pushed Forman into leaving his home country, and he wound up in the US, where after a good but inauspicious start, he was hired to direct an adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel, One Flew Over the Cuckkoo’s Nest – Forman always said that he was hired because he was within the producers’ price range. He won an Oscar for his efforts on the movie, and from there on, the future of his career was assured (he won a second Oscar for his work on Amadeus).
Forman continued to make intelligent, critically well received movies across a variety of genres. But though his movies didn’t always do well at the box office, his standing within the movie community increased with every project. Even a “lesser” Forman movie, such as Goya’s Ghosts (2006), had moments where his artistry and skill as a director helped transform the material into something better than originally envisaged. He worked particularly well with actors, and steered the likes of Jack Nicholson, Brad Dourif, Elizabeth McGovern, F. Murray Abraham, and Woody Harrelson to Oscar nominations (Nicholson and Abraham, of course, won). Forman was also a staunch advocate of individual freedoms, and was wise to the irony of fleeing one country (Czechoslovakia) where censorship was directly applied by the State, to another country (the US) where indirect censorship applied by the studios, often meant it was more difficult to make the kinds of movies he was interested in making. But what was most important to him was that he liked to have fun when making a movie, even if he was making a serious drama, and in that respect, his movies retain an engaging, sprightly quality to them, a liveliness that helps keep them feeling fresh even after repeated viewings.
1 – A Blonde in Love (1965)
2 – The Fireman’s Ball (1967)
3 – Taking Off (1971)
4 – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
5 – Hair (1979)
6 – Ragtime (1981)
7 – Amadeus (1984)
8 – Valmont (1989)
9 – The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996)
10 – Man on the Moon (1999)