What a life Milos Forman had. Impacted early on by, first, the Holocaust (where he lost his mother) and, later, the Soviet occupation of (then-named) Czechoslovakia, he was the brightest light of the Czech renaissance. Loves of a Blonde and The Fireman's Ball are funny and piercing studies of Czech society (it was only after his American fame that I got to see the films -- there's a late scene in Loves of a Blonde that had me howling with laughter).
I was among a select few that saw his first American film, Taking Off, in initial release -- the film was highly praised but completely died financially. (I'd love to take another look, all these years later.) Because of this commercial debacle, he seemed unlikely to be chosen to helm a prominent Hollywood film, but Saul Zaentz and Michael Douglas apparently saw something they liked (Forman always said it was his price), and they hired him to do Cuckoo's Nest. Their faith obviously paid off in bucketsful, as the film was an unexpectedly huge blockbuster, as well as the first movie since It Happened One Night to sweep the top Oscar categories.
Opinions are split about his next two films, Hair and Ragtime. Each of the projects fell into the category "too famous not to make a movie of, but how the hell do you do it?" Critical enthusiasm was probably somewhat greater for Hair, but neither film is without strong points, and kudos for even making the effort at such daunting challenges.
Forman then became the first person I saw win two directing Oscars. This may seem like a strange thing to focus on, but the history of the directing category has always struck me as odd. Over the first four decades, winning multiple directing trophies was the norm -- right from the start, Borzage and Lloyd were early repeaters, and Capra/Ford/McCarey/Wyler/Wilder etc. racked up double/triple/quadruple wins in ensuing decades. I did see a few guys win second Oscars: Lean, Wise and Zinnemann in the early 60s. But after 1966, it was as if someone instituted a new rule, one to a customer. Over those next 17 years, we had 17 different winners -- not only were there no repeaters, a good number of the winners never scored so much as another nomination. Forman's 1984 win for Amadeus ended that string (and opened the door for more, as Stone/Spielberg/Eastwood/Lee/Innaritu have all scored two wins in the years since).
His post-Amadeus output seemed a bit snake-bit -- Larry Flynt suffering the wrath of Gloria Steinem, Valmont being upstaged by Dangerous Liaisons, Man on the Moon imitating its main character in being strictly a niche taste. But none of his work -- not even Goya's Ghosts -- is without some interest.
I also have it on the word of a friend -- a colleague of his at Columbia -- that he was a fine human being. A sad loss.
Whether they are behind the camera or in front of it, this is the place to discuss all filmmakers regardless of their role in the filmmaking process.
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“Those Koreans. They’re so suspicious, you know, ever since Hiroshima.” Constance Langdon (Jessica Lange) from American Horror Story: Season One
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