“[Y]ou will be surprised how many people are more comfortable to live in the zoo, because you get your piece of fruit every day.”
In celebration of the life of Miloš Forman, who died in April at the age of 86, we decided to invest our time and money in the month of May to watching some of his lesser known works and seeing if we can find some gems in the rubble. Most people are aware of his big four (One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Amadeus, The People vs. Larry Flynt, and Man on the Moon), but we wanted to dig deeper into his other features as a tribute to his life and to add layers to the claim of the Village Voice, when it wrote: “Watch his movies today — any of his movies, really — and you’ll see an artist contending with the sheer terrifying messiness of a world where people refuse to be held down.”
We offer our brief takes on what we saw.
Loves of a Blonde (1965) – in the #MeToo generation, this film does the job of reinforcing the stereotype that men are predators and women are naive: ironically The Academy decided to reward this film with an Oscar nomination. How times have changed.
The Firemen’s Ball (1967) – an idiotic and perhaps fitting social commentary for today on the destructive forces happening outside while men behave likes boys in the comfort of human nature.
Hair (1979) – a fun, energetic musical with a stranger love triangle that makes the unintelligible ending blend well with the general seriousness of the film.
Ragtime (1981) – a fine opening to a decade that Forman would come to direct (I think) his finest work in Amadeus (1984) and the one gem we found during this challenge with Valmont. And yet, the unfolding of events, while relevant to our current landscape of racial tension, finds less concern for intelligibility and more to teach the seeming lesson that no good deed goes unpunished.
Valmont (1989) – a squalid, finely acted performance (esp. Annette Bening) in an immensely competent script by great Jean-Claude Carriere that nears the beautiful production and costume design in Amadeus. Here, in Forman’s continuing and strange, seemingly obsession with men as predators, is a film to be in conversation with the likes of Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon and Scorsese’s Age of Innocence. A character study in Meg Tilly that prefigured Rebecca Hall in Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008). Needless to say, many of the critics hated the film, but I find some relief that Roger Ebert saw what I saw.
When I was asked to direct One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), my friends warned me not to go anywhere near it. The story is so American, they argued, that I, an immigrant fresh off the boat, could not do it justice. They were surprised when I explained why I wanted to make the film. To me it was not just literature but real life, the life I lived in Czechoslovakia from my birth in 1932 until 1968. The Communist Party was my Nurse Ratched, telling me what I could and could not do; what I was or was not allowed to say; where I was and was not allowed to go; even who I was and was not.