“In 1938, France and England, they just sold-out Czechoslovakia to Hitler. Because if you lived, as I did, several years under Nazi totalitarianism, and then 20 years in Communist totalitarianism, you would certainly realize how precious freedom is, and how easy it is to lose your freedom.”Miloš Forman
When Forman was growing up, he believed his biological father was Rudolf Forman, a professor. His mother and Forman were Protestants. While those nasty Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia, Rudolf Forman was active in the Anti-Nazi Underground. He was ratted out by a fellow member while being interrogated by the Gestapo. Rudolf Forman was arrested for distributing banned books and he died in the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp in 1944. Forman’s mother died in Auschwitz in 1943. He said that he did not fully understand what had happened to them until he saw footage of the concentration camps when he was 16 years old.
Miloš Forman lived with relatives during World War II and he later discovered that his biological father was, in fact, a Jewish architect who somehow survived The Holocaust.
My first exposure to Forman was The Firemen’s Ball (1967). In Spokane, where I grew up, it played at a theatre that ran mostly soft-core porn and foreign films. I suppose the cultural arbiters in the city thought anything from Europe was dirty.
The Fireman’s Ball was the last movie Forman made in his native Czechoslovakia. It takes place at the annual fund-raising ball for a small town’s volunteer fire department, and the plot portrays the series of disasters that happen during the evening. The film uses few professional actors. The firemen are played by the actual firemen of the small town where it was filmed. In its portrayal of the prevailing corruption of the local community, and the collapse even of well-intentioned plans, the film works as a satire on the Communism.
The Firemen’s Ball is the first film Forman shot in color as well as a milestone of the Czechoslovak New Wave.
Forman relocated to the USA. He won two Academy Awards for Best Director. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) is only one of three films to win all five major Academy Awards: Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director, and Screenplay (the others are It Happened On Night (1934), and Silence Of The Lambs (1991).
His second film, Amadeus (1984) won eight Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor (for Abraham). He also won Golden Globe, BAFTA, Cesar, Donatello, and Czech Lion Awards.
The Firemen’s Ball brought considerable controversy on its release. Fire companies across Czechoslovakia protested that the film, claiming it was an attack on their integrity. Forman felt obliged to tour the country dispelling this literal reading. The Czechoslovak Communist party took exception to the film’s cynical tone. However, the film was a big hit in Czechoslovakia.
Carlo Ponti, the film’s Italian producer, pulled his financing, leaving Forman to face 10 years imprisonment for “economic damage to the state”. François Truffaut, after watching the movie, agreed to buy the international rights. Contrary to many claims, the film wasn’t banned in Czechoslovakia. The film was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.
I enjoyed Forman’s film Taking Off (1972) when I saw it. I recently told some friends to watch it, and not one of them had even heard of it. 1972 was when the 1960s ended. Taking Off is about young people running away from home, going missing, losing their footing, as their parents clumsily cast off their inhibitions. I wasn’t sympathetic to the older generation’s confusion when I first saw the film. I was touched by the sweet cruelty of being young.
Taking Off (1972) is Forman’s first American film. It is about an average couple in the suburbs of New York City who, when their teenage daughter runs away from home, link up with other parents of missing children and learn something of youth culture.
It stars Lynn Carlin. Her debut role in the film Faces (1968), for which she was nominated for an Academy Award. She is the first nonprofessional to be nominated for an Oscar. Carlin plays opposite the late Buck Henry, who was also screenwriter and director. Henry’s film credits include co-director of Heaven Can Wait (1978) alongside Warren Beatty, and co-writer for Mike Nichols‘ The Graduate (1967) and Peter Bogdanovich‘s What’s Up, Doc? (1972). Henry hosted Saturday Night Live 10 times from 1976 to 1980. He was twice nominated for an Academy Award.
In this clip, they attend a formal dinner for parents of runaway children. It follows a scene with most excruciating striptease ever, but oh, this scene in which wealthy middle-aged parents are taught the joys of smoking weed after joints are handed round, and a young man ( the great Vincent Schiavelli) instructs them on how to smoke them, still makes me happy.
“Censorship itself, that’s not the worst evil. The worst evil is — and that’s the product of censorship — is the self-censorship.”Forman