Czech director Forman dies, 86
Czech filmmaker Milos Forman, whose movies One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus won several Academy Awards, including best director, has died at 86.
Forman was also known for directing Hair, Ragtime and The People vs Larry Flynt.
When he arrived in Hollywood in the late 1960s, Forman was penniless and spoke limited English, but had made Czechoslovak films much admired internationally for their lighthearted spirit. Among them were Black Peter, Loves of a Blonde and 1968’s Fireman’s Ball, which was banned in Czechoslovakia because of its satire of bureaucratic thinking.
The orphan of Nazi victims, his father was a member of a resistance group against the occupation. Both his parents were killed in Nazi concentration camps.
“My parents were real patriots, and that was probably the reason why they died. Not until much later, when I was suddenly far from my homeland and its culture, far away from my family, when I was cut away from the land of my childhood, I realised I shared this strong feeling of affection for my country with them,” Forman said in his biography.
He abandoned Czechoslovakia after Soviet troops invaded in 1968 to crush the Prague Spring. Forman was in Paris in August 1968 when the invasion ended the brief artistic renaissance.
His early suggestions for film projects were rejected in Hollywood, including a version of Franz Kafka’s novel, Amerika, and a comedy starring entertainer Jimmy Durante as a bear hunter in Czechoslovakia.
His first US film, 1969’s Taking Off, flopped. It was an amusing look at generational differences in the US and won praise from critics but without any stars was a commercial failure.
Actor Michael Douglas hired Forman to direct One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which Douglas was co-producing. Based on Ken Kesey’s novel, it won every major Oscar, the first film to do so since 1934’s It Happened One Night.
Forman brought a balance and objectivity to the film, which could easily have descended into histrionics. The critically praised and immensely popular film starring Jack Nicholson struck a nerve in 1975.
For Amadeus, Forman returned to Czechoslovakia in 1983 and used little-known theatre actors to play Mozart (Thomas Hulce) and his rival Antonio Salieri (Murray Abraham). Forman created a compelling adaptation of Peter Shaffer’s award-winning stage play. Again Forman won the directorial and best film Oscar along with six others. The film was his most financially successful after Cuckoo’s Nest.
In Czechoslovakia Forman was married twice, first to actress Jana Brejchova, sister of his lead actress in Loves of a Blonde, and then to Vera Kresadlova, who was the mother of his twin sons Peter and Matej. In 1998 he had more twin sons, Andrew and James, with his third wife, Martina Zborilova.
Milos Forman in 2010. Picture credit: Wikimedia