In this episode, we take a look at the career of Miloš Forman. One thing I didn’t realize until making this episode is that every one of Miloš Forman’s films is counter-culture and rebellious at its core. After looking into is past as a filmmaker under the oppressive communist government of Czechoslovakia, it isn’t hard to see why.
It is March 29th, 1976 at the 48th Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles, California. Czech filmmaker Miloš Forman has just won the Academy Award for directing ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’—a film that would win (along with best director) best lead actor, best lead actress, best screenplay, and best picture. ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ was the second of only three films to win the Oscar in all five of these categories—following ‘It Happened One Night’ in 1934 and preceding ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ in 1991.
There is no doubt that it was Forman’s brilliance as a director that made ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ the classic that it remains today. However, ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ was only Forman’s second feature film since moving to the United States. You see, Miloš Forman got his start as a director in his home country of Czechoslovakia, with his first big film being 1965’s ‘The Loves of a Blonde’, about a factory girl during the war who moves in with a jazz musician and his parents. ‘The Loves of a Blonde’ was a major film in the Czech New Wave—a film movement in the 1960s started by film students rebelling against the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia that started in 1948.
Forman’s next film, titled ‘The Fireman’s Ball,’ is a comedy about a volunteer fire department in a small Czech town. There was a great deal of controversy surrounding the film after its release due to the censors of the Czechoslovakian Communist party who felt that the film satirized the government. It was banned after only a few weeks. These films gained recognition outside of Czechoslovakia and both were nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards.
Shortly after the release of ‘The Fireman’s Ball,’ Forman was visiting Paris when the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia occurred to squash the loosening restrictions on media, speech, and travel that was taking place in 1968. He decided to leave his home country permanently and take up residence in New York City. It isn’t hard to see why Forman was the perfect choice to direct a film about a man rebelling against the oppressive staff of a mental hospital.
After the enormous success of ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,’ Forman directed the psychedelic counterculture musical ‘Hair.’ Both ‘Hair’ and ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ were previously performed in the theater, as was his next picture, ‘Amadeus.’
‘Amadeus’ earned Forman another Best Directing Oscar and the film took home the Best Picture prize at the 57th Academy Awards ceremony. Both ‘Amadeus’ and ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ made use of many character actors playing the smaller roles, which came to be a trademark for the director. Many of these actors got their start in Forman’s films including: Christopher Lloyd, Vincent Schiavelli, and Danny DeVito.
This affected his style greatly. Because there were often many characters in one scene, it was essential for the scenes to be built upon reaction shots. We can see a similar approach in his later films as well. Miloš Forman is responsible for some of cinema’s most iconic films and his unique perspective helped bring the influence of the Czech New Wave to a new generation of filmmakers.
It Happened One Night (1934 Dir. Frank Capra)
The Silence of the Lambs (1991 Dir. Jonathan Demme)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975 Dir. Miloš Forman)
Loves of a Blonde (1965 Dir. Miloš Forman)
The Firemen’s Ball (1967 Dir. Miloš Forman)
Hair (1979 Dir. Miloš Forman)
Amadeus (1984 Dir. Miloš Forman)
The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996 Dir. Miloš Forman)
Man on the Moon (1999 Dir. Miloš Forman)
This video essay was written, edited, and narrated by Tyler Knudsen.