Born Jan Tomas Forman, February 18, 1932, in Caslav, Czechoslovakia; came to United States, 1968, became U.S. citizen, 1975; son of Rudolf (a teacher) and Anna (Svabova) Forman; married Jana Brejchova (an actress; divorced, 1956); married Vera Kresadlova (a singer), 1964 (divorced); married Martina Zborilova, November 28, 1999; children: (second marriage) Petr, Matej (twin sons); (third marriage) Andrew, James (twins). Education: Prague Film Faculty, diploma, 1954.
Director of motion pictures, including Taking Off, 1971; One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, 1975, Hair, 1979, Ragtime, 1982, Amadeus, 1984, Valmont, 1989, The People vs. Larry Flynt, 1996, and Man on the Moon, 1999. Theater director for Laterna Magika, Prague, 1958-62; production assistant for Barrandov Studios, Czechoslovakia, 1962-63. Member of Sebor-Bor Film Producing Group, c. 1963. Actor in films, including Heartburn, 1986, and New Year's Day, 1989. Honorary chairman of Columbia University Department of Film, 1975.
Prize from Czechoslovakian film critics, 1963, first prize from Locarno International Film Festival's young critics, 1964, and first prize in twentieth anniversary celebration for liberation of Czechoslovakia, and young critics prize from film competition, Öberhausen, both 1965, all for Cerny Petr; CIDALC Prize from French Film Festival, 1965, and Grand International Prize from French Film Academy, and Trilobite from Union of Czechoslovakian Film and Television Artists, both 1966, all for Lasky jedne plavovlasky; Cannes Film Festival jury prize, 1971, for Taking Off; Academy Award for Best Director, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Best Director Award, Directors Guild of America, and Silver Ribbon Award, Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists, all 1975, all for One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest; Academy Award for Best Director, 1984, and Golden Globe Award, Cesar Award (France) for Best Foreign Film, and Silver Ribbon for Best Director of a Foreign Film, Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists, all 1985, all for Amadeus; Eastman Kodak Second Century Award, 1990; Freedom of Expression Award, 1996; Golden Globe for Best Director, Golden Berlin Bear, Berlin International Film Festival, and Karlovy Vary International Film Festival prize, all 1997, all for The People vs. Larry Flynt; John Huston Award for Artist Rights, 1997; Silver Berlin Bear, 2000, for Man on the Moon; Lifetime Achievement Award, Palm Springs International Film Festival, 2000; Lifetime Achievement Award, Netherlands Film by the Sea Festival, 2004; Billy Wilder Award, National Board of Review of Motion Pictures, 2004; Award for Lifetime Achievement in Directing, San Francisco International Film Festival, 2004; Legion d'Honour, Cannes Film Festival, 2004.
(With Ivan Passer) Konkurs (two short films), Film-studio Barrandov, 1963, released in English as Audition, 1963.
(With Jaroslav Papousek) Cerny Petr (title means "Black Peter"), Altura Films, 1971, released in English as Peter and Pavla, Srebo, 1964.
(With Ivan Passer and Jaroslav Papousek) Lasky jedne plavovlasky, Sebor-Bor/Filmstudio Barrandov, 1965, released in English as Loves of a Blonde, Prominent Films, 1966.
(With Ivan Passer and Jaroslav Papousek) Hori, ma panenko, Filmstudio Barrandov/Carlo Ponti, 1967, released in the United States as The Fireman's Ball, Cinema V, 1968, released in England as Like a House on Fire, 1968.
(With John Guare, Jean-Claude Carriere, and John Klein) Taking Off (also see below), Universal, 1971.
(With others) Visions of Eight (contains Decathlon by Forman), Cinema V, 1973.
Also author, with Jean-Claude Carriere, of La prince … Ongles, 1969, and of screenplays produced in Czechoslovakia with translated titles "Leave It to Me," 1955, and "Puppies," 1957.
(With Nancy Hardin) Taking Off (adapted from the screenplay directed by Forman and co-authored by Forman, John Guare, Jean-Claude Carriere, and John Klein; released by Universal, 1971), New American Library (New York, NY), 1971.
(With Antonin J. Liehm) The Milos Forman Stories, International Arts and Sciences Press, 1975.
(With Jan Novak) Turnaround: A Memoir, Villard (New York, NY), 1994.
Work in Progress
Directing a screen adaptation of Sandor Marai's novel Embers.
Milos Forman is one of only a few foreign film directors to achieve box-office success with American audiences. His films, including the Academy Award winners One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest and Amadeus, display a sense of empathy for people caught up in cruel societal systems over which they have
little control. Despite the serious content of many of his films, Forman has also distinguished himself as a master of ironic comedy and rich visual effects.
Early Love of Theater and Film
Forman described his first experience with cinema in an interview published in the UNESCO Courier. "It was unforgettable," he recalled. "One Saturday night, when I was four or five years old, my parents took me to see a film in Caslav, the city where I was born in the country that was then called Czechoslovakia. I found out later that it was a documentary about Smetana's opera The Bartered Bride. Oddly enough, it was a silent film. On the screen gigantic people opened enormous mouths from which no sound emerged. But the audience knew the opera by heart and began to sing louder and louder. The women were in tears. It was an extraordinary introduction to the cinema!"
Forman's life was soon torn apart by the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia. He was orphaned when his father, a Jewish professor, was taken to the Buchenwald concentration camp, where he died in 1944. His mother, a Protestant, was imprisoned and perished at Auschwitz. Forman's brother Pavel was also wanted by the Gestapo; while hiding from Nazi authorities Pavel worked as part of an underground theater group. "It was thanks to him that I saw my first play, which struck a deep emotional chord," Forman was quoted as saying in the UNESCO Courier. "He also took me backstage. That was extremely disconcerting: the young women undressing before my eyes, the jokes, the music, the smell of starch and mothballs and sweat. It was a revelation to me and I decided there and then that the theatre, this other world, would be my life."
When the German occupation ended in Chechoslovakia, Forman had the opportunity to see American films, and became enthralled with them. In 1950, while in his final year of secondary school at Dejvice, he organized a drama club and staged a musical about French poet François Villon that was presented at numerous small venues around Prague. After graduation, he enrolled in the Film Institute at the University of Prague, and from there he went on to work as a director and screenwriter for Czech television. By the 1960s he had moved into film work, and was establishing himself as one of the leading figures of the Czech "New Wave" film renaissance, as well as one of Eastern Europe's finest, and most sardonic, filmmakers.
Cerny Petr, or Black Peter, Forman's first film to garner much attention, earned international honors for its humorous depiction of a dispirited floorwalker who arbitrarily reports numerous shoplifters. Lasky jedne plavovlasky, released in English as Loves of a Blonde, was another early success and features a
young woman named Andula, who is disillusioned and haphazard in her pursuit of pleasure. Andula falls in love with a young pianist and pursues him to Prague, where she creates a crisis by confronting his parents with an account of her tryst with their son. A reviewer for the New York Times called Loves of a Blonde "delightful and unusual—comic and sad and comprehending in a curiously inarticulate way." The reviewer added that the film "is human, true but understated—inconclusive, indeed, as is life—and it leaves one amused and wistful over the romantic hopes of its little blonde."
Hori, ma panenko—released in translation as The Firemen's Ball and Like a House on Fire—was Forman's third major success from the mid-1960s and focuses on a ceremony conceived to honor a retiring fire chief. The celebration in the man's honor is disrupted, however, by a beauty contest, a marching band, and a raffle. Even a fire interrupts the proceedings; while the owner of the burning home sits and watches, thoughtful neighbors turn his chair away to lessen the shock, then move the fellow closer to the fire to warm him. A New York Times writer described The Firemen's Ball as "a hilarious shaggy dog story, with the pessimism of the exquisite logic that leads nowhere." "That a director who sees things so bitterly and clearly can be this funny," the critic added, "… may mean that we are in for a comic renaissance after all."
Exile to America
Forman's life, and his career, were once again disrupted by European politics when, in 1968, Soviet troops invaded Czechoslovakia. He had already been forced to publicly apologize to the 40,000 firemen who had walked off their jobs after the release of The Firemen's Ball and assured these workers that the film was actually a political allegory. However, the increasingly repressive Communist rule signaled the end of a period where the subtleties of allegory would be tolerated. Forman was in Paris when the Soviets entered his country, and he remained abroad rather than return home to live under communism. Eventually, he headed to the United States and Hollywood. Hoping to film an adaptation of Franz Kafka's Amerika, he was unable to recruit producers. A project featuring actor Jimmy Durante as a wealthy bear hunter roaming the Slavic woodlands also failed to interest appropriate producers.
Then, in 1968, Forman was enlisted by Paramount Pictures to direct one of his own works. Together with several other writers, including playwright John Guare, Forman fashioned Taking Off, a film
that earned the same acclaim accorded his Slavic works. The film depicts the increasingly permissive American society of the late 1960s, as personified by staid businessman Larry Tyne and his family. When Tyne's daughter, Jeannie, becomes involved in a Greenwich Village theater production and decides to stay in the Village, Larry and his wife try to become better acquainted with their daughter's environment in an attempt to woo her into returning home. Their adventures take them to a meeting of the Society for Parents of Fugitive Children, where they learn how to smoke marijuana, and into the Village, where they are appalled by the inhabitants' casual attitude toward sex and drugs. A New York Times critic hailed Taking Off as a "charming" work, adding: "Forman's America is made up of neighborhood bars to which lonely ladies come accompanied by their Siamese cats; of the sort of mother who, when told her daughter has shoplifted a portable Japanese TV set, asks whether it's a Sony."
Despite favorable reviews of Taking Off, Forman was unable to obtain funding for another project. In 1972 he filmed decathlon competitors at the Olympics for inclusion in the omnibus production Visions of Eight, but that proved to be his sole production throughout the next two years. Forman fell into a deep depression, and it was at this low point that he was approached by producers Saul Zaentz and Michael Douglas to direct Bo Goldman's adaptation of the Ken Kesey novel One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest.
In interpreting the novel, Forman fashioned a compelling portrait of the individual against the system, and his effort earned a host of awards, including an Academy Award for Forman's direction and the award for Best Picture. The film was driven by Jack Nicholson's performance as R. P. McMurphy, an irrepressible con man who has managed to convert a jail sentence into a period of treatment in a state mental institution. What McMurphy does not realize at first is that he has been committed and will not be released until those in charge of the hospital deem him fit to rejoin society. The con man finds himself pitted against Nurse Ratched, a domineering woman who seeks total control over her patients. Ratched's interactions with McMurphy lead to violence, and, eventually, to a tragic and ironic ending. In addition to being a critical success, the film was a tremendous box-office hit. Suddenly well known in his adopted country, Forman became an American citizen.
Forman next worked with playwright Michael Weller on the films Hair and Ragtime. Hair, which had been a phenomenally successful Broadway musical, captured the mood of rebellion and affection that fostered the youth movement of the late 1960s. Although some critics felt the film was anachronistic by the time it was made, a New Yorker writer believed "it is no accident that Forman took on the direction of Hair," since "the score, with—to his ears—its newness and its eloquence about his adopted country, must have sung strongly to him. So, clearly, did moments of ease and fun that he catches on to in the book and lyrics."
Ragtime, in contrast, is a painstaking presentation of E. L. Doctorow's popular novel about a true-life murder involving some of the most well-known New York socialites of the early 1900s. Some critics felt that Forman's European background was a handicap in making such an American film. A New Yorker columnist contended that "Forman simply didn't have the storehouse of associations to make a Ragtime," and added: "It's limp—it always seems to be aiming about halfway to Doctorow's effects." A more enthusiastic Newsweek reviewer called Ragtime "high-class," but "oddly tamed and domesticated."
Wins Second Academy Award for Amadeus
In 1979 Forman returned to Czechoslovakia for the first time since his voluntary exile. A few years later he went to his native country to film what would be one of his greatest successes: the film adaptation of Peter Schaffer's play Amadeus, about the life and death of great composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The film focuses on the rivalry between Salieri, a court composer with limited talent but a great devotion to his art, and Mozart, a natural genius who, in Salieri's view, seems an unworthy recipient of his incredible talent. The film was a runaway hit, winning eight Academy Awards and boosting the sales of Mozart's music appreciably. According to New Republic reviewer Stanley Kauffmann, Forman's screen version is a marked improvement over the theater production, utilizing "a more straightforward narrative" to create "a visually lively piece."
With another Academy Award to his credit, it seemed that Forman was at the pinnacle of his career, but his next film, Valmont, was widely panned and generated little interest among moviegoers. The project was an adaptation of Choderlos de Laclose's novel Les Liasons Dangereuses, which had earlier been adapted for film as Dangerous Liasons. The story is one of ruthless games of seduction in French society, but according to Maclean's reviewer Brian D. Johnson, Forman "has warmed its cold heart with a blush of romance." Comparing Valmont to Dangerous Liasons, Johnson commented, "The erotic scenes are less graphic, and the film's artists of sexual treachery are sympathetic and vulnerable. Finally, he has added an upbeat twist to the story's dark ending." Despite such positive assessments, Valmont marked the beginning of a long inactive spell for Forman as a director. He acted in a few films and busied himself with other projects, but he did not direct again until 1996.
Freedom of Expression
In the mid-1990s Forman again became the topic of discussion, this time for taking a cinematic risk despite his many years of inactivity. Involving a complex subject and an unlikeable—even reviled—protagonist, The People vs. Larry Flynt is based on the legal battles of Larry Flynt, publisher of the hardcore pornographic magazine Hustler. Forman's movie takes the position that no matter how objectionable the content of Flynt's publications, it is essential to protect the right to free speech. The theme was particularly meaningful to Forman, who had lived under Communist censorship. His film evoked strong response, both positive and negative. It won awards, yet it was also strongly condemned by many, including feminist Gloria Steinem, who criticized it for making a hero out of a man who routinely debases women in his publications. John Simon, reviewing The People vs. Larry Flynt for the National Review, called it "a resounding vindication of free speech in America, something that cannot be tested in a nonsubversive or inoffensive context." Simon added that most of the film is made up of "good dialogue and direction, idiomatic performances, and virtually no visible flesh."
Again profiling a well-known individual, Forman presents a marginally likeable character in his 1999 film Man on the Moon, which is about the life and career of comedian Andy Kaufmann. Known for bizarre performances that frequently irritated or puzzled audiences, Kaufmann died of a rare form of cancer at an early age. Forman's film, according to Time reviewer Richard Schickel, does a fine job of capturing Kaufmann's "self-destructive and endlessly confrontational relationship with networks, concert managers and audiences," which Schickel maintained "was the great theme of his career. He was always disconcertingly catching everyone between laughter and outrage. And the cookies-and-milk treat he sometimes offered later never quite healed that ambiguity. Man on the Moon doesn't either. It just gives us Andy, the pop postmodernist, and permits us to make what we will of him, which is a fascinating activity."
If you enjoy the works of Milos Forman
If you enjoy the works of Milos Forman, you may also want to check out the following films:
Five Easy Pieces, starring Jack Nicholson, 1970.
American Beauty, directed by Sam Mendes, 1999.
Chicago, starring Richard Gere and Catherine Zeta-Jones, 2002.
Good Guy Always Wins
Discussing the differences between American and European films with Steven Gaydos of Variety, Forman commented that while both usually revolve around a struggle between good and evil, "in American movies the good guys mostly win at the end, [but] the European films pride themselves in the fact that at the end nobody wins. You can loosely describe the majority of European movies as being basically a masochistic slice of dreary life, while American movies are basically macho fairy tales."
The filmmaker looked back on his life in Turnaround: A Memoir, published in 1994. His memories of his traumatic childhood years remain sharp and moving, according to Entertainment Weekly writer D. A. Ball, while he employs a more relaxed style when discussing his film career. Ball concluded: "Good directors are good storytellers, and this storyteller is a good autobiographer." A Publishers Weekly contributor described it as "a wonderful political and artistic odyssey," and concluded: "The memoir is a treat for movie buffs, cultural historians and lovers of the American dream."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Encyclopedia of World Biography Supplement, Volume 20, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2000.
Forman, Milos, Turnaround: A Memoir, Villard Books (New York, NY), 1994.
International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, Volume 2: Directors, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2000.
Poizot, Claude, Milos Forman, Dis voir, 1987.
Slater, Thomas J., Milos Forman: A Bio-Bibliography, Greenwood Press (New York, NY), 1987.
Booklist, January 1, 1994, Lindsay Throm, review of Turnaround: A Memoir, p. 798.
Canadian Dimension, March-April, 1997, Karen Sawatzky, review of The People vs. Larry Flynt, p. 39.
Christian Century, April 23, 1997, Margaret R. Miles, review of The People vs. Larry Flynt, p. 419.
Cineaste, fall, 1996, Richard Porton, interview with Foreman, p. 28; spring, 2000, David Sterritt, review of Man on the Moon, p. 52.
Columbia Journalism Review, January-February, 1997, James Boylan, review of The People vs. Larry Flynt, p. 15.
Commonweal, October 19, 1984, Tom O'Brien, review of Amadeus, p. 557-558; December, 1989, Tom O'Brien, "Better and Better than Bland," pp. 670-671.
Daily Variety, April 29, 2004, "Forum Fetes Forman: Helmer among Trio Tapped for Europe Day," p. 8; July 14, 2004, Marlene Edmunds, "Netherlands Fest Will Fete Film Duo," p. 9; December 9, 2004, Ian Mohr, "Pair Pluck Special NBR Nods," p. 4.
Entertainment Weekly, March 4, 1994, D. A. Ball, review of Turnaround, p. 60; December 10, 1999, Jeff Jensen, review of Man on the Moon, p. 50; June 2, 2000, Troy Patterson, review of Man on the Moon, p. 57.
Film Comment, September-October, 1984, Michael Walsh, review of Amadeus, pp. 51-52.
Hollywood Reporter, September 26, 2002, Glenn Abel, review of Amadeus, p. 57; August 6, 2002, Chris Gardner, "'Embers' Burning for Forman," p. 6; March 5, 2004, "Forman's Lifetime," p. 6.
Interview, January 20, 1967; January, 2000, Courtney Love, interview with Forman, p. 86.
Journal of American History, December, 1997, Kathryn H. Fuller, review of The People vs. Larry Flynt, pp. 1185-1186.
Life, September, 1984, "Madcap Mozart," p. 66; spring, 1989, "Director: Milos Forman Makes the Scene in Paris," p. 70.
Los Angeles Times, September 19, 1984, Sheila Benson, review of Amadeus, pp. 1, 6.
Maclean's, November 20, 1989, Brian D. Johnson, review of Valmont, p. 82; December 30, 1996, Brian D. Johnson, review of The People vs. Larry Flynt, p. 99.
Memphis Business Journal, January 13, 1997, Linda Romine, interview with Forman, p. 3.
Nation, December 11, 1989, Stuart Klawans, review of Valmont, p. 727; February 3, 1997, Katha Pollitt, review of The People vs. Larry Flynt, p. 9.
National Review, October 19, 1984, John Simon, review of Amadeus, p. 56; January 22, 1990, John Simon, review of Valmont, p. 56; Februrary 24, 1997, John Simon, review of The People vs. Larry Flynt, p. 53.
New Republic, October 22, 1984, Stanley Kauffmann, review of Amadeus, p. 30; December 11, 1989, Stanley Kauffmann, review of Valmont, p. 24; January 6, 1997, Hanna Rosin, review of The People vs. Larry Flynt, p. 20; January 20, 1997, Stanley Kauffmann, review of The People vs. Larry Flynt, p. 24; May 8, 2000, Jonathan Romney, review of Man on the Moon, pp. 41-42.
New Statesman, April 4, 1997, Marcel Berlins, review of The People vs. Larry Flynt, p. 36; April 11, 1997, Jonathan Coe, review of The People vs. Larry Flynt, pp. 40-41.
Newsweek, November 23, 1981; December 23, 1996, David Ansen, review of The People vs. Larry Flynt, p. 62, Jonathan Alter, "The Right to Be Wrong," p. 64.
New Yorker, April 16, 1979; November 23, 1981.
New York Times, October 23, 1966; September 30, 1968; March 23, 1971; April 18, 1971; May 14, 1971; November 11, 1971; November 23, 1971.
People, October 1, 1984, review of Amadeus, p. 14; October 8, 1984, John Stark, "Going Home to Prague to Film Amadeus Evokes Bittersweet Memories for Milos Forman," p. 113; January 20, 1997, Tom Gliatto, review of The People vs. Larry Flynt, p. 18.
Publishers Weekly, December 13, 1993, review of Turnaround, p. 53.
Reason, January, 1997, Charles Paul Freund, "Market Culture: Bashed and Unabashed," p. 54.
Sight & Sound, spring, 1985, review of Amadeus, pp. 142-143; March, 1997, Stella Bruzzi, review of The People vs. Larry Flynt, pp. 58-59; April, 2000, Leslie Felperin, review of Man on the Moon, p. 58.
Time, April 8, 1985, Gerald Clarke, "Eight Cheers for the Music Man," p. 74; July 8, 1985, Richard Corliss, "Magic Shadows from a Melting Pot," p. 92; November 20, 1989, Richard Schickel, review of Valmont, p. 92; March 18, 1996, Belinda Luscombe, "Sex, Lies and Free Speech," p. 101; December 30, 1996, Richard Corliss, review of The People vs. Larry Flynt, p. 140; December 31, 1999, Richard Schickel, review of Man on the Moon, p. 232.
Times Literary Supplement, November 29, 1991, Malcolm Bowie, "Rites of Passage Romp," p. 21; April 18, 1997, Adam Newey, review of The People vs. Larry Flynt, p. 18.
UNESCO Courier, July-August, 1995, interview with Forman, p. 18.
Variety, January 10, 2000, Steven Gaydos, "Forman Brings Euro Touch to U.S. Movies," p. 74; August 5, 2002, Cathy Dunkley, "Helmer Sifts through 'Embers' for Next Pic," p. 6; July 14, 2003, "Thesps Stoked for Forman's 'Embers,'" p. 2.
Video Business, September 30, 2002, interview with Forman, p. 6.
Director's Chair, http://www.industrycentral.net/director_interviews/ (January 28, 2005), Joseph McBride, interview with Forman.
Reel.com, http://www.reel.com/ (April 20, 2005), Ray Greene, "Milos Forman: The Man behind Man on the Moon."
Scene 360: The Film and Arts Online Magazine, http://www.scene360.com/ (April 20, 2005), biography of Forman.
The Directors: Milos Forman (film), Winstar Entertainment, 2000.*
Nationality: Czech. Born: Kaslov, Czechoslovakia, 18 February 1932, became U.S. citizen, 1975. Education: Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, Prague, and at Film Academy (FAMU), Prague, 1951–56. Family: Married 1) Jana Brejchová, 1951 (divorced, 1956); 2) Vera Kresadlova, 1964 (divorced), two sons (twins), Matej and Petr; 3) Martina Zborilova, 28 November 1999, two sons (twins), Andrew and James (b. 1998). Career: Collaborated on screenplay for Frič's Leave It to Me, 1956; theatre director for Laterna Magika, Prague, 1958–62; directed first feature, Black Peter, 1963; moved to New York, 1969, after collapse of Dubcek government in Czechoslovakia; co-director of Columbia University Film Division, from 1975. Awards: Czechoslovak Film Critics' Prize, for Black Peter, 1963; Grand Prix Locarno, for Black Peter, 1964; Czechoslovak State Prize, 1967; Grand Prize of the Jury, Cannes Film Festival, for Taking Off, 1971 (tied with Johnny Got His Gun); Oscar for Best Director, and Best Director Award, Directors Guild of America, and Silver Ribbon Award, Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists, for One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, 1975; Oscar for Best Director, for Amadeus,
1984; Golden Globe (USA) and Cesar (France) for Best Foreign Film, and Silver Ribbon, Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists, for Best Director, Foreign Film, for Amadeus, 1985; Golden Globe for Best Director, for The People vs. Larry Flynt, 1997; Outstanding European Achievement in World Cinema, European Film Awards, for The People vs. Larry Flynt, 1997 Golden Berlin Bear, Berlin International Film Festival, for The People vs Larry Flynt, 1997; Special Prize for Outstanding Contribution to World Cinema, Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, 1997; Silver Berlin Bear, Berlin International Film Festival, for Man on the Moon, 2000; Lifetime Achievement Award, Palm Springs International Film Festival, 2000. Agent: Robert Lantz, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10106, U.S.A. Address: Milos Forman, The Hampshire House, 150 Central Park South, New York, NY10019, U.S.A.
Films as Director:
Cerný Petr (Black Peter; Peter and Pavla); (+ co-sc); Konkurs (Talent Competition) (+ co-sc)
Lásky jedné plavovlásky (Loves of a Blonde) (+ co-sc); Dobrě placená procházka (A Well–Paid Stroll) (+ co-sc)
Hoří, má panenko (The Firemen's Ball) (+ co-sc)
Taking Off (+ co-sc)
"Decathlon" segment of Visions of Eight (+ co-sc)
One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest
People vs. Larry Flynt
The Little Black Book; Man on the Moon
Nechte to na mně (Leave It to Me) (Frič) (+ co-sc); Dědeček automobil (Old Man Motorcar) (Radok) (asst d, role)
Stěnata (The Puppies) (+ co-sc)
Tam za lesem (Beyond the Forest) (Blumenfeld) (asst d, role as the physician)
La Pine à ongles (Carrière) (+ co-sc)
Le Mâle du siècle (Berri) (story)
Heartburn (Nichols) (role)
New Year's Day (Jaglom) (role)
Dreams of Love (pr)
Why Havel? (Jasny) (narrator)
L'Envers du décor: Portrait de Pierre Guffoy (Salis) (role)
Heavy (Mangold) (misc. crew)
Who Is Henry Jaglom? (Rubin and Workman) (role, as Himself)
Cannesples 400 coups (Nadeau—for TV) (role, as Himself)
V centru filmu—v temple domova (Janecek and Marek—for TV) (role, as Himself)
Way Past Cool (Davidson) (pr); Keeping the Faith (Norton) (role)
By FORMAN: books—
Taking Off, with John Guare and others, New York, 1971.
Milos Forman, with others, London, 1972.
Turnaround: A Memoir, with Jan Novak, New York, 1994.
By FORMAN: articles—
"Closer to Things," in Cahiers du Cinéma in English (New York), January 1967.
Interview with Galina Kopaněvová, in Film a Doba (Prague), no. 8, 1968.
Interview, in The Film Director as Superstar, edited by Joseph Gelmis, New York, 1970.
"Getting the Great Ten Percent," an interview with Harriet Polt, in Film Comment (New York), Fall 1970.
"A Czech in New York," an interview with Gordon Gow, in Filmsand Filming (London), September 1971.
Interview in American Cinematographer (Los Angeles), November 1972.
Interview with L. Sturhahn, in Filmmakers Newsletter (Ward Hill, Massachusetts), December 1975.
"Milos Forman: An American Film Institute Seminar on His Work," 1977.
Interview with T. McCarthy, in Film Comment (New York), March/April 1979.
Interview with Michel Ciment, in Positif (Paris), July/August 1979.
"How Amadeus Was Translated from Play to Film," an interview with M. Kakutani, in New York Times, 16 September 1984.
"The Czech Bounces Back," interview with C. Hodenfeld in RollingStone (New York), 27 September 1984.
Interview with Michel Ciment, in Positif (Paris), November 1984.
Interview in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), November 1984.
Forman, Milos, "Celui a qui on pense en secret," in Cahiers duCinéma (Paris), December 1984.
Interview in Films (London), March 1985.
Interview with T.J. Slater, in Post Script (Jacksonville, Florida), Spring/Summer and Fall 1985.
"What's Wrong with Today's Films," an interview with J. Kearney, in American Film (Washington, D.C.), May 1986.
Interview in Première (Paris), July 1987.
Interview with Michel Ciment, in Positif (Paris), December 1989.
Forman, Milos, "L'opera muet," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), May 1991 (supplement).
Interview with Nell Scovell, in Vanity Fair (New York), February 1994.
Interview with Holly Millea, "Warning: Material Is of an Adult Nature. This Literature Is Not Intended for Minors" in Premiere (New York), December 1996.
Interview with Cédric Anger and Frédéric Strauss, in Cahiers duCinéma (Paris), February 1997.
"Porn Again: The People vs. Larry Flynt," an interview with Richard Porton, in Cineaste (New York), March 1997.
"Porn in the USA," an interview with David Eimer, in Time Out (London), 26 March 1997.
"Defender of the Artist and the Common Man," an interview with Kevin Lewis, in DGA Magazine (Los Angeles), March-April 1997.
Interview with Rachel Abramowitz, in Premiere (Boulder), January 2000.
Interview with Courtney Love, in Interview (New York), January 2000.
Interview with Ian Spelling, "Hello, My Name Is Andy and This Is My Feature," in Film Review (London), March 2000.
On FORMAN: books—
Boček, Jaroslav, Modern Czechoslovak Film 1945–1965, Prague, 1965.
Skvorecký, Josef, All the Bright Young Men and Women, Toronto, 1971.
Henstell, Bruce, editor, Milos Forman, Ingrid Thulin, Washington, D.C., 1972.
Liehm, Antonín, Closely Watched Films, White Plains, New York, 1974.
Liehm, Antonín, The Milos Forman Stories, White Plains, New York, 1975.
Vecchi, Paolo, Milos Forman, Florence, 1981
Slater, Thomas, Milos Forman: A Bio-Bibliography, New York, 1987.
Liehm, Antonin, Pribehy Milos Forman, Prague, 1993.
On FORMAN: articles—
Dyer, Peter, "Star-crossed in Prague," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1965/66.
Bor, Vladimír, "Formanovský film a nekteré předsudky" ["The Formanesque Film and Some Prejudices"], in Film a Doba (Prague), no. 1, 1967.
Effenberger, Vratislav, "Obraz človeka v českém film" ["The Portrayal of Man in the Czech Cinema"], in Film a Doba (Prague), no. 7, 1968.
"Director of the Year," International Film Guide (London and New York), 1969.
Combs, Richard, "Sentimental Journey," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1977.
Baker, B., "Milos Forman," in Film Dope (London), April 1979.
Cameron, J., "Milos Forman and Hair: Styling the Age of Aquarius," in Rolling Stone (New York), 19 April 1979.
Stein, H., "A Day in the Life: Milos Forman: Moment to Moment with the Director of Hair," in Esquire (New York), 8 May 1979.
Holloway, Ron, "Columbia U.'s Film School Now Attracts Europe's Helmers," in Variety (New York), 14 January 1981.
Buckley, T., "The Forman Formula," in New York Times, 1 March 1981.
Kennedy, Harlan, "Ragtime: Milos Forman Searches for the Right Key," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), December 1981.
Quart, Leonard, and Barbara Quart, "Ragtime without a Melody," in Literature-Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), vol. 10, no. 2, 1982.
Kamm, M., "Milos Forman Takes His Camera and Amadeus to
Prague," in New York Times, 29 May 1983.
Jacobson, H., "Mostly Mozart: As Many Notes as Required," in FilmComment (New York), September/October 1984.
Harmetz, Aljean, "Film Makers in a Race over Les liaisons," in NewYork Times, 10 February 1988.
"Four Who've Made It," in Variety (New York), 25 October 1989.
Dudar, Helen, "Milos Forman Takes a New Look at Old Loves," in New York Times, 12 November 1989.
Goodman, Walter, "Forman in His Own and Others' Words," in NewYork Times, 22 December 1989.
Warchol, T., "The Rebel Figure in Milos Forman's American Films," in New Orleans Review, 1990.
Wharton, Dennis, "Top Directors Get behind Film-labeling Legislation," in Variety, July 29, 1991.
Cohn, L., "A Tale of Two Expatriate Filmmakers," in Variety (New York), 29 January 1992.
Newman, Kim, review of People vs. Larry Flynt in Empire (London), May 1997.
Jensen, Jeff, "Moon Landing," in Entertainment Weekly (New York), 10 December 1999.
McCarthy, Todd, "'Moon' Trip Revelation: There's No There There," in Variety (New York), 13 December 1999.
Travers, Peter, "Man on the Moon," in Rolling Stone (New York), 30 December 1999.
On FORMAN: film—
Weingarten, Mira, Meeting Milos Forman, U.S., 1971.* * *
In the context of Czechoslovak cinema in the early 1960s, Milos Forman's first films (Black Peter and Talent Competition) amounted to a revolution. Influenced by Czech novelists who revolted against the establishment's aesthetic dogmas in the late 1950s rather than by Western cinema (though the mark of late neorealism, in particular Ermanno Olmi, is visible), Forman introduced to the cinema after 1948 (the year of the Communist coup) portrayals of working-class life untainted by the formulae of socialist realism.
Though Forman was fiercely attacked by Stalinist reviewers initially, the more liberal faction of the Communist Party, then in ascendancy, appropriated Forman's movies as expressions of the new concept of "socialist" art. Together with great box office success and an excellent reputation gained at international festivals, these circumstances transformed Forman into the undisputed star of the Czech New Wave. His style was characterized by a sensitive use of nonactors (usually coupled with professionals); refreshing, natural-sounding, semi-improvised dialogue that reflected Forman's intimate knowledge of the milieu he was capturing on the screen; and an unerring ear for the nuances of Czech folk-rock and music in general.
All these characteristic features of Forman's first two films are even more prominent in Loves of a Blonde, and especially in The Firemen's Ball. The latter film works equally well on one level as a realistic, humorous story and on an allegorical level that points to the aftermath of the Communist Party's decision to reveal some of the political crimes committed in the 1950s (the Slánský trial). In all these films—developed, except for Black Peter, from Forman's original ideas—he closely collaborated with scriptwriters Ivan Passer and Jaroslav Papousek, who later became directors in their own right.
Shortly after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, The Firemen's Ball was banned and Forman decided to remain in the West, where he was working on the script for what was to become the only film in which he would apply the principles of his aesthetic method and vision to indigenous American material, Taking Off. It is also his only American movie developed from his original idea; the rest are either adaptations or based on real events.
Traces of the pre-American Forman are easily recognizable in his most successful U.S. film, One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, which radically changed Ken Kesey's story and—just as in the case of Papousek's novel Black Peter—brought it close to the director's own objective and comical vision. The work received an Oscar in 1975. In that year Forman became an American citizen.
The Forman touch is much less evident in his reworking of the musical Hair, and almost—though not entirely—absent from his version of E.L. Doctorow's novel Ragtime. The same is true of the box-office smash hit and multiple Oscar winner Amadeus, and his later adaptation, Valmont. Of marginal importance are the two remaining parts of Forman's oeuvre, The Well-Paid Stroll, a jazz opera adapted from the stage for Prague TV, and Decathlon, his contribution to the 1972 Olympic documentary Visions of Eight. Forman is a merciless observer of the comedie humaine and has often been accused of cynicism, both in Czechoslovakia and in the West. To such criticisms he answers with the words of Chekhov, pointing out that what is cruel in the first place is life itself. But apart from such arguments, the rich texture of acutely observed life and the sensitive portrayal of and apparent sympathy for people as victims—often ridiculous—of circumstances over which they wield no power, render such critical statements null and void. Forman's vision is deeply rooted in the anti-ideological, realistic, and humanist tradition of such "cynics" of Czech literature as Jaroslav Hasek (The Good Soldier Svejk), Bohumil Hrabal (Closely Watched Trains) or Josef Skvorecký (whose novel The Cowards Forman was prevented from filming by the invasion of 1968).
Although the influence of Forman's filmmaking methods may be felt even in some North American films, his lasting importance will, very probably, rest with his three Czech movies. Taking Off, a valiant attempt to show America to Americans through the eyes of a sensitive, if caustic, foreign observer, should be added to this list as well. After the mixed reception of this film, however, Forman turned to adaptations of best sellers and stage hits.
In the early 1990s Forman was inactive as a director, with a gap of almost seven years between Valmont and People vs. Larry Flynt. Valmont attempted to capture the spirit of his smash hit Amadeus but suffers in the comparison. Moreover, it was released after Stephen Frears' superior Dangerous Liaisons, adapted from the same Choderlos de Laclos novel. Forman remains an outstanding craftsman and a first-class actors' director; however, in the context of American cinema he does not represent the innovative force he was in Prague.
Nevertheless, in the late 1990s he has returned to something like his earlier form with the somewhat idealistic People vs. Larry Flynt, the story of a pornographer's efforts to keep his magazine on the newsstands in a fight for freedom of speech. The more melancholy Man on the Moon is a biographical film about the comedian Andy Kaufman, who died of cancer aged thirty-five, after a turbulent career that saw him first lauded and then dumped by TV networks nervous about his erratic style. Both films have re-established Forman as an arch commentator on American popular culture.
Besides filmmaking, Forman has also been involved in the academic world in recent years, accepting a position as professor of film and co-chair of the film division at Columbia University's School of the Arts. He also appeared onscreen in several small roles, such as Catherine O'Hara's husband in Mike Nichols' Heartburn, in which he was reunited with his One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest star, Jack Nicholson, and, oddly enough, as an apartment house janitor in Henry Jaglom's New Years' Day. He has appeared as himself in several documentaries.
—Josef Skvorecký, updated by Rob Edelman and Chris Routledge
Forman, Milos 1932–
Forman, Milos 1932–
First name pronounced "Mee-losh"; original name, Jan Tomas Forman; born February 18, 1932, in Caslav, Czechoslovakia; immigrated to the United States, 1968; naturalized citizen, November 30, 1977; son of Rudolf (a professor) and Anna (maiden name, Svabova) Forman (both died in German concentration camps during World War II); raised by family members; married Jana Brejchova (an actress), 1951 (divorced, 1956); married Vera Kresadlova (a singer), 1964 (divorced, 1999); married Martina Zborilova (Forman's film crew assistant), November 28, 1999; children: (second marriage) Matej and Petr (twins); (third marriage) Andrew and James (twins). Education: Studied screenwriting at the Film Institute at the University of Prague, 1950–55; also studied at the Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, Prague, and Laterna Magika, Prague, 1958–62.
Career: Director, producer, writer, and actor. Directed documentaries for Czech television, 1954–56; worked as an assistant writer and director with Laterna Magika (Magic Lantern, theater group), 1958–62; Columbia University, New York City, co-director film studies, 1975–, film professor, 1978–; Cannes Film Festival, 1972, 1985.
Member: Director's Guild of America (Guild's President Committee, 1986–).
Awards, Honors: Czechoslovak Film Critics Award, and first prize, Locarno Film Festival, 1963, both for Peter and Pavla; Golden Sail Award, best feature film, Locarno International Film Festival, 1964, for Black Peter; Grand Prix Award, 17th International Film Festival, Locarno, 1964; Academy Award nomination, best foreign film, Golden Lion Award nomination, Venice Film Festival, 1965, French Film Academy Award, best film, 1966, Bodil Award, best European film, Bodil Festival, 1967, all for Loves of a Blonde; Jussi Award, best foreign director, 1967, for Black Peter and Loves of a Blonde; Academy Award nomination, best foreign film, 1967, for The Fireman's Ball; Grand Prize of the Jury and Golden Film Award nomination, Cannes International Film Festival, 1971, Writers Guild of America Award screen nomination (with Jean-Claude Carriere, John Guare and John Klein), best comedy written directly for the screen, Film Award nominations, best screenplay (with Jean-Claude Carriere, John Guare and John Klein), best director, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, Bodil Award, best American film, Bodil Festival, 1972, all for Taking Off; Academy Award, best director, Directors Guild of America Award (with others), outstanding directorial achievement in motion pictures, 1975, Golden Globe Award, best director—motion picture, Silver Ribbon Award, best director—foreign film, Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists, Bodil Award, best American film, David di Donatello Award, best director—foreign film, 1976, Film Award, best direction, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, Reader's Choice Award, best foreign language film director, Kinema Junpo, Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award, best director, Cesar Award nomination, best foreign film, 1977, all for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest; David di Donatello Award, best director—foreign film, 1979, Cesar Award nomination, best foreign film, 1980, both for Hair; Golden Globe Award nomination, best director—motion picture, 1982, for Ragtime; Academy Award, best director, Directors Guild of America Award (with Michael Hausman), outstanding directorial achievement in motion pictures, Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award, best director, 1984, Golden Globe Award, best director—motion picture, Cesar Award, best foreign film, Silver Ribbon Award, best director—foreign film, Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists, Robert Award, best foreign film, Jussi Award, best foreign filmmaker, Joseph Plateau Award, best director, David di Donatello Award, best director—foreign film, Amanda Award, best foreign feature film, 1985, Film Award nomination (with Saul Zaentz), best film, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, Kinema Junpo Award, best foreign language film, Guild Film Award—Gold, foreign film, 1986, DVD Premiere Award nomination (with Peter Shaffer), best audio commentary, library release, 2003, all for Amadeus; Cesar Award nomination, best director, 1990, for Valmont; Freedom of Expression Award (with Oliver Stone), National Board of Review, 1996, Academy Award nomination, best director, Golden Globe Award, best director—motion picture, Golden Bear award, Berlin Film Festival, European Film Award, outstanding European Achievement in World Cinema, 1997, Czech Lion Award nomination, Czech Film and Television Academy, best foreign language film, 1998, all for The People vs. Larry Flynt; John Huston Award, Artists Rights Foundation, 1997; Special Prize for Outstanding Contribution to World Cinema, Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, 1997; Artistic Achievement Award, Czech Film and Television Academy, 1998; Lifetime Achievement Award, Palm Springs International Film Festival, 2000; CineMerit Award, Munich Film Festival, 2000; Silver Berlin Bear, best director, and Golden Berlin Bear Award nomination, Berlin International Film Festival, 2000, Czech Lion Award nomination, best foreign language film, 2001, all for Man on the Moon; Film Society Award for Lifetime Achievement in Directing, San Francisco International Film Festival, 2004; Billy Wilder Award, National Board of Review, 2004.
Il laterna magika (also known as Magic Lantern II), 1960.
Kdyby Ty Muziky Nebyly (also known as The Glory of the Brass Bands, If It Weren't for Music, If There Were No Music, and Why Do We Need All the Brass Bands?), 1963.
Audition (also known as Konkurs; composed of two short films, If Only They Ain't Had Them Bands and Talent Competition), 1963.
Black Peter (also known as Cerny Petr and Peter and Pavla), 1963.
Loves of a Blonde (also known as Lasky jedne plavovlasky and A Blonde in Love), Prominent, 1966.
The Firemen's Ball (also known as Hori, ma panenko, Al fuoco pompieri!, Fuoco, ragazza mia, The Fireman's Ball and Lottery, and Like a House on Fire), Cinema V, 1967.
Taking Off, Universal, 1971.
I Miss Sonia Henie (also known as Nedostaje mi Sonja Henie), 1971.
"The Decathlon," Visions of Eight (documentary; also known as Munchen 1972–8 beruhmte Regisseure sehen die Spiele der XX. Olympiade, Olympiade Munchen 1972, and Olympic Visions), Cinema V, 1973.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, United Artists, 1975.
Hair, United Artists, 1979.
Ragtime, Paramount, 1981.
Amadeus (also known as Peter Shaffer's "Amadeus"), Orion, 1984.
Valmont, Orion, 1989.
The People vs. Larry Flynt (also known as Larry Flynt), Columbia, 1996.
The Little Black Book, Universal, 1998.
Man on the Moon (also known as Andy Kaufman and Der Mondmann), Universal, 1999.
Goya's Ghosts, 2006.
Film Work; Other:
First assistant director, Stenata, 1957.
Second assistant director, Dedecek automobil, 1957.
Assistance, Voices from the Attic, Siren Pictures, 1988.
Producer, Dreams of Love, 1990.
Executive producer, Way Past Cool, Redeemable Features/Act III Communications/Price1, 2000.
Executive producer, Nomad, 2004.
Stribrny vitr (also known as Strieborny vietor and The Silver Wind), 1954.
Dedecek automobil, 1957.
Himself, Meeting Milos Forman, Macmillan Films, 1971.
Himself, Chytilova Versus Forman (documentary), 1981.
Before the Nickelodeon: The Cinema of Edwin S. Porter (documentary), First Run Features, 1982.
Himself, Chytilova Versus Forman, 1984.
Himself, 50 Years of Action!, 1986.
Dmitri, Heartburn, Paramount, 1986.
Lazlo-the landlord, New Year's Day, International Rainbow, 1989.
Narrator, Why Havel? (documentary), 1991.
Behind the Scenes: A Portrait of Pierre Guffroy (documentary; also known as L'Envers du decors: Portrait de Pierre Guffroy), Ariane Distribution, 1992.
Himself, Who Is Henry Jaglom? (documentary), First Run Features, 1997.
Himself, Completely Cuckoo (documentary; also known as The Making of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"), Warner Home Video, 1997.
Father Havel, Keeping the Faith, Buena Vista, 2000.
Himself, In the Shadow of Hollywood (documentary; also known as A l'ombre d'Hollywood), National Film Board of Canada, 2000.
Himself, Man on the Moon: Behind the Moonlight (documentary short; also known as Spotlight on Location: Man on the Moon), Universal Studios Home Video, 2000.
Himself, The Making of "Amadeus" (documentary), Warner Home Video, 2002.
Himself, A Decade Under the Influence (documentary), IFC Films, 2003.
Himself, Charlie: The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin (documentary), 2003.
Himself, Tell Them Who You Are (documentary), Think-Film, 2004.
Himself, Francois Truffaut, an Autobiography, 2004.
Himself, Cineastes contra magnats (documentary), Canonigo Films, 2005.
Television Appearances; Miniseries:
Interviewee, Cold War, CNN, 1998.
Television Director; Movies:
Dobre placena prochazka, 1966.
Television Appearances; Specials:
The 48th Annual Academy Awards, ABC, 1976.
James Cagney: That Yankee Doodle Dandy (documentary), 1981.
The 57th Annual Academy Awards, ABC, 1985.
The Statue of Liberty (documentary), PBS, 1985.
The Way We Wear (documentary), PBS, 1988.
Milos Forman: Portrait (documentary), PBS, 1989.
American Tribute to Vaclav Havel and a Celebration of Democracy in Czechoslovakia, PBS, 1990.
Havel's Audience with History, PBS, 1990.
The Republic Pictures Story (documentary), AMC, 1991.
Drawn from Memory, PBS, 1995.
Cannes … Les 400 Coups, 1997.
The 69th Annual Academy Awards, ABC, 1997.
Inside the Academy Awards, TNT, 1997.
Charlie Chaplin: A Tramp's Life (documentary), Arts and Entertainment, 1998.
One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest (documentary), The Learning Channel, 1998.
Himself, V centru filmu-v teple domova (also known as In the Center of Film—In the Warmth of Home), 1998.
Himself, Eigentlich ist nichts geschehen-Der Film des Prager Fruhlings, 1998.
Himself, Milos Forman: Kino ist Wahrheit, 2000.
The Beatles Revolution (documentary), 2000.
(Uncredited) Himself, Hollywood Rocks the Movies: The 1970s, 2002.
AFI's 100 Years … 100 Heroes & Villains (also known as AFI's 100 Years, 100 Heroes & Villains: America's Greatest Screen Characters), CBS, 2003.
Voice of himself, A Room Nearby, PBS, 2003.
Francois Truffaut, une autobiographie, 2004.
San Sebastian 2005: Cronica de Carlos Boyero, 2005.
Television Appearances; Episodic:
Late Night with David Letterman, NBC, 1986.
Mundo VIP, 1997.
Himself, Paskvil, 1997.
Himself, "Saul Zaentz: A Tribute," The South Bank Show, ITV, 1998.
Conversations in World Cinema, Sundance, 2000.
Himself, Cinema mil, 2005.
Also appeared as himself, "The Films of Milos Forman," The Directors, Encore.
The Little Black Book, Helen Hayes Theatre, New York City, 1972.
Nechte to na mne (also known as Leave It to Me), 1955.
Laterna magika II (also known as Magic Lantern II), 1960.
Kdyby ty muziky nebyly (also known as If It Weren't for Music, If There Were No Music, The Glory of the Brass Bands, and Who Do We Need All the Brass Bands?), 1963.
Audition (also known as Konkurs and Competition), 1963.
Black Peter (also known as Cerny Petr and Peter and Pavla), 1963.
Loves of a Blonde (also known as Lasky jedne plavovlasky and A Blonde in Love), 1965.
Dedecek automobil, 1965.
The Firemen's Ball (also known as Hori, ma panenko, Al fuoco pompieri!, Fuoco, ragazza mia, The Firemen's Ball and Lottery, and Like a House on Fire), 1967.
The Nail Clippers (also known as La pince a ongles), 1969.
Taking Off, Universal, 1971.
Valmont, Orion, 1989.
Goya's Ghosts, 2006.
(With Jan Novak) Turnaround: A Memoir, Villard Books, 1994.
Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vol. 63, Thompson Gale, 2005.
Dizdarevic, Jasmin, Konkurs na rezisera Milose Formana, AG Kult (Prague), 1990.
Foll, January, Milos Forman, Cs. Filmovy ustav (Prague), 1989.
International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, Volume 2: Directors, 4th ed., St. James Press, 2000.
Slater, Thomas J., Milos Forman: A Bio-Bibliography, Greenwood Press, 1987.
A master of ironic comedy and sumptuous period dramas, film director Milos Forman (born 1932) has won two Academy Awards for directing the year's best pictures in 1975 and 1984. His works show a humanist empathy for people as victims of cruel systems over which they have little control.
Milos Forman was born on February 18, 1932 in Caslav, Czechoslovakia. His father, Rudolf, was a Jewish professor of education, while his mother, Ann Svabova, was a Protestant. Forman's parents introduced him to the cinema when he was a young boy, and he fell in love with American classics such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and the westerns of John Ford. Forman was orphaned at the age of nine, when his parents died in Nazi concentration camps. His older brother Pavel, hunted by the Nazi secret police, took a job designing stage sets for a theater troupe that staged operettas. His brother took Forman backstage. "It was a revelation to me and I decided there and then that the theater, this other world, would be my life," he later recalled.
In 1951, Forman enrolled at the Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts in Prague. That same year, he married actress Jana Brejchova. The marriage ended in divorce five years later, at the time Forman graduated from the Academy.
For several years, Forman worked in mixed-media "magic lantern" theater productions in Prague. His first film work was as a screenwriter for the film Automobil in 1956. He also worked as an assistant director on several films and was a writer and director for Czech television. In every medium, he had to wrestle with the Communist government's restrictions on art.
Forman's Czech films were fresher and less constrained than most Eastern European films of the era. Heavily influenced by Italian neo-realists, Forman liked stories of ordinary people and often used non-professional actors and improvised dialogue.
Three of Forman's movies were released in the West in the 1960s, displaying to the world his sardonic wit. They owed much stylistically to silent American comedies. Chaplin, Forman has said, was a big influence. His 1963 feature film, Black Peter, is the story of a disillusioned store detective. Next came Loves of a Blonde, an unorthodox romantic comedy, followed by The Firemen's Ball, a deft satire about a ceremony for a retiring fire chief which is interrupted by a beauty contest, a marching band, a raffle, a copulating couple, and an actual fire. Misunderstanding the humor, 40,000 Czech firemen walked off their jobs after the release of The Firemen's Ball, and Forman had to publicly apologize. Besides being a disarming comedy, the film was a satire on Stalinist excesses of the 1950s, with the firemen's bosses serving as a metaphor for the Czech government.
Though his work was at first attacked by Stalinist critics, it was soon embraced by the more liberal faction of the Communist Party that held power at the time in Czechoslovakia. Success at the box office in his own country and recognition at international film festivals made Forman the leader of a Czech cinematic "New Wave" that coincided with the radically humanist films coming out of other European countries.
Political events soon interfered with Forman's career and family. In 1964, he married singer Vera Kresadlova, and they had two children, Petr and Matej. Forman was scouting locations in Paris when Soviet troops rolled into Czechoslovakia in 1967. Forman decided to stay in the West, leaving behind his wife and two young sons. He was concerned about being imprisoned if he returned to his home. Vaclav Havel, later president of the Czech Republic and a close friend, became his hero for staying, resisting the invaders, and going to jail. The Soviet-backed regime which took power immediately banned The Firemen's Ball.
Triumphed in Hollywood
Forman came to Hollywood with a solid reputation but little command of the English language and few marketable ideas. He was unable to interest producers in a fanciful project that would have starred Jimmy Durante as a wealthy bear hunter in Czechoslovakia, or in an adaptation of Franz Kafka's scathing political satire, Amerika. In 1969, Forman made his first American film, Taking Off, which he co-wrote with playwright John Guare and others. Based on a newspaper story, Taking Off was a subversive comic examination of the generation gap through the eyes of a conservative couple whose hippie daughter had run away to Greenwich Village. His only American film based on his own original idea, it was a critical success, but did poorly at the box office. Forman had trouble getting funding for other projects. In 1972, he directed one-eighth of an ensemble film about the Olympics called Visions of Eight, his segment focusing on decathalon athletes.
Forman spent the rest of his career working on literary or theatrical adaptations. In 1975, he came seemingly out of nowhere to direct a major success with a Bo Goldman screenplay adapted from a 1962 Ken Kesey novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The film, which took great liberties with the Kesey story, was a huge commercial hit and swept the top five Academy Awards—best picture, director, screenplay, actor, and actress. That had been done only once before, with Frank Capra's It Happened One Night, in 1935. Oscars went to Jack Nicholson for his role as irrepressible con artist Randall P. McMurphy who works scams at a mental hospital and to Louise Fletcher for her performance as the stern nurse who battles against him. Like much of Forman's work, the movie is a portrait of an individual struggling against the system. Filmed at the Oregon State Hospital, it contained many segments with a quasi-documentary look.
In many of his films, Forman displayed an affinity for music. In 1965, he had adapted a jazz opera, The Well-Paid Stroll, for Czech television. In 1979, Forman filmed a long-anticipated film adaptation of the quintessential youth counter-culture musical Hair. However, he missed the opportunity to cast a young singer named Madonna, who was on the cusp of stardom, and the film seemed sadly anachronistic to most critics and many viewers.
Forman's next project was a film of E.L. Doctorow's historical novel, Ragtime, a handsomely mounted, wide-ranging examination of events of early 20th century America. Released in 1981, it garnered mixed reviews. David Thomson, author of A Biographical Dictionary of Film, called it "an underrated film, true to Doctorow, complex and challenging, a movie about a time and its ideas."
Ragtime was the first of three period pieces which Forman would direct in the 1980s. He returned to top form in 1984 with Amadeus, a moody, bracing biography of the composer Mozart, adapted by Peter Shaffer from his own stage play. It won eight Oscars, including best director and picture and a best actor award for F. Murray Abraham, who played Mozart's oily nemesis, Salieri. Filmed in Prague, the film is a lavish, lustrous, assured and mature but eccentric work. At 52, with two awards for best director in a ten-year period, Forman seemed to be at the pinnacle of his career. Few at the time would have imagined he would direct only two more feature films in the remainder of the century.
A Slow Pace
Despite his success, Forman seemed content to work sparingly and slowly. As a film student, he had read the sexually charged historical novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos and had always wanted to film it. However, he was beat by director Stephen Fears, who signed big-name stars for his 1988 release Dangerous Liaisons. A year later, Forman's version of the story, entitled Valmont,/] was released, with a much less famous cast. Some felt it was better than the Fears film, which was generally regarded as cold. Most critics and audiences, however, were not impressed. While complaining that it was not very erotic, Playboy's Bruce Williamson called Valmont a "spectacularly filmed, sumptuously costumed, visual feast." Critic Stuart Klawans derided the film as the equivalent of "Wet T-Shirt Night at Lou's Ancien Regime," saying Forman "removed the danger from the liaisons, leaving the viewer with a long, lavish snooze of a picture."
In his post-Amadeus days, Forman seemed more interested in his academic duties at Columbia than in making movies. He appeared as an actor in several films, including a small role in Heartburn in 1986, a cameo as a janitor in New Year's Day in 1989, and a part in Disclosure, a film he was originally enlisted to direct. He also penned a memoir, Turnaround, released in 1994.
Forman mounted a comeback of sorts with the controversial 1996 film, The People vs. Larry Flynt. The film makes an unorthodox hero out of a pornographic magazine publisher who wages a long battle over his free-speech rights. Forman's sympathy toward his crude, annoying protagonist (played by Woody Harrelson) is obvious and probably can be traced to his early struggles against Communist censors. Newsweek 's Jonathan Alter said The People vs. Larry Flynt was "proof that raunchy entertainment can be highly educational" and called it "a socially important film" that illustrates the complexities of free speech rights. Film critic Stanley Kauffmann complained that Forman softened the rough edges of the story even while bringing out the best in his unusual cast.
Shot in Memphis, Tennessee, the film uses many Memphis citizens, both professionals and non-actors, including a local judge, D'Army Bailey, who plays a judge. Flynt himself plays another judge. Equally idiosyncratic was Forman's decision to use rock star Courtney Love to play Flint's wife, Althea Leasure. The studio wanted a rising young star such as Mira Sorvino to play Mrs. Flynt, but Forman wanted a fresher face. He tested Love and two others and sent the tests to Vaclav Havel and a few other close friends. Havel said he liked Love the best, and Forman agreed. Her performance was well-received.
Forman generally has been considered an actors' director. His films, while richly realized and warmly humane, are not generally regarded as highly innovative. Some critics say he does not have a coherent style. Kauffmann contends that "one can't speak of a Forman film, only a film by Forman." But no one could dispute that Forman's successes were prodigious ones, and all his films are richly staged.
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UNESCO Courier, July-August, 1995.
Vanity Fair, February 1994. □
FORMAN, MILOS (1932– ), Czech-American film director. Forman's early years were spent in a town near Prague, where his father was a teacher. Both his parents, including his non-Jewish mother, were murdered in Auschwitz. In 1963 he made Black Peter, in 1964, Loves of a Blonde, a film distributed and internationally acclaimed. The Fireman's Ball (1968), a wry treatment of Czech bureaucracy, effected its own irony when it caused 40,000 fireman to quit after Novotny released the film. All were appeased when Forman offered his own critical interpretation (a parody in itself) of the film as broad allegory. Forman moved to Hollywood in 1970 and subsequently directed such films as Taking Off (1971), One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), which was only the second film in cinema history to win all five major Academy Awards, Hair (1979), Ragtime (1981), Amadeus (1984), which again won Forman Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director, and Valmont (1989). Later films include The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996) and Manon the Moon (1999).