Milos Forman, Jan Novak: What do I know? An honest look at the life and artistic career of a global director

Bed :
Jan Vlasak

Prepared by:
Jana Soprova

Directed by:
Marketa Jahodova

Checked in:
In 1994

Miloš Forman opens a look at his life and his artistic career to readers with honesty and objectivity, as he usually tells in his films. His childhood was marked by war. He was born on February 18, 1932 in Čáslav in the family of a teacher as the youngest of three brothers. However, he soon lost his parents – his father was arrested by the Gestapo for membership in the resistance group and his mother soon after for distributing anti-Reich leaflets. Both later died in a concentration camp. In his autobiography, Forman notes: “My parents were patriots and more or less died because of it. Some of that tribal feeling seeped into me, and when I suddenly found myself far from my country, my culture – and also from family stranded in Prague, it drew me in again. »

He spent part of the war with his relatives, after which he entered a boarding school for war orphans in Poděbrady, where his classmates and later friends were Václav Havel, the Mašín brothers or Ivan Passer. He then studied screenwriting at FAMU in Prague and already during his studies he worked as an assistant director and assistant to Alfred Radok. Until 1968, he directed several successful films in Czechoslovakia with cinematographer Miroslav Ondříček.

The 1963 audition has already attracted attention: at that time, together with friends Jiří Suchý and Jiří Šlitr, they organized a “fake audition” for young singers at the Semafor Theater. The documentary captured various moments including fear and embarrassment, it was a de facto black humorous view of society characteristic of other films as well. Among them, Černý Petr, which, to the surprise of its creator, won the first prize at the Locarno International Film Festival, L’Amour d’une blonde and, of course, Burning, My Doll from 1967, both nominated for an Oscar. The same year, Miloš Forman received permission to travel to the United States to direct his first American film, Taking Off. Only a year later, however, the Soviet occupation took place and the director decided what to do next. At that time he still had a US visa, unlike his wife Věra Křesadlová, who eventually decided to stay in Czechoslovakia with her twin children Petr and Matěj. The director therefore moved to New York and occasionally visited Czechoslovakia, most recently in 1970.

I have always done everything in my life to win.

Milos Forman

But the 1971 film Take Off flopped. Although he won the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, he did not make a living in cinemas. But Milos Forman didn’t want to give up. “Were my shooting instincts too Czech? Anyway, I had to change my working style,” he later said. Changing your appearance and your work has paid off. The next film, Flying Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), starring Jack Nicholson, won five Oscars. Then come Hair (1979) and Ragtime (1981) then Amadeus, for which he won a Forman Oscar in the director category. The film turned 8 out of 13 nominations into golden statuettes, for example Theodor Pištěk for the costumes and Karel Černý for its scenography.

Filming of the film Amadeus, Miloš Forman, 1984

In the book What I Know, Miloš Forman recalls the awards ceremony: “I felt my pressure building – I wanted my name on the cover, but at the same time I was already putting my chin on a blow of disappointment. Spotlights burned on my face, and I braced myself for my resigned smile, concentrating on the piece of paper Spielberg was pulling from the envelope. “And he gets an Oscar for directing…” He left a dramatic pause during which I decided I didn’t even want that Oscar, because that morning I felt the sight of a hundred million eyes. hitting me, the entire planet staring at me, and I, startled suddenly the image of all those dogged photographers, intrusive admirers and scholars froze in a panic attack. Eventually Spielberg looked my way and called me to him. At that moment, the flow of emotions changed, and I felt a flood of warm happiness, a beautiful electric shock that threw me out of my seat, and I rushed onto the stage and stained emotion flashed around me, an unreal room, Spielberg like a shadow shaking my hand, and then I hold in the hands of a heavy Oscar, a guarantee of independence, other films that I make in my own way , the certainty of an even freer life.”

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Forman was no longer able to top Amadeo’s success, but other films were also successful. Some of them are more critical than the audience, like Valmont, an adaptation of the novel Dangerous Acquaintances. This was followed by People vs. Larry Flynt, The Man on the Moon and Goya’s Ghosts. In April 2007, a new staging of Jiří Suchý and Jiří Šlitr’s jazz opera A Well-Paid Walk, co-directed with his son Petr Forman, premiered at the National Theater in Prague. “I really love working in the editing room and I really love watching the story continue to come together from the disjointed pieces of the film strip,” Forman says in the book. Its readers, on the other hand, enjoy composing a story about an extraordinary destiny. We read about cinema, actors, people, work, victories and defeats, the essence of Forman’s life.

“I have always done everything in my life to win,” says the director. “The will to win is one of my main driving forces and I also pay attention to it in others. When perhaps the greatest athlete of all time, Michael Jordan, managed to bring his basketball team to the highest goals with sheer force of will and mastery, he cried with happiness. But in my opinion, the crying did not express any pure happiness with which one inflates like a balloon and rises to heaven. On the contrary, I saw in him the happy satisfaction of the man who had finally obtained his relief, the relief that all the lingering toil was over, and the knowledge that the next victory would be even more difficult. hard-fought from a stranger who extracted what was inside and received a reward.”

The biography was first published in Czech in 1994. In 2007 an extended edition of the autobiography was published, covering memories from the filming of People versus Larry Flynt, Man on the Moon and Goya’s Phantoms. The completed third edition of 2013 also traces the events of the director’s last years, his marriage to Martina Formanová and the director’s eighties.

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