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Rock Me, Milos Forman!

April 20, 2010

Silence tells me secretly...everything

Milos Forman, like Hal Ashby and Barbet Schroeder (Reversal of Fortune) is a director whose work and themes I thoroughly enjoy, yet have never managed to gather my thoughts about him in any legitimate way.

PBS Masters said of Milos:

Throughout his career, Czechoslovakian-born filmmaker Milos Forman has combined a unique sensitivity to American themes with the best of European cinematic sensibilities. His films include such successful American releases as ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (1975), HAIR (1979), RAGTIME (1981), and AMADEUS (1983). Forman is among only a handful of filmmakers whose body of work represents a constant artistic integrity with broad popular appeal.

A million times YES. When trying to articulate my thoughts regarding Forman, I kept coming back to his ability to capture a sense of American Jingoism without mock or judgment, something I often find cheesy when the same elements are used in an Oliver Stone film.

Forman blipped for me in mid 80s, when like most of my classmates at Wiesbaden American Middle School I became enchanted by song called Rock Me Amadeus and to a lesser degree the film Amadeus. If you thought its infectious hook and indecipherable lyrics were inescapable in the states, try living in West Germany during its release. Yeah, you’d be calling Vienna too and perhaps seeking out Der Kommisar – the real version. And wasn’t Frau Horne thrilled to read thirty earnest reports about Falco, written in shaky German, after assigning a report on Mozart. Naturally, my sister and I were only the eleventy billionth people to sing the chorus while walking around the real Mozart house in Salzbury. Well played, kid Snarky’s Machine.

Two little brown girls walk into Mozart’s house…stop me if you’ve heard this one.

Oh oh eh oh oh eh oh oh eh...Amadeus

The film introduced me to Forman but I could in no way count myself as a fan. I knew the film was important and thus like broccoli I resigned myself to consume it. I recognized this quality entertainment while secretly cursing quality entertainment for being so constipated and wearing such powdery wigs.

Enter my 70s Anti-hero phase. This would have been right around age 16 – ripe age for rebellion. For me this meant bad fashion choices, friendships of a fatuous nature and of course, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. You might be asking yourself, “Where were this child’s parents?” and my answer is: if the worst thing your kid’s doing is watching a lot of Altman films, writing fan letters to TV’s Hawk-eye and reading Ken Kesey’s masterpiece, you’re probably ahead of the game. Maybe that kid will grow up to be a writer!

Blood on TV and movies nowadays doesn’t seem to traumatize me the way that 70s era blood did. Its color, consistency and judicious use often made me sick to my stomach. Even now I have be to real careful with this Forman classic, though I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention its impact on my cinematic education.

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The People Vs. Larry Flynt was the first Forman film I actually saw in the theater on opening night. I remember seeing his name splash across the screen, nudging my friend and going, “Hey that guy directed HAIR!!!” and her not being remotely impressed. I remember being floored by the stylistic elements of the film, the many Milosian touches and of course the stellar performances by Woody Harrelson and Larry Flynt himself as a snarky judge. Okay, Cromwell rocked me as Charles Keating too! That shot of Cromwell-as-Keating’s oily smile then a pause then a zoom on his name tag made the entire audience gasp then chuckle. BRILLIANT.

And that brings me to Hair, which I wrote about previously. And by previously I mean early today. The emphasis there was to examine my own relationship with the musical and numerous drug busts, which basically derailed my first production; Forman was only mentioned in relation to his work on the film.

But this is the culmination of me getting Forman. Seeing the way he captures both the truisms of American life and the folly of it. The last scene in the movie – Let the Sunshine, in the pic featured up top – presents stunning and chilling images of young boys, many of color and probably most of working class or poor backgrounds marching in precision into what looks at times to be a meat grinder.

Wasn’t it though?

That image has stayed with me evoking that level of intensity since I originally watched the film over twenty five years ago. When I think of Mr. Milos – and I often do – I picture an old world craftsperson working in a shop carving items for sale at market. I picture slow and careful movement of fingers, the dance of shavings falling to the ground and the simple yet elegant results of his labor.

That right there is what Forman does best.

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ETA: hilarious email begged me to change the title, so I did

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9 Comments
  1. April 20, 2010 4:20 pm

    I loved Amadeus, I had it on VHS and I would watch it over and over. I had an obsession with Mozart, I would check out books on him at the library and then rewrite them, making them about me and writing. I also did that with Entertainment Weekly articles and acting/singing.

    One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is what prompted me to have an advance directive prohibiting them from giving me ECT. Scared the shit out of me.

  2. April 20, 2010 4:22 pm

    One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is what prompted me to have an advance directive prohibiting them from giving me ECT. Scared the shit out of me.

    Yeah, that movie left a lot to be desired as far as psychiatric treatment was concerned.

    I loved Amadeus, I had it on VHS and I would watch it over and over. I had an obsession with Mozart, I would check out books on him at the library and then rewrite them, making them about me and writing. I also did that with Entertainment Weekly articles and acting/singing.

    I did something similar except I would have my sister “interview” me and gave answers cribbed from The Mike Douglas Show.

  3. April 20, 2010 7:53 pm

    “You might be asking yourself, “Where were this child’s parents?” and my answer is: if the worst thing your kid’s doing is watching a lot of Altman films, writing fan letters to TV’s Hawk-eye and reading Ken Kesey’s masterpiece, you’re probably ahead of the game. Maybe that kid will grow up to be a writer!”

    You. Are. My. Hero.

    Seriously, I’m this close to busting out a Wind Beneath My Wings video.

  4. April 20, 2010 9:17 pm

    You. Are. My. Hero.

    Seriously, I’m this close to busting out a Wind Beneath My Wings video.

    That is so freaking sweet! Definitely make me blushy.

  5. Hsofia permalink
    April 20, 2010 9:52 pm

    I love the vignettes of kid Snarkysmachine and her sister. There should be a movie, where they foil the dastardly plots of international jewel thieves. I would buy that, and get a copy for my nieces.

  6. badhedgehog permalink
    April 21, 2010 4:33 am

    There is a Facebook campaign to get “Rock Me, Amadeus” played instead of the Austrian national anthem whenever the Austrian-owned Red Bull team win a Formula 1 Grand Prix.

  7. April 21, 2010 7:06 am

    After reading this I started looking at Forman’s IMDB entry, and sallied over to the cast list for Ragtime. OMG, it reads like a passing the torch ceremony for some great actors of a more mature generation (as I get older I’m getting more sensitive to ageist language, see what I did there?) — Cagney, O’Brien, O’Connor (whoa, all Irish?) — to some new hotness: Mandy Patinkin, Debbie Allen and Samuel L. Motherfucking Jackson. And it’s got a whole lot of my favorite character actors, like Michael Jeter, Mary Steenbergen, Fran Drescher, John Ratzenberger and my favorite snivelling lackey Brad Dourif.

    I’ve seen a lot of Forman’s other (English language) work but not this film which I think I really need to see.

  8. IrishUp permalink
    April 21, 2010 12:17 pm

    “Naturally, my sister and I were only the eleventy billionth people to sing the chorus while walking around the real Mozart house in Salzbury”

    HAHAHA! How could you not? (Also, you have a y for a g, and now I have “Solsbury Hill” badradiohead.)

    FWIW, I once asked Bob Spaethling (http://www.librarything.com/author/spaethlingrobert) what he thought of “Amadeus”. Many of the classical music people I knew were sort of appalled – starchy Boston Brahman types. Bob was firmly of the opinion that not only was the characterization right, but that the man who would sign letters with dirty puns on “Gottleib” , would have enjoyed it.

    Before this post, I never realized how many Milos Forman movies I’ve seen and loved. Thank you for putting this together.

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