Rock Me, Milos Forman!
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.
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.
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.
ETA: hilarious email begged me to change the title, so I did