Hollywood Summer Nights Spotlight: A Tribute to MILOŠ FORMAN
This summer we will be honoring the legacy of Czech director Miloš Forman who passed away earlier this year. Before immigrating to the United States and making some of his most exceptional films, this cinematic titan had already endured great hardships that would later contribute to his perspective on life and to his powerful vision as a filmmaker.
During the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, Jan Tomáš “Miloš” Forman didn’t know quite what to make of what was happening around him and to his family. Rudolf Forman, a professor, member of the anti-Nazi Underground, and the man Miloš believed to be his father, was captured and killed under the interrogation of the Gestapo after having distributed banned books. Anna, his mother, died a year earlier in Auschwitz. It wasn’t until Miloš turned sixteen that he finally understood what had happened after seeing horrifying footage of the concentrations camps.
In his youth, Forman hoped to become a theatrical producer, and so after the war he attended the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague where he studied screenwriting. Later in his career, he would find himself in the extraordinary position of playing a vital role in the Czechoslovak New Wave, an artistic movement in cinema led by many prominent Czech directors during the 1960’s. However, it was near the end of this period that Forman decided to leave his home due to the Warsaw Pact invasion, fleeing the ever growing power of the nation’s communist authoritarian wing. It wouldn’t be long until Miloš brought to screen some of cinema’s greatest treasures: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and Amadeus (1984).
Forman found Cuckoo’s Nest to be much more than a deeply moving piece of literature, as he believed it was reflective of his own life story. He once wrote, “the Communist Party was my Nurse Ratched, telling me what I could and could not do; what I was or was not allowed to say; where I was and was not allowed to go; even who I was and was not.” Despite some adverse reactions from peers, claiming that the story was too American for an immigrant to handle properly, Miloš went ahead with the project. And after having made such a personal connection with the material, seeing not just an “American” story but one that spoke of humanity, Forman crafted a film that would go on to win a total of five Academy Awards.
As for his other masterpiece, which was released just nine years later, Amadeus tells the deeply emotional story of historical composers, Antonio Salieri and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Apparently, British actor Kenneth Branagh was heavily considered to play the role of Mozart but was dismissed after Forman’s decision to go with an American cast. Instead taking up the role, Tom Hulce reportedly found inspiration for Mozart’s unpredictable brilliance in American tennis legend John McEnroe who was known for his abrupt mood swings. The orchestral epic went on to win eight Oscars.
Later in his life, Miloš discovered his actual biological father — a Jewish architect by the name of Otto Kohn who had survived the Holocaust. This then made him the half-brother of mathematician Joseph J. Kohn who holds the title of professor emeritus of mathematics at Princeton University. Forman himself joined the faculty at Columbia University’s School of the Arts in 1978, acting as chair of the film program before he became professor emeritus of film for his remaining years. He was 86 years old when he passed away.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest comes to the Ambler Theater on August 2nd and the County Theater on August 30th. Amadeus comes to the Garden Theatre on August 16th. We hope to see you there!