The anti-authoritarian director who left Czechoslovakia in order to have the freedom to make films in the U.S. and captured Oscars for works of art like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus, Milos Forman has passed away at 86. Forman, also known for two biopics about controversial Americans — The People vs. Larry Flynt(1996) and Man on the Moon (1999) — died Friday in the U.S. after a short illness, according to his wife, Martina, who broke the news to the Czech news agency CTK. His manager, Dennis Aspland, confirmed Forman’s death to The Hollywood Reporter and noted that the filmmaker had a home in Warren, Connecticut.
Forman first attracted international attention with such features as Black Peter (1964), The Loves of a Blonde (1965) — an Oscar nominee for the best foreign-language film — and The Firemen’s Ball(1967), which put him in hot water with the communist regime in Czechoslovakia. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), adapted from Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel, dealt with life inside an Oregon mental institution. Starring Jack Nicholson as an insurgent patient, it was a sensation at the Oscars, winning five major categories (picture, director, actor, actress and adapted screenplay).
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Amadeus (1984), starring Tom Hulce as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, raked in 11 Oscar nominations and eight wins, including those for best picture and director. In a 2002 interview, Forman talked about accepting an invitation to take in a play in London, not knowing it was the first public preview of the Peter Shaffer play Amadeus. “I was used to seeing the Russian and Czech films about composers, and they were the most boring films,” he said. “Communists love to make films about composers because composers compose music and don’t talk subversive things. And I am sitting in the theatre waiting to fall asleep, and suddenly I see this wonderful drama, which would be wonderful even if it was not Mozart and [Antonio] Salieri. … I was glued to the seat to the very end. And right there after the show, I met for the first time Peter Shaffer, and I told him that if he would ever consider making a movie, I would be very interested.”
His humour and anti-establishment sensibility jelled best in his next feature, The Firemen’s Ball. A veiled criticism of his country’s bureaucracy, it did not amuse the politicians, and it was banned from theatres following the Soviet invasion in August 1968. At the time, Forman was in Paris, in negotiations for Taking Off, a U.S. production about the youth protest movement. His homeland was now under the brute boot of the Soviet Union’s thuggish communist bureaucracy, so he decided to emigrate to New York.
Among the collegians who was admiring his work back then was Michael Douglas, then a University of California Santa Barbara student, who would hire Forman to direct his long-laboured One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. (Later, Forman learned that Michael’s father, Kirk Douglas, had sent him an offer to helm the film in the 1960s, but it was probably confiscated by the secret police.)