Milos Forman 1932-
(Full name Jan Tomas Forman; also spelled Miloš Forman) Czechoslovakian-born American director, screenwriter, and memoirist.
The following entry presents an overview of Forman's career through 2000.
During the 1960s Forman was recognized as one of Eastern Europe's most sardonic and accomplished filmmakers. Leaving his homeland of Czechoslovakia after the Soviet Invasion of 1968, Forman relocated to the United States, where he gained notoriety for directing film adaptations of several critically acclaimed literary and theatrical works by such authors as E. L. Doctorow, Ken Kesey, and Peter Shaffer. In 2000, when the American Film Institute compiled its list of the top 100 films of all time, two of Forman's films—One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) and Amadeus (1984)—were ranked as 20 and 53, respectively. His films offer a refined blend of realism and naturalism, often featuring the theme of the common man struggling within an oppressive society.
Forman was born on February 18, 1932, in Cáslav, Czechoslovakia, to Rudolf, a Jewish professor, and Anna, a Protestant homemaker. During his youth Forman's parents were imprisoned by the Nazis and sent to concentration camps. His mother died in Auschwitz in 1943 and his father died in Buchenwald in 1944. In 1951 Forman enrolled at the Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts in Prague. Upon graduating he worked as a director and screenwriter for Czech television, and as an assistant director of short films. His first full-length films, Cerný Petr (1963; Black Peter), and Lásky jedné plavovlásky (1965; Loves of a Blonde), both received critical honors, including the Grand International Prize from the French Film Academy. His third film, Horí, má panenko (1967; The Firemen's Ball), met with controversy when forty-thousand Czechoslovakian firemen walked off their jobs following the film's release. Forman was forced to make a public apology, explaining that the film was a political allegory and not intended as a slur against the fire department. The Firemen's Ball was eventually banned in Czechoslovakia by the reigning Soviet regime. During the Soviet Invasion of 1968 Forman was scouting film locations in Paris and elected to emigrate to America instead of returning to his home country. His first American film, Taking Off (1971), was neither a popular nor critical success. However, his next film, One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, won five Academy Awards from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, including best picture and best director. In 1978 Forman joined the staff at Columbia University as a professor of film and co-chair of the film division of their School of the Arts. Forman was awarded the Academy Award for best director again in 1984 for Amadeus—which won eight Academy Awards overall, including best picture. He was also nominated for the best director award for The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996).
Forman's early career as a director and screenwriter in Czechoslovakia was integral to a movement later known as the Czech “New Wave” of theater and arts. Noted for its blend of fiction and realism, the movement included directors who used the government-controlled film industry to explore the problems of living in a totalitarian society. His first feature film, Black Peter, is a partially autobiographical tale about a dispirited young man who works in a department store, arbitrarily reporting on shoplifters. Loves of a Blonde follows the life of an unhappy factory worker named Andula. Her small town has a ratio of sixteen women to every man, forcing Andula to make desperate and awkward attempts at finding romance. She falls in love with a young pianist and relentlessly pursues him, eventually following him to Prague. Despite the controversy surrounding the release of The Firemen's Ball, the film was well received by critics and audiences alike. The story centers around a well meaning but inept fire department that wishes to honor their retiring chief with a gala ceremony. Despite their good intentions, the banquet comically falls apart due to problems with the door raffle, a poorly-planned beauty contest, and a nearby house fire. The film's political allegory links the ineptitude and bickering of the firemen to the oppressive bureaucracy of the Czechoslovakian government. For his first American film, Forman directed and co-wrote Taking Off, which depicts the increasingly permissive American society of the late 1960s as personified by a staid businessman named Larry Tyne and his family. When Larry's daughter Jeannie becomes involved in a Greenwich Village theatre production in New York City, Larry and his wife try to acquaint themselves with their daughter's environment in an attempt to convince her to return home. They attend a meeting of the Society for Parents of Fugitive Children, where they learn how to smoke marijuana, and they venture into “The Village,” where they are appalled by the habitants’ casual attitude towards sex and drugs.
In 1975 Forman directed One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, an adaptation of Ken Kesey's critically acclaimed novel. The film focuses on a battle of wills between R. P. McMurphy, an antisocial but engaging patient in a mental hospital, and Nurse Ratched, the domineering head-nurse who attempts to force McMurphy to conform to an established behavioral pattern. McMurphy inspires the other patients to rebel against Ratched's strict rules and regulations in a variety of ways. After a young patient commits suicide, McMurphy physically attacks Ratched, causing the hospital to lobotomize him. Forman revisited this theme of an individual fighting against the Establishment with his 1979 adaptation of the popular Broadway musical Hair. John Savage, a small-town farmboy, comes to New York City to experience life before being drafted into the Army and sent to Vietnam. Savage falls in with a group of hippies and radicals living in Central Park who embody the counter-culture of the 1960s. Ragtime (1981), an adaptation of E. L. Doctorow's novel, follows multiple characters and storylines, and is set against the backdrop of the early 1900s. The lead characters include Coalhouse Walker, a proud young African American who single-mindedly pursues restitution for the social injustices he has suffered. The film examines values in transition in turn-of-the-century America and explores the ways the nation coped with post-Civil War racial issues and dealt with the cultural changes brought by the expanding immigrant population. In 1984 Forman directed Amadeus, which was adapted from the play by Peter Shaffer. The film is loosely based on the life of renowned composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, focusing on the relationship between Mozart and his mentor, Antonio Salieri. Mozart is depicted as a childish and outrageous genius who flouts social norms and contemptuously rejects many of the personal and artistic ideals that Salieri holds sacred. Valmont (1989), an adaptation of the novel Les Liaisons dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos, marked Forman's first return to screenwriting since Taking Off. The film—which Forman also directed—depicts a cold and cunning game of seduction played by Valmont, a rogue gentleman, and a manipulative lady, the Marquise de Meureuil. Set amongst the Parisian salons of pre-Revolutionary France, the film portrays Valmont as a confused young man who, despite his notorious amorous adventures, is only discovering his sexuality. Forman's next film, The People vs. Larry Flynt is based on the life of Larry Flynt, the founder of the pornographic magazine Hustler. Flynt turned Hustler into the foundation for a multi-million dollar publishing empire and waged several legal battles involving issues of moral decency against Reverend Jerry Falwell and financier Charles Keating. Despite the fact that Flynt is a pornographer and former drug user, Forman characterizes him as a champion of the First Amendment right to free speech. In 1999 Forman directed Man on the Moon, a film based on the life of comedian and actor Andy Kaufman, who became known during the 1970s and early 1980s for his bizarre and experimental comedy routines. Forman depicts Kaufman as a misunderstood performance artist who enjoyed pushing the boundaries of comedy in order to get a reaction from his audience, even if the reaction was negative. Forman has also published a memoir, Turnaround (1994), which recounts his early days in Czechoslovakia and his successful career as a filmmaker.
Critical reception to Forman's films has been varied throughout his career. His early Czechoslovakian films have been praised by international audiences, even though the Soviet regime at the time banned several of his works. Reviewers have consistently praised Forman's ability to show the universality of human emotions, complimenting his tendency to present well-rounded characterizations. Some critics, however, have objected to Forman's American films—particularly Hair, Ragtime, and One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest—pointing out that Forman's European sensibility hampered his adaptations of such singularly American works. Several reviewers have also criticized Ragtime for overly truncating or ignoring the novel on which it was based, though some have asserted that the novel's complex plot structure is primarily to blame for Forman's loose adaptation. The People vs. Larry Flynt has met with sharply divided criticism, with some critics praising the film's anti-Establishment message and others declaring that the film acts as propaganda for pornographers. A number of noted feminist critics, including Gloria Steinem, have argued that Forman glosses over many of the facts of Flynt's life and portrays him as a champion of justice, while his magazine routinely degrades women and mocks rape and child abuse. Other commentators have argued that the film uses Flynt's life as an allegory and that Forman is not obliged to factually recount every event from Flynt's life. Several critics agree that, despite the subject material, The People vs. Larry Flynt ultimately conveys a positive message about the American right to free speech.
Stenata [with Ivo Novák] (screenplay) 1957
Laterna magica II [The Magic Lantern; screenwriter and director] (short film) 1960
*Cerný Petr [Black Peter; screenwriter with Jaroslav Papousek; director] (film) 1963
Kdyby ty muziky nebyly [If It Wasn't for Music; screenwriter with Ivan Passer; director] (film) 1963
Konkurs [Audition; screenwriter with Ivan Passer; director] (film) 1963
†Lásky jedné plavovlásky [Loves of a Blonde; screenwriter with Jaroslav Papousek, Ivan Passer, and Václav Sasek; director] (film) 1965
Horí, má panenko [The Firemen's Ball; screenwriter with Jaroslav Papousek, Ivan Passer, and Václav Sasek; director] (film) 1967
Taking Off [screenwriter with Jean-Claude Carrière, John Guare, and John Klein; director] (film) 1971
One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest [director] (film) 1975
Hair [director] (film) 1979
Ragtime [director] (film) 1981
Amadeus [director] (film) 1984
‡Valmont [screenwriter with Jean-Claude Carrière and Jan Novák; director] (film) 1989
Turnaround: A Memoir [with Jan Novák] (memoirs) 1994
The People vs. Larry Flynt...
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SOURCE: Dyer, Peter John. “Star-Crossed in Prague.” Sight and Sound 35, no. 1 (winter 1965-1966): 34-5.
[In the following essay, Dyer examines Forman's emphasis on celebrating the emotions of his characters in Peter and Pavla and A Blonde in Love.]
Directors cannot be relied upon to look and sound like the films which they make. Milos Forman, who with two Czech films has made much the same quiet impact as Olmi did a few years ago, can. There's no good reason why one should expect him to live up to the image which his films create. It is simply interesting that—having lunch with him, hearing him introduce his latest film at the London Film Festival—his personality confirms one's feeling about his work. He has a puckish wit and a puckish love of pulling strings, like some benevolent puppet-master. Now that Central European directors of Shakespeare are all the rage, one would love to see him bring his fresh modern eye to A Midsummer Night's Dream. The ingredients seem tailor-made: mechanicals, star-crossed lovers, Oberon the supreme puppet-master and Pucholt playing Puck (obviously).
Peter and Pavla and A Blonde in Love are about the same things: adolescent difficulties with the other sex, a tangle of cross-purposes between boys and their parents, the dissatisfaction and search for identity suffered by only ordinarily intelligent boys and girls in...
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SOURCE: Coleman, John. “Milos Forman, Marco Bellachio.” New Statesman 71, no. 1836 (20 May 1966): 746.
[In the following excerpt, Coleman praises A Blonde in Love, complimenting Forman's subtlety, proficiency, and simplistic directing style.]
Milos Forman's A Blonde in Love is a wonderful film concerning, among other things, young love, sexual and social timidity, parental incomprehension, and the problems of a Czech community where the ratio of women to men is 16 to one. It's so much of a piece in fact, so funny and painful and precise in its observation of a sector of the human condition, that it presents a very real problem: how to describe it adequately? It enlists itself in that—to me—central tradition of filmmaking which includes the works of Renoir, Satyajit Ray, Ozu, Truffaut, Olmi, the earlier De Sica and, most recently, James Ivory. Such men seem not only to have been born with a natural and happy instinct for expressing themselves in cinema but to bring to it a generosity of spirit, an intelligent openness and gaiety towards others, which gives them something authentic to express.
It may be time to declare my square predisposition towards most, if not all, their works now that irate Godard fans write in accusing me of hating movies. In certain highly-strung quarters M. Godard seems indeed to have become synonymous with ‘movies.’ As I tried to point...
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SOURCE: Hartung, Philip T. “Czech Mates.” Commonweal 85, no. 6 (11 November 1966): 166-67.
[In the following excerpt, Hartung offers a positive assessment of Forman's casting choices in Loves of a Blonde.]
Now in general release is Loves of a Blonde, the Czech movie that opened the New York Film Festival in September and won huzzas from most of the reviewers. Perhaps the critics, impressed with the glamor of this opening night, let some of their enthusiasm spill over into their reviews of this heart-warming and unpretentious little picture about romance-hungry adolescents. In any case, audiences can now judge for themselves—and they will find Loves a well directed movie with a slight plot, some sharp character portraits, and a few delightfully realistic scenes. But for all its assets, a masterpiece with depth and scope it is not; and for my money, Intimate Lightning, another Czech comedy shown at this year's Festival, has greater humor, understanding and universality.
In telling the tale of Andula, a naive and romantic blonde who works in a shoe factory in a small town where there's a shortage of boys, director Milos Forman does come through with universal touches; and as you watch Andula and her girl friends and some of those boy friends, you begin to wonder if young people aren't pretty much alike the world over. Forman by no means limits himself to...
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SOURCE: Kauffmann, Stanley. “Stanley Kauffmann on Films.” New Republic 164, no. 17 (24 April 1971): 20.
[In the following review, Kauffmann commends Forman's artistic vision in Taking Off, but argues that the film lacks consistency and direction.]
Milos Forman had an interesting idea in Taking Off. He wanted to do a film about the generation gap that made its point primarily through pictures. The content of most films, particularly the ones with social themes, is usually conveyed in words and story. Taking Off has words and a story, of course, but they are only the scaffolding for the purely cinematic elements, which really state the theme.
Forman is a young Czech director (Loves of a Blonde, The Firemen's Ball), now working in the US. For a time, I enjoyed what he was doing here in this first American film of his, and I also had some of the same feeling one gets from Victor Sjöstrom's or F. W. Murnau's American films in the '20s: the odd sensation of seeing the very familiar as it looks to someone who is filtering his vision through different conditioning. The cinematographer was Miroslav Ondricek, who did The Firemen's Ball (he also did If … for Lindsay Anderson); between him and Forman, we get a sort of Middle European view of New York and suburbs. That is to say, we get a sense that this society is being observed as stratified...
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SOURCE: Westerbeck, Colin L., Jr. Review of Taking Off, by Milos Forman. Commonweal 94, no. 11 (21 May 1971): 262-63.
[In the following excerpt, Westerbeck offers a negative assessment of Taking Off, noting that the film's ending is “completely arbitrary.”]
Like most films about the youth culture, Taking Off should be called Ripping Off. Director Milos Forman doesn't seem to have been satisfied with the usual cynicism of exploiting teenagers merely as paid admissions to his film: he's also exploited them as extras in the film. Taking Off begins in a rehearsal hall where some impresarios of rock are auditioning hundreds of spaced-out, untalented teeny boppers. As the more pathetic auditions were interspliced through the first part of the film, I began wondering how Forman tempted all those girls to make fools of themselves this way. Did he perhaps lead them all to believe these filmed auditions would be their big chance to take off? That's ordinarily how this kind of thing is done, and this kind of thing is the lowest.
One of the girls is Jeannie Tyne (Linnea Heacock). While Jeannie is standing dumbfounded before the microphone, her absence from home is causing her mother (Lynn Carlin) to become hysterical and her father (Buck Henry) to get drunk. When Jeannie finally does return home, it is only to find her parents auditioning their respective neuroses....
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SOURCE: Wilson, David. Review of Taking Off, by Milos Forman. Sight and Sound 40, no. 4 (autumn 1971): 221-22.
[In the following positive review, Wilson discusses Forman's understated directing technique in Taking Off.]
‘I think I speak English well enough to understand the “first row.” But what's behind that, the double meanings, and all the nuances, which are very beautiful, always this is difficult for me.’ Milos Forman needn't have worried about those nuances. Taking Off, which he made in America last summer, is replete with them.
We say we'd like to see ourselves as others see us, but we don't always like what we see. The Czech firemen weren't too pleased about The Firemen's Ball, and Americans—to judge at least from American critical reaction—are somewhat disgruntled by Taking Off. Forman himself tells a story which illuminates the wrongheadedness of this reaction (life, as always, imitating art): when he showed The Firemen's Ball in small towns across the States, audiences couldn't wait to regale him with anecdotes about their own local fire brigades, and many of them, he says, were funnier than anything in the film. Forman's films are not of course about national idiosyncrasies, and Taking Off is no more about middle-class urban Americans than A Blonde in Love was about working-class provincial Czechs. The film is set...
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SOURCE: Wood, Michael, “No, But I Read the Book.” New York Review of Books 23, no. 1 (5 February 1976): 3-4.
[In the following excerpt, Wood compliments Forman's adaptation of Ken Kesey's novel, One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, noting that Forman's quieter, more realistic approach to the material adds sensitivity to the story.]
Kubrick is attracted by apparent impossibilities. Lolita, A Clockwork Orange, and Barry Lyndon are all, in their different ways, highly literary texts, works that seem to defy translation into film. (“How did they ever make a film of Lolita?” the advertising asked when the movie was first released—although the question was not prompted by the texture of Nabokov's prose. One critic tartly replied, “They didn't.”) Ken Kesey is neither Nabokov nor Burgess nor Thackeray, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest seems to invite translation into film as much as the other books defy it. And yet Miloš Forman [in One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest], oddly enough, runs into much the same problems as Kubrick, although with different results.
Kesey's novel is narrated by Chief Broom Bromden, an inmate in a mental hospital who pretends to be deaf and dumb. The Chief sees metaphors. When men are described as rabbits, the rabbits hop before his eyes. When the head nurse on his ward gets angry, the Chief watches the...
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SOURCE: Coleman, John. “You All Crazy?” New Statesman 91, no. 2345 (27 February 1976): 269-70.
[In the following excerpt, Coleman explores the themes of sanity versus insanity and love versus hate in One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest.]
Ken Kesey's novel [One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest] caused quite a stir when it first appeared in 1962, and rightly. I had heard vaguely of Kesey as a major prophet of the youth revolution, read some disjointed scraps of his somewhere or other, and knew that his book about life in a mental institution was supposed to have been written under the influence of LSD: the auguries were unpromising. But the other day I laid bold hands on the thing and found myself held enough to read it in a single session. Since events are transmitted through the now befogged, now pellucid consciousness of a huge half-Indian, Chief Bromden, it may be that some acid went into the creative melting-pot; but not much, I would hazard. Generally, Kesey has complete control of his material, his characters stick up from the page like so many wounded thumbs, the coherence and humour are in a different league from the ramblings of a Kerouac. There is, however, an underlying theme: one enlivening day a bull of a man called R. P. McMurphy is brought in from a penal work farm, feigning insanity, and in no time at all he has the walking patients (the Acutes, as opposed to the Chronics, the Wheelers,...
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SOURCE: Champlin, Charles. “Hair Comes to the Screen.” Los Angeles Times (15 March 1979): section 4, pp. 1, 25.
[In the following review, Champlin assesses the strengths of Hair, calling the film a “poignant reminder” of America during the Vietnam War era.]
Fresh off the bus, duffel bag in hand, the boy from Oklahoma stares in wonderment. A happening is happening in Central Park, Manhattan Island, U.S.A., vintage '60s. Crazy kids with long hair and costume clothes are sporting on the greensward. Then, like a foreboding shadow, two mounted policemen invade the scene, towering over it and monstrously silhouetted, keep the sunshine out.
It looks like curtains for our new friends. But no: The cops' handsome horses break into a sashaying circus two-step in nice time to the rollicking music.
In its sly and marvelous surprise, and in its artful melding of a breezy and literally open-air naturalism with the stylized inventions of the musical form, the introduction of the prancing steeds gets the triumphant Milos Forman film of Hair away to an invigorating, delighting start.
Thereafter, for just over two swift hours, the movie's moods and settings vary dramatically, but its energy, invention and charm never falter.
THE BEST SINCE CABARET
Hair is the best film musical since...
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SOURCE: Blake, Richard A. “Selective Memory.” America 140, no. 13 (7 April 1979): 286.
[In the following excerpt, Blake commends Hair's atmosphere of “great good fun,” but cautions against the film's tendency to sanitize historical events.]
Sanitizing the past is easier than living with ugly memories. Self-exoneration is, of course, a key motive for reshaping the past. Today, for example, people who admit they once admired Senator Joseph McCarthy and his crusade against Communists (and, incidentally, the Constitution) are as rare as those who can recall their enthusiasm for stopping the Red menace in Vietnam. Everybody, it seems, was on the right side from the beginning. The practice of selective memory is harmless enough until it leads to self-delusion. Moreover, simplifying complex periods of history reduces movements to morality plays, and simplistic morality plays can be terribly hollow.
Hair, even without its famous nude scene, was an exciting, even shocking political statement when it opened on Broadway 11 years ago. Not only was it the Magna Carta of the new life style, it reversed the traditional hero and villain roles of American morality plays. Drugs, vulgarity, long hair, loud music and irresponsible sex were good. The U. S. Government and convention, known in some circles as civilization, were bad. The Visigoths had their revenge at long last. It was an...
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SOURCE: Kauffmann, Stanley. “Stanley Kauffmann on Films: Ex-Champions.” New Republic 180, no. 15 (14 April 1979): 40-1.
[In the following excerpt, Kauffmann examines the change of public perceptions and attitudes between the original theatrical production of Hair and the release of Forman's film adaptation.]
Hair (United Artists) is chockablock with imaginative lift and pyrotechnical dazzle, all of it apparently intended to forestall question. That question, of course, is: Is Hair dated? Well, most of the songs (most of which have been retained from the original score) are still engaging, and much of the filming is fine. But Hair, even with its now-blanched script, is about a subject, and 10 years have put that subject in a cooler light.
I saw the first production (1967) at the Public Theater in New York, and beyond this song or that performer, I remember feeling throughout the show that the whole high-ceilinged room was being charged with energy, compressed within the walls, and that the walls might burst. Besides its intrinsics, the show had the added power of the Right Moment. For young people, it was their generation's outburst of protest, of relief at being young so that—by non-involvement—they could plead “not guilty” to the corruption with which they charged their elders; for older people it was a reproof by vitality and innocence,...
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SOURCE: Westerbeck, Colin L., Jr. “Hair Today.” Commonweal 106, no. 10 (25 May 1979): 305-06.
[In the following review, Westerbeck offers a negative assessment of Hair, criticizing Forman's understanding of American culture and the editing of the film's dance sequences.]
No one lives in the Age of Aquarius today. Its “dawning,” celebrated ten years ago in the musical Hair, turned out to be its twilight as well. Still, Hair remains pertinent. It continues to tell us something about our collective life as Americans. Popular shows usually do this. They are a revelation to us of ourselves, especially shows that are surprisingly popular as Hair was. Hair was made on the novel premise that the hippies weren't really alienated from America. They were an expression of it. Whether this was true for hippies themselves or not, it was true enough for other Americans to make Hair enormously successful. On the one hand, people came into New York from Connecticut, Connecticut to see the show because they also yearned to be FREE, somehow, and Hair assuaged those yearnings. On the other hand, Hair made freedom safe. It made it into entertainment. It made hippies appealing and familiar. In Hair, the commune and the crash pad and the demonstration in the streets became a new kind of togetherness, a renewed and ideal Melting Pot. The show...
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SOURCE: Benson, Sheila. “Ragtime—An Optimistic Novel Lost in Translation.” Los Angeles Times (15 November 1981): Calendar section, p. 29.
[In the following review, Benson asserts that much of the depth of E. L. Doctorow's novel Ragtime is lost in its film adaptation.]
E. L. Doctorow's bold exhilarating novel Ragtime, his “real-world act,” was a newsreel of America at a critical period, from 1902 until just the end of World War I when “the era of Ragtime had run out.” America at that time combined innocence, optimism, energy and personal and social ambition at levels it would never reach again.
And in the book every character and virtually every detail was interdependent. Doctorow created three fictional family groups: a comfortable middle-class New Rochelle bunting and fireworks manufacturer's family called simply Father, Mother, their Little Boy and her Younger Brother; a Latvian-Jewish immigrant family in New York's Lower East Side, Tateh (meaning father) the silhouette maker, Mameh and the Little Girl, who sews in the garment district. And finally, a dignified black ragtime piano player, Coalhouse Walker Jr., his love Sarah, and their baby son.
Into the lives of these three families tumbled the stars and comets of the day. J. P. Morgan and Henry Ford, Freud and Houdini, “Red Emma” Goldman and teenage seductress Evelyn Nesbit,...
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SOURCE: Asahina, Robert. “Sorting Out the Film Glut.” New Leader 65, no. 2 (25 January 1982): 21.
[In the following excerpt, Asahina criticizes Forman's directorial skills in Ragtime.]
When E. L. Doctorow's Ragtime was published a few years ago, there was much heavy-handed discussion of its fanciful mixture of fact and fiction. In retrospect, the controversy seems to have grossly exaggerated the seriousness of what actually is little more than an entertaining commercial novel with a distinctly cartoonish quality. The film adaptation, [Ragtime,] on the other hand, directed by Milos Foreman from a script by Michael Weller, exhibits precisely the pretentiousness the book was wrongly accused of, while lacking Doctorow's humor and inventiveness.
Part of the problem is time, or the dearth of it; like most novels, Ragtime contains much more than any film could cover. So some elements of the book's plot are neglected, and others are thoughtlessly retained. The subplot involving Emma Goldman, for instance, is discarded entirely, and the amazing career of Tateh (Mandy Patinkin) is presented in such a fragmented way that his progress from Lower East Side immigrant to Hollywood mogul is incomprehensible instead of incredible.
Simultaneously, Weller and Foreman waste an appalling amount of footage on the murder of Stanford White (Norman Mailer), probably...
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SOURCE: Thomson, David. “Redtime.” Film Comment 18, no. 1 (January-February 1982): 11-16.
[In the following excerpt, Thomson argues against Ragtime's negative critical reception, asserting that the film is well adapted and masterfully directed.]
Milos Forman's film of Ragtime omits many delightful views and moments from the book. Why not? It is a film, and it has assets denied to the novel. It does not go to the North Pole with Peary and Father, or to the pyramids with J. P. Morgan. J. P.'s strawberry nose and his stomach rumblings about reincarnation are both dropped: apart from a “newsreel” flash, the film's Morgan is only the absent owner of a fatuous museum that looks like the tomb left by some earlier and erased civilization, or like the spacecraft from another planet, spreading unreality through Manhattan. There is no Emma Goldman in this movie, no opportunity for Emma to administer that politicizing massage to Evelyn Nesbit, or for Younger Brother to come so explosively out of his hiding place so that his “filamented spurts of jism” can settle on Evelyn “like falling ticker tape.”
Emma was cast in Ragtime, her part played by Mariclare Costello, her scenes shot; but she is gone now, along with the regiments of history left out by even E. L. Doctorow (no Wyatt Earp, no Jack Johnson, no Sarah Bernhardt—all contracted for a Steve Allen...
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SOURCE: Simon, John. “Wrong-Note Rag.” National Review 34, no. 2 (5 February 1982): 122-23.
[In the following excerpt, Simon asserts that Ragtime's unsuccessful transition from page to screen is due to the novel's diffuse storyline structure.]
For once I am in complete agreement with the majority of my colleagues: Ragtime, the movie, does not work, largely because one misses the kaleidoscopic construction of the Doctorow novel. Milos Forman, the director, and Michael Weller, the scenarist, chose what they felt to be the principal strands of this multifarious web: Evelyn Nesbit and the celebrated murder case; Coalhouse Walker Jr., the black musician with his fanatical and fatal quest for justice; Tateh, the impoverished Jewish immigrant who works himself up into a movie director; and the typical turn-of-the-century American family that gets itself embroiled with all of them.
Some of the many subplots and characters beyond these make all but subliminal appearances (e.g., Houdini), some ended up on the cutting-room floor (e.g., Emma Goldman), and quite a few (e.g., Henry Ford, J. P. Morgan, Dreiser, Freud, Zapata) never even passed their screenplay test. So, instead of free-wheeling ragtime, we get a fugue, and a rather unbalanced one at that, with Coalhouse and his vendetta given top priority. A good deal of Doctorow's irreverent, ahistoric, but politically satiric...
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SOURCE: Benson, Sheila. “The Music of Mozart, the Magic of the Film Maker—That's Amadeus.” Los Angeles Times (19 September 1984): 1, 6.
[In the following review, Benson compliments Forman's casting choices and attention to historical details in Amadeus.]
To be able to perceive genius, to luxuriate in its example, all the while knowing that one's own work would have to strain, to reach mediocrity is a pretty good working definition of hell on earth.
In Amadeus, Peter Shaffer's play, which he and director Milos Forman have turned into an enthralling film, [Amadeus,] the genius is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the “mediocrity” is Antonio Salieri—reigning success of the court of Emperor Joseph II of Austria in the late 18th Century—and the confrontation between the two is fatal.
The story is told in the framework of a memory by the very old Salieri (F. Murray Abraham), consigned to a madhouse after his attempted suicide. He has outlived. Mozart (Tom Hulce) by 32 years, and watched his own compositions wither in popularity during the time.
To the devout young Salieri, who had dedicated his very chastity to music as a boy, the even younger Mozart was his idol. For almost 20 years Salieri has listened, enraptured, to Mozart's extraordinary output, from the time the 6-year-old prodigy was trundled about by his father from court...
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SOURCE: Jacobson, Harlan. “As Many Notes as Required.” Film Comment 20, no. 5 (September-October 1984): 50, 53-5.
[In the following essay, Jacobson explores the working relationship between Forman and Saul Zaentz, the producer of One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest and Amadeus.]
So long and so used to measuring the achievements of individual genius, we have built a culture devoted to it. Time tells us that we have begun trying to teach the fetus in the womb. In the most wanton and random of our acts, war, we single out a man here or there for a medal. And in between, we have this problem of the artist: is he an artist if he doesn't sell? When does the man in the businessman's suit become an artist—when the artist he produces fails?
So it is with all who live here, each wrestling with the dark angel of doubt. “Genius” has been debased, and “brilliance” is a cheat word used by critics and stolen by producers to sell the only mediocre people who are honest about it—the suckers born every minute—in the Sunday entertainment page ads. How abused are the terms of endearment common to our myth-making apparatus, the movies.
Producers do say “Loved your story,” as do magazine editors, and “I'll get back to you on it.” No producer wants to make a picture and lose money—even Monroe Stahr sensed he was no longer a producer, at that...
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SOURCE: Shaffer, Peter. “Making the Screen Speak.” Film Comment 20, no. 5 (September-October 1984): 50-1, 56-7.
[In the following essay, Shaffer—the author of the play that Amadeus was based on—discusses his working relationship with Forman, describing the process of how they adapted the play into film.]
The cinema is a worrying medium for the stage playwright to work in. Its unverbal essence offers difficulties to anyone living largely by the spoken word. Increasingly, as American films grow ever more popular around the world, it is apparent that the most successful are being spoken in Screenspeak, a kind of cinematic esperanto equally comprehensible in Bogota and Bulawayo. For example, dialogue in heavy-action pictures, horrific or intergalactic, now consists almost entirely of the alternation of two single words—a cry and a whisper—needing translation nowhere on the planet: ‘Lessgidowdaheer!’ and ‘Omygaad!’ Mastery of this new tongue is not easy for older writers.
Equally dismaying has to be the endemic restlessness of filmgoers. In his mind's ear as he writes for the live theatre, the dramatist can presume the attentiveness of his audience: its mutual agreement to listen, and to remain in one place while the performance is going on. No such agreement exists among movie audiences. Indeed the very word ‘movie’ nowadays can as accurately...
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SOURCE: Kauffmann, Stanley. “Stanley Kauffmann on Films: Divertimento.” New Republic 191, no. 173 (22 October 1984): 30-2.
[In the following review, Kauffmann argues that although Amadeus is an improvement over the original play, the film is still implausible and poorly acted.]
Lucky are those who see the film of Amadeus without having seen the play. Peter Shaffer's original was markedly different in the London and New York productions that I saw, but both of them used theatrical conceits as if they were virtuosity, when in fact they were padding for a thin body—tricks like an address to the audience and a stylized chorus. Shorn of this spurious decor, the film fares somewhat better.
Shaffer's screenplay, which was worked out with the director, Milos Forman, is a more straightforward narrative; it goes on too long and it heaves toward a dreadfully contrived climax, but in the main it's a visually lively piece that tells a story about Mozart and Salieri. Not the story: those familiar with Mozart's life may die the death of a thousand cuts unless they agree from the start to a romance. Still, that romance is presented here with much less of Shaffer's undergraduate playwriting cleverness, less tinselly rhetoric, and a lot of nice things to look at. With, of course, a great many bits of Mozart's music—bits only, yet ravishing, more than in the play and played...
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SOURCE: Adair, Gilbert. “What's Opera, Doc?” Sight and Sound 54, no. 2 (spring 1985): 142-43.
[In the following review, Adair examines the relationship between Mozart and Salieri in Amadeus.]
In the beginning, probably, was the word; or name: Amadeus. Futile as it surely must be to speculate on the various mazy processes of free association rippling through an artist's consciousness when a project enters its formative stage, it might just be worth playing the game with Milos Forman's Amadeus—not only was creativity the subject of Peter Shaffer's play, it was a shortfall of creativity that constituted its own tragic flaw. Why, then, did Shaffer call it ‘Amadeus,’ instead of ‘Mozart’ or, like Rimsky's opera, Mozart and Salieri? Because the word's Latinate coda made it sound more like a ‘title’? Because the us suffix rhymed it, intertextually, with Equus? Or, which seems likelier, because in it lurks deus, Latin for god; and even, were one to indulge in punnilingus, A mad deus and I am a deus? For Salieri, of course, Mozart represented, as it were, an Amadeus ex machina, the unwary object of what could be described as a sad case of unrequited hate. More to the point, however, a divine artist he clearly is for Shaffer who (in a scene exclusive to the film version, which has the dying Mozart dictate, in a febrile, rasping hum,...
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SOURCE: O'Brien, Tom. “Bland and Better Than Bland.” Commonweal 116, no. 21 (1 December 1989): 670-71.
[In the following excerpt, O'Brien argues that Valmont is more sensitive to the underlying humanity of its characters than Stephen Frears' Dangerous Liaisons.]
First things first: Valmont is not a remake of Dangerous Liaisons. Generally, it tells the same story; tonally, it is a completely different, sometimes better, sometimes weaker film. Its source is not the Broadway play, but the original novel; on the other hand, the film's credits declare it is “loosely based” on Laclos's text. Its new flavor reflects the humanistic vision of the director, Milos Forman (twice a big winner at the Oscars with One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Amadeus), who continues to persist in his faith that nothing human can be wholly vile.
Valmont takes Forman back to the age of Amadeus, pre-French revolutionary Europe; Mozart, conducted again by Neville Marriner, echoes gracefully in its Parisian salons. As in Liaisons, there are chateaux aplenty and a costume feast for the eyes. But Forman gets beneath the pretty surface by drawing in urban lowlife; he never sees through one prism only; one scene of a food-buying spree in an open-air market is an astonishingly fresh, vibrant vision of old-world customs. The film ends in a wedding attended by the...
(The entire section is 744 words.)
SOURCE: Kauffmann, Stanley. “Worlds Apart.” New Republic 201, no. 24 (11 December 1989): 24-5, 28.
[In the following excerpt, Kauffmann compares Valmont to Stephen Frears' Dangerous Liaisons, arguing that Valmont is the weaker of the two films.]
In less than a year since Dangerous Liaisons comes another film made from the Laclos novel. This one is called Valmont (Orion), after the leading male character; was directed by Milos Forman, whose last work was Amadeus; and was adapted from Laclos by Jean-Claude Carrière (with, uncredited, Forman). Carrière has had one of the most active of screenwriting careers since he began in 1961, a career especially famous for his many collaborations with Luis Buñuel and especially blotted by his collaboration with Peter Brook on the atrocious Swann in Love.
Here Carrière falters again. Valmont is called a free adaptation of Laclos. This is like calling Riunite a free adaptation of Mouton Rothschild. The time and milieu are unchanged in the film—late 18th century, French aristocrats—and so are some of the events. But there are radical alterations. I mention only two. Madame de Tourvel, the virtuous young wife who is seduced by Valmont solely because he has bet that he can do it, does not go mad and die: she is forgiven by her husband. Cécile, the virgin whom Valmont seduces en route to...
(The entire section is 641 words.)
SOURCE: Billson, Anne. “More Laclos Than La Close.” New Statesman and Society 4, no. 178 (22 November 1991): 40-1.
[In the following review, Billson compliments Forman's casting choices in Valmont, describing the film as more plausible and enjoyable than Stephen Frears' Dangerous Liaisons.]
Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos is my own personal Bonfire of the Vanities. Given it to read at an impressionable age, I promptly concluded that “la Marquise de Merteuil, c'est moi,” and went on to develop that obsessive possessiveness reserved for one's favourite works of fiction. None shall touch! And if they must touch, they'd better bloody well get it right.
So if Bonfire fans were peeved at the casting of Tom Hanks as a Master of the Universe, imagine my chagrin when I saw Dangerous Liaisons. I am sorry, but I am not Glenn Close. I am prepared to admit she can sometimes appear quite handsome in a backwoodsy, frecklesome, big-boned sort of way, but an elegant, seductive, 18th-century French aristocrat she is definitely not.
I also had problems with the performances of John Malkovich (too much prancing and leering) and Michelle Pfeiffer (too gooey and cute). Not the least of my objections was that we were asked to believe that the sort of lecherous bozo Malky was playing would dump Michelle in return...
(The entire section is 894 words.)
SOURCE: Bowie, Malcolm. “Rites of Passage Romp.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4626 (29 November 1991): 21.
[In the following review, Bowie asserts that although Valmont is visually stunning, the film is ultimately a sterile adaptation of Les Liaisons dangereuses.]
What will Milos Forman do next?, cinema-goers were entitled to ask themselves during the long years of silence that followed Amadeus. Forman's career had been Protean, after all, and the gulf between, say, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and the Shaffer adaptation was perhaps even more remarkable than the caesura that the Soviet tanks had inserted between his early Czech-language films and the later English series. The surprise with Valmont, based on Laclos's Les Liaisons dangereuses and now released in Britain after a delay of two years, is that there is no surprise: hard on the heels of one big-budget costume drama with a late eighteenth-century setting comes another of the same kind, sleekly photographed and awash with expensive local colour. Amadeus offered a prophetic glimpse of the commodified and designerized Mozart that the current bicentennial celebrations have brought into being, and one might have expected Forman himself to have put the lid back on his pomade-jar by now and returned his flounces and farthingales to the wardrobe. But no: even more than its predecessor, this is a film...
(The entire section is 988 words.)
SOURCE: MacDonald, George B. “Control by Camera: Milos Forman as Subjective Narrator.” In A Casebook on Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, edited by George J. Searles, pp. 163-72. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1992.
[In the following essay, MacDonald analyzes the intent and effect of the subjective camera technique that Forman employs in One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, highlighting Forman's use of color and point-of-view.]
The film version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is that rare adaptation which balances a respect for its literary source with a rich contribution of cinematic meanings. [One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest] establishes Czech director Milos Forman as a major director in contemporary American filmmaking.
Forman's role reaches far beyond the shaping of the actors' performances. It extends into the entire visual design and the literary structure of the film. Forman insisted that the film not be told from the first-person point of view of Bromden, for he wanted no single character's viewpoint to dominate in his adaptation. Partly as a result of Forman's intransigence in this matter, Kesey disassociated himself from the production, and two other writers, with Forman's help, wrote the final scenario.
Forman's elimination of the first-person viewpoint places McMurphy and Nurse Ratched outside the subjective...
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SOURCE: Hislop, Andrew. “The Cuckoo Clocked.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4775 (7 October 1994): 26.
[In the following review of Turnaround, Hislop underscores the recurring theme of betrayal in Forman's life and body of work.]
Off-screen at least, betrayal in Hollywood has all the sinfulness of a quick costume change—it's just business. “Turnaround” is a Hollywood term for a shift in loyalty, when a project is transferred from one studio to another, but, for Milos Forman, betrayal is no casual business. Its moral consequences and historical nuances permeate this subtle, witty autobiography, written with the Czech novelist Jan Novak, as it does his films. Forman, now a patriotic American, has directed two of the most Oscar-blessed films in Hollywood's history—One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (betrayal of human spirit and trust in a mental institution) and Amadeus (Salieri's betrayal of Mozart). The emotional and literary force of Turnaround, however, is not in its later amusing American film anecdotes but in Forman's Czechoslovakian recollections, as a child under Nazi occupation, then as a struggling filmmaker under Communist rule. There, Forman experienced betrayal to trump the melodrama of any on-screen Hollywood treachery.
Both of Forman's parents died in concentration camps after being betrayed by a member of the Gestapo who, before the...
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SOURCE: Forman, Milos, and Richard Porton. “Porn Again: The People vs. Larry Flynt.” Cineaste 22, no. 4 (fall 1996): 28-32.
[In the following interview, Forman discusses his views on censorship and his film The People vs. Larry Flynt.]
The controversy inspired by Milos Forman's The People vs. Larry Flynt has focused attention on America's most notorious pornographer and Hustler magazine's virulent misogyny. Unfortunately, this ongoing debate has yielded considerably more heat than political or moral illumination. Distinctions between Hustler's frequently vile brand of porn, First-Amendment issues, and Flynt's personal life have become hopelessly blurred. Gloria Steinem, for example, points out that Hustler's fondness for simulated rape and torture—a truly peculiar notion of erotica—is unquestionably degrading to women. Yet her understandable impatience with attempts to brand Flynt a “free speech hero” does not negate the fact that the smut peddler's censorship battles have, however unwittingly, helped to safeguard the rights of his opponents, whether antipornography feminists or right-wing fundamentalists.
From an equally problematic perspective, Laura Kipnis (a Marxist as well as a feminist), hailed Hustler as the most class-conscious mass circulation publication in the United States and expressed a surprising admiration for its...
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SOURCE: Freund, Charles Paul. “Market Culture: Bashed and Unabashed.” Reason 28, no. 8 (January 1997): 54.
[In the following essay, Freund examines the issues of capitalism and left-wing vs. right-wing politics in response to The People vs. Larry Flynt.]
Quick: Name an icon of “capitalism at its most unabashed.” Who'd you come up with? Somebody like Bill Gates from the exploding information economy? A Daddy Warbucks from Wall Street? Some old-time, public-be-damned robber baron?
The correct answer—at least the one given by The New York Times—is pornographer Larry Flynt. [He is] portrayed by Woody Harrelson in Milos Forman's movie, The People vs. Larry Flynt. The Times reviewed the film when it played the New York Film Festival, praising the characterization of Flynt as “a maverick vulgarian who embodies capitalism at its most unabashed.”
Critic Janet Maslin thought the film's opening sequence particularly good: It shows the young Flynt, then a Kentucky moonshiner, selling whiskey to a helpless old drunk in exchange for his last two bucks. “It's free enterprise even if it isn't pretty,” she wrote. Pornography and the ruin of drunks; that pretty much sums up capitalism, unless you want to include genocide.
And The Times did. Frank Rich, the paper's former drama critic and now a columnist, applauded the...
(The entire section is 1084 words.)
SOURCE: Holmstrom, David. “Director Defends The People vs. Larry Flynt.” Christian Science Monitor (12 February 1997): 57.
[In the following essay, Holmstrom discusses Forman's response to the negative critical reaction to The People vs. Larry Flynt.]
Milos Forman already won the Golden Globe Award as best director for his controversial new movie, The People vs. Larry Flynt. And just yesterday, he also earned an Oscar nomination for the same film. Entertainment Weekly magazine predicts Mr. Forman is a “shoo-in” for the Academy Award.
But Forman, honored twice before with Oscars (best director for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in 1975 and Amadeus in 1984) is upset about the attacks around the country over the content of his newest film. Since its release late last year, the movie has been heavily criticized by feminists for falsely portraying Larry Flynt, publisher of Hustler magazine, as only a mildly offensive pornography “rogue,” who champions free speech.
Writer Gloria Steinem and others have said that the film sanitizes Mr. Flynt and leaves out any mention of the magazine's well-known “images of women being beaten, tortured, and raped, women subject to degradations from bestiality to sexual slavery.” They ask, why should a man who publishes images of violently abused women be treated like a star, as...
(The entire section is 871 words.)
SOURCE: Bruzzi, Stella. Review of The People vs. Larry Flynt, by Milos Forman. Sight and Sound 7, no. 3 (March 1997): 58-9.
[In the following review, Bruzzi argues that Forman glosses over the darker side of Larry Flynt's persona in The People vs. Larry Flynt, therefore lessening the importance of Flynt's First Amendment battles with the U.S. Supreme Court.]
Kentucky, 1952. Two boys, one of them Larry Flynt, manufacture and sell moonshine liquor. Twenty years later, Larry is running the Hustler go-go club, where he meets Althea Leasure, a dancer he later marries, after the Hustler ‘newsletter’ has become a commercial porn magazine and made him a millionaire. In 1972 Larry is arrested on charges of pandering obscenity and organised crime, and is defended by Alan Isaacman, who represents him in all his courtroom battles.
At his first trial, Larry is found guilty and sentenced to 25 years, but is cleared five months later. Under the persuasion of Ruth Carter Stapleton, President Jimmy Carter's sister, he undergoes a religious conversion and is baptised, only to be arrested again in 1978 for selling Hustler. Outside the Georgia courthouse, Larry and Isaacman are shot, Larry remaining paralysed from the waist down and renouncing his Christianity. He and Althea move to Hollywood where, between 1979 and 1983, they abandon the running of the magazine and descend...
(The entire section is 1168 words.)
SOURCE: Newey, Adam. “Trials of the Smut-Pedlar Who Cared.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4907 (18 April 1997): 18.
[In the following review, Newey questions the reality behind Forman's “softening” of Larry Flynt's character in The People vs. Larry Flynt.]
From the opening credits of The People vs Larry Flynt, it is clear that the real hero of this film is the American flag. The stars and stripes form a near-constant backdrop to Milos Forman's biopic of Hustler publisher Larry Flynt, the king of blue-collar porn; the New York Times has even described the film as “the most patriotic movie of the year.”
Forman's aims are straightforward enough. By painting his film in red, white and blue, he hopes to rehabilitate Flynt as an all-American hero and to replenish America's faith in the values enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution. This is no easy task, because, even by Hollywood's standards, Flynt's life has been a bizarre one. After establishing a small string of strip joints in the Midwest in the early 1970s, he began publishing the Hustler Newsletter as a way of increasing the clubs' clientele, but soon realized there was a huge gap in the magazine market. By avowedly catering for a readership that found Playboy too challenging, Flynt amassed a fortune with Hustler magazine and became one of America's most reviled...
(The entire section is 746 words.)
SOURCE: Fuller, Kathryn H. Review of The People vs. Larry Flynt, by Milos Forman. Journal of American History 84, no. 3 (December 1997): 1185-86.
[In the following review, Fuller analyzes the public reaction to The People vs. Larry Flynt and expresses surprise that the majority of debate came from liberal and feminist groups.]
The People vs. Larry Flynt is a recent addition to the surprisingly small store of Hollywood films dealing with censorship, freedom of speech, and First Amendment controversies. Previous films featured likable, unassuming, Everyman protagonists such as Edward G. Robinson's journalist in Dispatch from Reuter's (1940), Henry Fonda's college professor in The Male Animal (1942), Bette Davis's librarian in Storm Center (1956), Spencer Tracy's lawyer in Inherit the Wind (1960), and Woody Allen's screenwriter in The Front (1976). In dramatic courtroom and lecture hall confrontations, the heroes rise above community approbation to uphold free speech and democracy. The flag-waving finales reassured moviegoers of the triumph of the American way.
The iconoclastic Everyman that viewers are asked to cheer in The People vs. Larry Flynt is the boorish, crude publisher of Hustler and other pornographic magazines and the defendant in a famous First Amendment case heard before the Supreme Court in 1987-1988,...
(The entire section is 1041 words.)
SOURCE: Rapf, Joanna E. “Volatile Forms: The Transgressive Energy of Ragtime as a Novel and Film.” Literature-Film Quarterly 26, no. 1 (January 1998): 16-22.
[In the following essay, Rapf explores the dynamics of the novel Ragtime and examines the elements that were lost and retained in its film adaptation.]
Father kept himself under control by writing in his journal. This was a system too, the system of language and conceptualization. It proposed that human beings, by the act of making witness, warranted times and places for their existence other than the time and place they were living through.
—E. L. Doctorow, Ragtime
E. L. Doctorow's novel, Ragtime, is certainly about “making witness.” Its serpentine structure, drifting from one subject and one point-of-view to another, with its allusive narrator who seems by the end to be a little boy reflecting on the past of his youth, is about the creation and re-creation of history, a discipline, Doctorow seems to suggest, that is itself about making order out of disorder, about “control.” While he is in the Arctic, Father “kept himself under control by writing in his journal.” This process of ordering, of fixing, is crucial in Doctorow's work. Ragtime is all about things going out of control as the nineteenth century marches into the...
(The entire section is 4438 words.)
SOURCE: Sterritt, David. Review of Man on the Moon, by Milos Forman. Cineaste 25, no. 2 (spring 2000): 52.
[In the following review, Sterritt dismisses the negative critical response to Man on the Moon, arguing that the film is both thought-provoking and mischievous.]
Man on the Moon joined the list of 1999's most misunderstood movies within hours of its first press screenings, as assorted critics started complaining they'd been cheated of the Andy Kaufman biopic they'd apparently come to see. The film's lukewarm box-office reception probably had a similar cause, abetted by lingering memories of Kaufman's actual career, which still conjures up extremely mixed vibes in the popular imagination. Universal Pictures didn't help, promoting the movie with publicity stunts designed to merge Jim Carrey's star power with Kaufman's own persona—a peculiar decision, considering Kaufman's rocky relationship with the public, not to mention the fact that Carrey's younger devotees aren't likely to have much awareness of Kaufman beyond Taxi reruns on late-night television. Nor did Universal give Man on the Moon an effective launch on the film-festival circuit. This was an obvious option, given the auteur eminence of director Milos Forman and the precedent of his previous picture, The People vs. Larry Flynt, opening the New York film-fest in 1997. But the studio apparently feared...
(The entire section is 1514 words.)
SOURCE: Felperin, Leslie. Review of Man on the Moon, by Milos Forman. Sight and Sound 10, no. 4 (April 2000): 58.
[In the following excerpt, Felperin asserts that Man on the Moon neither explains nor justifies Andy Kaufman's life and career.]
Clearly, if you're going to spend ＄52 million making a movie about a now-obscure comedian from the 70s, you have to believe his life is extraordinary in some way. (It's probably rule number one in the textbook for film-school courses called Advanced Screenwriting: Biopics.) Indeed on paper, Andy Kaufman's life story sounds thrillingly unlikely. Here's an introverted situationist manqué who rose to fame and fortune by singing along to the theme tune from Mighty Mouse, pretending to be a inept refugee and physically assaulting people. As every good biopic protagonist should, he duly died tragically young, of lung cancer at the age of 36. (Allegedly he didn't even smoke, which is in itself pretty funny.)
The problem is that while Kaufman's life story has its required quota of bizarre-yet-true events, it's doomed to failure as mainstream entertainment because Kaufman wasn't terribly likeable as a person. More importantly, he was the master of a comedy style that, as his agent George in the film tells him, is “only funny to two people in the universe.” He means Kaufman and his partner Bob Zmuda, although we...
(The entire section is 712 words.)
SOURCE: Romney, Jonathan. “Out of this World.” New Statesman 129, no. 4485 (8 May 2000): 41-2.
[In the following review, Romney applauds Forman's casting choices in Man on the Moon, but finds that the film offers no further insight into Andy Kaufman's life.]
To American audiences in the 1970s and 1980s, the comedian Andy Kaufman was a legendary figure whose confrontational routines turned show-business conventions upside down. In Britain, where he was known mainly as the ingratiatingly kooky Latka in the TV sitcom Taxi, Milos Forman's biopic Man on the Moon won't mean quite so much. There's an uncomfortable sense of “you had to be there”: we must take it on trust that Kaufman was a media revolutionary, a pop situationist and a performance artist who used prime-time TV as his medium.
Nevertheless, Kaufman's career remains startling, however accustomed we are today to the wind-up strategies of a Chris Morris. Despite his success in Taxi, Kaufman professed to despise the sitcom itself and showbiz in general; yet he claimed to be a song-and-dance man at heart. He courted affection and loathing in equal measures, finally baiting his audience so thoroughly that he short-circuited his career almost entirely. On the one hand, he would play a childlike clown lip-syncing to the Mighty Mouse theme song; on the other, he spouted outrageous macho rhetoric...
(The entire section is 925 words.)
Berlins, Marcel. Review of The People vs. Larry Flynt, by Milos Forman. New Statesman 126, no. 4328 (4 April 1997): 36-7.
Berlins discusses the significance of and depiction of Larry Flynt's legal battles in The People vs. Larry Flynt.
Boylan, James. Review of The People vs. Larry Flynt, by Milos Forman. Columbia Journalism Review 35, no. 5 (January-February 1997): 15.
Boylan praises The People vs. Larry Flynt as an important film about free speech.
Brudnoy, David. “Iris' Head, Eric's Knee, Milos' Gap.” National Review 23, no. 29 (27 July 1971): 822-23.
Brudnoy attributes the awkwardness of Taking Off to Forman's unfamiliarity with American sensibilities.
Clouzot, Claire. Review of Loves of a Blonde, by Milos Forman. Film Quarterly 21, no. 1 (fall 1967): 47-8.
Clouzot applauds the beauty of Loves of a Blonde, attributing it to Forman's ability to capture the humor and humanity in everyday situations.
Coe, Jonathan. Review of The People vs. Larry Flynt, by Milos Forman. New Statesman 126, no. 4329 (11 April 1997): 40-1.
Coe compliments Forman's directing and casting choices in The People vs. Larry Flynt.
(The entire section is 428 words.)