Milos Forman Essay - Critical Essays

Forman, Milos


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.

Biographical Information

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).

Major Works

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

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.

Principal Works

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...

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Peter John Dyer (essay date winter 1965-1966)

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...

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John Coleman (review date 20 May 1966)

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...

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Philip T. Hartung (review date 11 November 1966)

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...

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Stanley Kauffmann (review date 24 April 1971)

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....

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Colin L. Westerbeck, Jr. (review date 21 May 1971)

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,...

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David Wilson (review date autumn 1971)

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...

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Michael Wood (review date 5 February 1976)

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...

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John Coleman (review date 27 February 1976)

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...

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Charles Champlin (review date 15 March 1979)

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.


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Richard A. Blake (review date 7 April 1979)

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...

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Stanley Kauffmann (review date 14 April 1979)

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...

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Colin L. Westerbeck, Jr. (review date 25 May 1979)

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...

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Sheila Benson (review date 15 November 1981)

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...

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Robert Asahina (review date 25 January 1982)

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...

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David Thomson (review date January-February 1982)

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...

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John Simon (review date 5 February 1982)

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...

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Sheila Benson (review date 19 September 1984)

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”...

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Harlan Jacobson (essay date September-October 1984)

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...

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Peter Shaffer (essay date September-October 1984)

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...

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Stanley Kauffmann (review date 22 October 1984)

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...

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Gilbert Adair (review date spring 1985)

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...

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Tom O'Brien (review date 1 December 1989)

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...

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Stanley Kauffmann (review date 11 December 1989)

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...

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Anne Billson (review date 22 November 1991)

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...

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Malcolm Bowie (review date 29 November 1991)

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...

(The entire section is 988 words.)

George B. MacDonald (essay date 1992)

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...

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Andrew Hislop (review date 7 October 1994)

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...

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Milos Forman and Richard Porton (interview date fall 1996)

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...

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Charles Paul Freund (essay date January 1997)

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,...

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David Holmstrom (essay date 12 February 1997)

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...

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Stella Bruzzi (review date March 1997)

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...

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Adam Newey (review date 18 April 1997)

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...

(The entire section is 746 words.)

Kathryn H. Fuller (review date December 1997)

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),...

(The entire section is 1041 words.)

Joanna E. Rapf (essay date January 1998)

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.


(The entire section is 4438 words.)

David Sterritt (review date spring 2000)

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...

(The entire section is 1514 words.)

Leslie Felperin (review date April 2000)

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...

(The entire section is 712 words.)

Jonathan Romney (review date 8 May 2000)

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”:...

(The entire section is 925 words.)

Further Reading


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....

(The entire section is 428 words.)