Saturday, April 14, 2018

Miloš Forman, 1932-2018

Czech-born director Miloš Forman, who emigrated to the US after the Soviets crushed the Prague Spring uprising in 1968 and directed a series of iconic movies, has died at the age of 86.

I think most people would remember those English-language movies. After all, Forman won Oscars for two of them, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and then Amadeus. And of course, both of them are excellent movies. But I have to admit that I have a softer spot in my heart for a couple of his early Czech movies.

First is Loves of a Blonde. A small-town girl working at an out of the way shoe factory meets the leader of a small band when the band is brought in to perform at a parter pairing the female factory employees and the men of the local military base. Things don't go quite as planned for anybody. One of the iconic images from the film is of the two main leads lying on a bed together half naked, but I like the image of the young lady tying his necktie around a tree. In the movie, it's supposed to be a sign of their enduring love, but looking at it from foreign eyes, it's as ludicrous as picking petals off a daisy must seem to foreigners looking at us Americans. There's a reason the cover of Criterion DVD has the necktie on it.

The Firemen's Ball is a huge favorite of mine. In an even smaller town than the one with the shoe factory in Loves of a Blonde, the former chief of the fire company is now dying of cancer. Last year was his 50th anniversary with the department, so the current members decide that they're going to hold a ball in his honor. What happens, however, is that everybody decides they want to use the ball to make themselves look good, with the predictable result that people are basically working at cross purposes and anything that can go wrong will. The Communists banned this movie and watching it, it's pretty darn easy to see why they would be horrified by the film's between-the-lines commentary on Communist solidarity not working. Forman, for his part, always claimed that wasn't his message, and it's a plausible claim. As I said when I reviewed this one ages ago, it could just as easily be seen as a commentary on almost any small town anywhere.

Right now there's nothing up on the TCM website about Forman's death. I don't know if they'll plan a tribute, and if so, what movies they'll be able to get. I think Criterion might have the rights to both The Firemen's Ball (currently out of print but streaming) and Loves of a Blonde.

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