Czech-American director Milos Forman has died aged 86 in the United States of America after a short illness. Known for his politically acute and satire-laden filmmaking, Forman’s best-known movies include One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and Amadeus (1984), both of which won him the Academy Award for Best Director.
Forman was born in 1932 in Caslav near Prague and raised by his extended family after his parents died in Nazi concentration camps. He studied screenwriting at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. Forman established his talent with a title at the 1958 Brussels World Exhibition, but made his feature debut in 1963 with Black Peter, which won the top prize at the Locarno Film Festival. Forman’s 1965 feature The Loves of a Blonde also attracted attention on the international festival circuit.
Forman was one of the most well-known directors of the Czech New Wave, the filmmaking movement from the 1960s that produced piercing studies of life and politics in the former Czechoslovakia. Forman’s politically acute voice first became evident with his 1967 satire The Fireman’s Ball, an allegory about the collapse of order in his Communist country.
The director moved to the Unites States of America in 1968, and his first American feature, titled Taking Off, was released 1971. The youth comedy won the top honour at the Cannes Film Festival that year.
Forman established his reputation in America four years later with the release of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, featuring Jack Nicholson in the lead. An adaptation of Ken Kesey’s eponymous novel, the drama chronicles the events at a psychiatric facility managed by a tyrannical head nurse. The film won Oscars in the five most celebrated categories: Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. It is only one of three films to have accomplished this feat.
“Forman had a unique sensitivity to American themes, which he prismed through a sly, satiric sensibility,” The Hollywood Reporter wrote. “His films generally appealed to sophisticated audiences, though he could reach the mainstream with his savvy flourishes.”
After directing Hair (1979) and Ragtime (1981), Forman helmed the period drama Amadeus, a fictionalised biography of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Nominated for 53 awards, the film received eight Academy Awards (including Best Picture), four BAFTA Awards, four Golden Globes, and a Directors Guild of America award.
Forman went on direct two more biographical films, each of them based on the lives of controversial American figures. The People vs Larry Flynt (1996) depicts the life of Larry Flynt, the maverick publisher of the magazine Hustler, while Man on the Moon (1999) portrays comic Andy Kaufman and his alter-ego Tony Clifton with Jim Carrey in the lead as Kaufman.
Goya’s Ghosts (2006), Forman’s last feature film as director, is a biography of Spanish painter Francisco Goya featuring Natalie Portman, Javier Bardem, Stellan Skarsgard and Randy Quaid .
In 2009, Forman directed, with his son Peter, a remake of his 1966 film A Walk Worthwhile for Czech television. Although he later collaborated with Vaclav Havel to adapt a novel about the 1938 Munich Agreement that enabled the Nazis to claim control of Czechoslovakia’s Sudentenland, the project failed to materialise.
Forman was co-director of the film programme at Columbia University and also appeared as an actor films such as Heartburn (1986), New Years’ Day (1989), Keeping the Faith (2000), and The Beloved (2011). He served as jury president at the Cannes Film Festival in 1985 and the Venice Film Festival in 2000.
Forman was married first to Jana Brejchova (his lead actress in Loves of a Blonde) and then to Vera Kresadlova, with whom the director had twin sons Peter and Matej. His third wife was Martina Zborilova in 1999, who is the mother of another set of his twins, Andrew and James. A 2009 documentary Milos Forman: Co te nezabije... traces Forman’s life and career. The filmmaker also wrote a biography in 1994 with Jan Novak, titled Turnaround: A Memoir.
“I’ve always done everything in my life to win,” Forman writes in his autobiography. A filmmaker who never shied from making political statements with his work, Forman won the admiration of audiences around the world for his consistent and unswerving subversive streak.