Director Milos Forman, ‘Genius of Cinematography,’ Is Gone at Age 86

Filmmaker escaped an oppressive government and found success in America by telling stories celebrating the power of the individual

by Zachary Leeman | Updated 16 Apr 2018 at 2:17 PM

Hollywood lost one of its top directors on Saturday when 86-year-old Milos Forman passed away in Connecticut.

Forman’s rise in the film industry embodied the American dream. He arrived in the United States in the late 1960s as a poor man who knew the perils of an oppressive government. The Czechoslovakian, an orphan of Nazi Holocaust victims, left his homeland in 1968 at 36 years old, during the Prague Spring, when communist troops invaded his town and severely limited the country’s arts industry.

Forman knew little English, but he learned quickly and got to work in the film industry, directing “Taking Off” in 1971. The movie was a major flop and hurt his standing in the community — but Forman did not give up on his dream, even if he did have to wait a few years.

That chance turned out to be the opportunity to direct the film that turned out to be the 1975 classic “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest,” co-produced by none other than Michael Douglas. The film — based on Ken Kesey’s book — turned out to be a mega-success. It won the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Jack Nicholson), Best Actress (Louise Fletcher), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Lawrence Hauben, Bo Goldman).

Nearly a decade later, Forman earned praise once again as director of the 1984 drama "Amadeus." The movie, starring Tom Hulce in the title role and F. Murray Abraham as Antonio Salieri, was a fictitious biography of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It was nominated for and won eight Academy Awards. Forman even walked away with another Best Director Oscar.

In the later part of his life, Forman was unfortunately not as active in the film industry. One of the last movies he directed in the 21st century, "Goya's Ghosts," netted less than $10 million at the worldwide box office.

After the announcement of Forman's passing — after a short illness, according to his wife — many in the entertainment industry took the opportunity on Twitter to pay their respects to the work of the director. These included writer and producer Larry Karaszewski, who wrote, "Milos Forman was our friend and our teacher. He was a master filmmaker — no one better at capturing small unrepeatable moments of human behavior. We made two movies together, and every day spent with him was a unique adventure. Milos loved life. I will miss his laughter."

Karaszewski worked with Forman on both "The People vs. Larry Flynt" and "Man on the Moon" during the 1990s.

Actor Antonio Banderas echoed Karaszewski's sentiments, writing, "Milos Forman has left us. Genius of cinematography and master in the portrayal of the human condition. RIP."

The arc of Forman's life itself resembled a movie — he endured his share of tragedy early in life, but his story had a happy ending given the major successes he captured in the United States. He understood what true oppression was and, despite being a victim of it, he did not let such setbacks slow him down.

Forman kept pressing forward, and his anti-authoritarian stories — such as "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" — will not be forgotten.

(photo credit, homepage image: Milos Forman, CC BY-SA 3.0, by che; photo credit, article image: Milos Forman, CC BY-SA 3.0, by Zff2012)

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