Prague, 4 November 1934.
1957–59—attended Film Academy (FAMU), Prague.
Worked in amateur theatre, and as focus puller, grip, and laboratory
technician; 1953–56—assistant at documentary film studio;
1963—photographed the first of many films for Milos Forman,
; worked on films for Lindsay Anderson in England, 1967–68, and on
international films after 1972.
British Academy Award for
Snadný život (Makovec) (asst); Váhavý střelec (Toman) (asst)
Cesta zpátky (Krška) (asst); Dnes naposled ( Today for the Last Time ) (Frič); Zde jsou lvi (Krška) (asst)
Holubice (Vláčil) (asst); Kouzelný den (Valášek) (asst)
Králíci ve vysoké trávě (Gajer)
Deštivý den ( Rainy Day ) (Bělka) (asst)
Až přijde kocour ( The Cat ) (Jasný); Konkurs ( Talent Competition ) (Forman); Křik ( The Cry ) (Jireš)
Démanty noci ( Diamonds of the Night ) (Němec)
Intimni osvětlení ( Intimate Lighting ) (Passer) (co); Lásky jedné pla vovlásky ( Loves of a Blonde ) (Forman); "Perlicky na dne" ep. of Podvodníci (Němec)
Mučedníci lásky ( Martyrs of Love ) (Němec); "The Arrivals" ep. of The White Bus (Anderson)
Hoří, má penenko ( The Firemen's Ball ) (Forman); Prag Legende (Lahola) (TV)
Co nidky nepochopím. . . (Roháč) (TV)
If . . . (Anderson); Tělo Diany (Richard)
Slaughterhouse-Five (Hill) (exteriors); Taking Off (Forman)
Homolka a tobolka (Papousek)
O Lucky Man! (Anderson)
Drahé tety a já (Podskalsky); Televize v Bublicích aneb Bublice v televizi (Papoušek)
Dvojí svět hotelu Pacifik (Majewski); Hřiště (Skalský)
Jakub (Koval); Konečně si rozumíme (Papoušek); Slovácká suita (TV)
Antonín Dvořák: Symfonie č. 9 e moll, op. 95 "Z Nového světa" (TV); Příběh lásky a cti (Vávra)
Nechci nic slyšet (Koval)
Božská Ema ( The Divine Emma ) (Krejčík); Hair (Forman)
Ragtime (Forman); Temné slunce (Vávra)
The World According to Garp (Hill)
The River (Rydell)
F/X (Mandel); Heaven Help Us (Dinner)
Distant Harmony (Sage)
Big Shots (Mandel)
Hashigaon Hagadol ( Funny Farm ) (Alter)
Awakenings (P. Marshall)
A League of Their Own (P. Marshall)
Let It Be Me (Bergstein)
The Preacher's Wife (Marshall)
On Ragtime in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), May 1982.
American Cinematographer (Hollywood), February 1991.
Kino (Prague), no. 10, 1967
Wiener, D. J., on Silkwood in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), February 1984.
Lee, Nova, on Amadeus in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), April 1985.
American Cinematographer (Hollywood), vol. 73, July 1992.
Film Dope (Nottingham), June 1993.
* * *
The international career of Miroslav Ondříček began in the 1960s through his work with such directors of the Czechoslovak New Wave as Jan Nemec, Ivan Passer, and especially Milos Forman. As their films received prestigious awards at international festivals, Ondříček's photography was recognized as a chief factor determining the movement's style and form. His camera work in such films as Loves of a Blonde , Intimate Lighting , and The Firemen's Ball shows his skill in social documentary and satire. The mixture of the unobtrusive, predominantly medium shots and telling close-ups registering multitudes of momentary human reactions and feelings, created the unique style of the New Wave and demonstrated Ondříček's sensitivity to the film medium. Ondříček's talent for satire comes through especially in Forman's The Firemen's Ball , where his alert and often merciless camera catches the comic in the common and everyday. Without Ondříček's masterful cinematography, Forman's film would have lost much of its continuous, snowballing humor.
The success of Forman's films abroad led to Ondříček's first job outside Czechoslovakia. In 1966, although he did not know any English, Ondříček was invited by Lindsay Anderson to photograph The White Bus . Anderson liked his work so much that he employed him again for his two most well-known films, If . . . and O Lucky Man! Photographing each of them was a new challenge for Ondříček. In If . . . , following Anderson's directions, he successfully undercut a straightforward and realistic story with surrealistic portions giving the picture its ambiguous mixture of fantasy and reality, its quality of "assumed" reality. In O Lucky Man! , Ondříček's photography marvelously interplayed with Alan Price's songs and abruptly changed settings to portray the episodic adventures of its modern picaro.
Ondříček's high professional reputation today rests on his 30-year-long association with his compatriot, Milos Forman who, forced to remain in the West after the Soviet invasion of his homeland, established himself as one of the most successful contemporary Hollywood filmmakers. Ondříček shot all but two of Forman's films, creating photography for such hits as Hair , Ragtime , and Amadeus . Shooting each of these films was a completely different experience. After all, each was a creative adaptation of a different genre (musical, novel, and play, respectively), and each dealt with a radically different period of time. In Hair Ondříček's dynamic camera work helped give the film a coherent and fluent story line naturally highlighted by choreography and popular songs.
Ondříček's lighting and predominantly medium shots created the film's nostalgic and romanticized portrayal of the radical 1960s. Ragtime , for which Ondříček received an Oscar nomination, required a meticulous recreation of early 20th-century New York. Following the photographic style of the time, Ondříček depended on the natural outside light for interior sequences, avoided shots of human profiles, and positioned the camera usually at lower angles. Most of Amadeus was shot in historic Prague, Ondříček's home city, which was easily transformed into 18th-century Vienna. Many opera sequences were photographed in the old Tyl Theater where Mozart conducted his Don Giovanni .
Although the limited indoor space greatly reduced the freedom of his camera movement, all his interior scenes look dynamic and lively. Moreover, the candlelight and Chinese lanterns housing color-sprayed 250-watt bulbs gave his interior photography a realistic, warm 18th-century look. Amadeus , Ondříček's most lavish and challenging production so far, demonstrated the full scope of his remarkable talent. His photography gave the film its narrative flow, dynamism and splendor in the group sequences, and the intimacy of Mozart's personal life—all dramatically punctuated with the composer's enchanting music. For the first time in his career, Ondříček photographed a film that combined his love of filmmaking, music, and his hometown, Prague.
Ondříček's work with Forman gave him opportunities to work with other American directors, notably George Roy Hill and Mike Nichols. In Hill's Slaughterhouse-Five , a rather dull, humorless adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's famous novel, his photography effectively conveyed the film's intricate narrative structure and its abruptly shifting time levels. A large part of that film was shot in Czechoslovakia. In Nichols's Silkwood Ondříček's photography subtly contrasted Karen's private and professional lives. To emphasize the characters' radioactive contamination, Ondříček used special make-up and fluorescent light for the sequences inside the plutonium plant. For scenes in Karen's house, on the other hand, he used only natural outside light from the windows.
Ondříček's photography does not exhibit any consistent stylistic or formal features. It simply demonstrates versatile technical professionalism, discipline, and artistic intuition which has always given him that rare ability to translate the director's vision into convincing visual images. After all, in an interview for American Cinematographer (May 1982), Ondříček plainly admitted, "Give me the right story and director, and I believe that I can find any cinematographic style that is needed."