TOWARD THE PRAGUE SPRING
In the late 1950s, a number of new feature directors made their debuts, including František Vláčil, and early FAMU graduates such as Vojtěch Jasný, Karel Kachyňa and the Slovak, Štefan Uher. In a world in which criticism of Stalinism was forbidden, they found their inspiration in the visual traditions of Czech lyricism and in broad humanist subject matter. Although little known to international audiences, they were to make some of the most significant films of the 1960s. In the 1990s, Czech critics voted Vláčil's historical epic Marketa Lazarova (1967) the best Czech film ever made and Jasný'śs dobři rodáci ( All My Good Countrymen , 1968), which dealt with the collectivization of agriculture, was to prove one of the most politically controversial films of the Prague Spring. In 1990, Kachyňa's Ucho ( The Ear , 1970) still impressed at the Cannes Film Festival when it premiered after a twenty-year ban.
Slovak cinema, which enjoyed a separate—if interactive—existence after 1945, saw the development of a number of significant talents after the production of Palo Bielik's film Vlčie diery ( Wolves' Lairs , 1948), about the Slovak National Uprising of 1944. The most notable were probably Peter Solan (b. 1929) and Stanislav Barabáš. Uher, who began his career in 1961, paved the way for the innovative developments of the 1960s with his Slnko v sieti ( Sunshine in a Net , (1962), which combined lyricism with significant narrative innovation.
It was against the lyrical humanist background of the late 1950s–early 1960s that the Czech New Wave made its debut in 1963 with Miloš Forman's Černý Petr ( Black petter), Věra Chytilová's O něčem jiném ( Something Different ), and Jaromil Jireš's Křik ( The Cry ). All three films addressed the problems of everyday life, with cinéma-vérité a key influence on Forman and Chytilová. While the emphasis on the look of everyday life heralded movement in a new direction, the New Wave rapidly escaped any particular stylistic form in favor of a diversity of output that also comprised lyricism, critical realism, and the avant-garde. Other directors who emerged in the mid- to late-1960s have been seen as "New Wave," including Jan Němec ( Démanty noci [ Diamonds of the Night , 1964], O slavnosti a hostech [ Report on the Party and the Guests , 1966]); Pavel Juráček and Jan Schmidt (b. 1934) ( Postava k podpírání [ Josef Kilián , 1963]); Evald Schorm ( Kaźdý den odvahu [ Everyday Courage , 1964], Návrat ztraceného syna [ Return of the Prodigal Son
b. Č áslav, Czechoslovakia, 2 February 1932
Miloš Forman is one of the major directors of the Czech New Wave. He studied screenwriting at the Prague Film School (FAMU), and made his debut as writer/director with Konkurs ( Talent Competition ) and Černý Petr ( Black Peter ) in 1963. In collaboration with his colleagues Ivan Passer and Jaroslav Papoušek, who subsequently became directors themselves, he developed a style of semi-improvised film making that used non-professional actors and focused on everyday life. This apparently accidental discovery of reality—a world of dance halls, canteens, and run-down flats—was, he argued, a reaction against the false and idealized images promoted by the official cinema.
His next two films, Lásky jedné plavovlásky ( Loves of a Blonde , 1965) and Hoří, má panenko ( The Firemen's Ball , 1967), were both Oscar ® -nominated. The Firemen's Ball , the comic story of how a local fire brigade fails in its attempts to organize both a raffle and a beauty competition, was interpreted, even at script stage, as a satire on the Communist Party. In 1973, following the Soviet invasion of 1968, it was listed as one of the four Czech films to be banned "forever."
It was his last Czech film, and Forman was working on the script of his first American film in Paris in 1968 when the Soviet invasion took place. He remained abroad and became a US citizen in 1977. Taking Off (1971) continued the improvised, group-centered approach of his Czech films but, despite festival success, did not succeed with American audiences. He subsequently chose to work with preexisting themes from his adopted culture and not to write his own original screenplays.
His subsequent American films—frequently compared adversely with his Czech ones, although they won him two Best Director Oscars ® —reveal, in fact, a decidedly off-center portrait of American life. They include adaptations of Ken Kesey ( One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest , 1975); E. L. Doctorow ( Ragtime , 1981); the James Rado–Gerome Ragni–Galt McDermott musical Hair (1979); and, more recently, collaborations with screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski in their continuing gallery of American eccentrics ( The People vs. Larry Flynt , 1996; Man on the Moon , 1999). Forman based himself in New York rather than Hollywood and his subjects always have had an intrinsic interest and have been treated in sophisticated ways. His two "European" projects, the multiple Academy Award ® -winner Amadeus (1984), from the play by Peter Schaffer, which was made in Prague, and Valmont (1989), an adaptation of Choderlos de Laclos's Les Liaisons Dangereuses , made in France, were also his most elaborate. In both, he treated his heroes—Mozart and his wife and the sexual predators of Valmont —pretty much like the young innocents of his early Czech films.
Black Peter (1963), Loves of a Blonde (1965), The Firemen's Ball (1967), One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), Amadeus (1984), Valmont (1989)
Forman, Miloš, and Jan Novák. Turnaround: A Memoir. New York: Villard Books, 1994.
Hames, Peter. "Forman." In Five Filmmakers: Tarkovsky, Forman, Polanski, Szabó, Makavejev , editedbyDanielJ. Goulding. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994.
Liehm, Antonín J. The Miloš Forman Stories . White Plains, NY: International Arts and Sciences Press, 1975.
——. "Miloš Forman: the Style and the Man." In Politics, Art, and Commitment in the East European Cinema , edited by David W. Paul. London: Macmillan, and New York, St. Martin's, 1983.
1966]); Ivan Passer (b. 1933) ( Intimníosvětlení [ Intimate Lighting , 1965]); Hynek Bočan ( Nikdo se nebude sma [ No Laughing Matter , 1965], Soukromát́ vichřice [ Private Hurricane , 1967]); and JiříMenzel ( Closely Watched Trains , 1966], Rozmarné léto [ Capricious Summer , 1967], Skřivánci na niti [ Skylarks on a String , 1969]). Closely Watched Trains was to prove the second Czech Oscar ® -winner in 1967.
Criticism of the system tended to be oblique prior to 1968, when the reform Communism of the Prague Spring effectively abolished censorship but continued to fund its filmmakers. Nonetheless, there were some powerful works even before this. A director of the older generation, Ladislav Helge (b. 1927), made some strong internal criticisms with his film Škola otců ( School for Fathers , 1957), about a teacher fighting a battle against hypocrisy masked by ideological correctness. Evald Schorm's (1931–1988) debut feature Everyday Courage focused on a Party activist who sees his image of certainty collapsing around him, while in Return of the Prodigal Son he examined the case of an attempted suicide, linking it explicitly to issues of conscience and compromise.
The realist and humorous approach of directors like Forman and Passer was supplemented by Juráček's and Schmidt's Kafkaesque analysis of bureaucracy in Josef Kilián , Němec's absurdist portrait of power in Report on the Party and the Guests , and Forman's farce, Hoří, má panenko ( The Firemen's Ball , 1967), in which his aging firemen's inability to organize anything was inevitably interpreted as a somewhat broader parable. Avant-garde and experimental traditions began to emerge in the late 1960s with the influence of Poetism (Němec's Mučedníci lásky [ Martyrs of Love , 1966]); Dadaism (Chytilová's Sedmikrásky [ Daisies , 1966]); and Surrealism (Jireš's Valerie a týden divů [ Valerie and her Week of Wonders , 1970]).
The Slovak Wave of the late 1960s shared a similarly radical approach to form. Dušan Hanák's 322 (1969) was a bleak and powerful allegory of contemporary life while directors such as Juraj Jakubisko (b. 1938) ( Zbehovia a pútnici [ The Deserter and the Nomads , 1968]) and Elo Havetta (1938–1975) ( Slávnosť v botáhrade [ The Party in the Botanical Garden , 1969]) used folk inspiration in a way that looked forward to the work of Emir Kusturica, who graduated from FAMU ten years later.
The Czech and Slovak New Waves undoubtedly contributed to the political reform movement of the 1960s, and formed part of the Prague Spring attempts to combine democracy and Socialism—in effect, glasnost twenty years before Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev initiated the reforms that led to the end of the Cold War. The Warsaw Pact invasion and suppression of these earlier reforms led, perhaps inevitably, to the banning of writers, artists, and filmmakers. Over 100 films were banned, and Forman, Passer, Kadár, Weiss, Jasný, Němec, and Barabáš went into exile. Helge, Schorm, and Juráček found their film careers at an end while others were forced into compromises with the regime.