I’ve been re-listening to Mike Medavoy’s incredible audiobook You're Only As Good As Your Next One: 100 Great Films, 100 Good Films and 100 For Which I Should Be Shot on his illustrious career in the movie business. Medavoy was an agent turned movie executive who was instrumental in green lighting some my favourite studio films.
Films like Rocky, Annie Hall, Network, Carrie and Thunderbolt & Lightfoot left me spinning but it was One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest that really put the hooks in. There was such power in Jack Nicholson’s performance as Randle McMurphy, an irascible persona who refuses to become just another drooling vegetable in a repressive Oregonian psych ward.
The Ken Kesey adaptation was Miloš Forman’s second Hollywood film after fleeing his native Czechoslovakia following the Prague Spring in 1968 (precipitating a Soviet invasion of the beleaguered country). Cuckoo's Nest launched him into the zeitgeist, scooping up five Oscars at the Academy Awards — including one for Best Director — and returning big time at the box office.
Towards the end of the book Medavoy details the creation of Phoenix Pictures — his own production company — in the 1990s. He talks about taking a gamble on the controversial The People vs Larry Flynt, Forman's film surrounding the founder of Hustler magazines legal struggle to exercise his freedom of speech. I remember stumbling over this film in my local video store as a teenager, sucked in by the poster of a crucified Woody Harrelson superimposed over the crotch of a beautiful woman. The film did not disappoint.
I sat down with Amadeus last night, Forman’s stunning exploration of the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the eighteenth-century Austrian composer whose name is still synonymous with precocious talent and grand ambition. While his director’s cut is a whopping three-hours, the 1984 film is visually captivating and went on to earn Forman his second directing win at the Academy Awards.
I especially loved how he named his sons (James & Andy) after the key figures in Man on the Moon, a portrait of the late American comedian Andy Kaufman. The recent Netflix documentary Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond sheds light on the highly controversial production, documenting Jim Carrey's unconventional methods in bringing Kaufman to life. It was so endearing to see a seventy-something Forman doing his best to wrangle Tony Clifton, Kaufman's alter-ego, a devoutly chauvinistic lounge singer.
Miloš Forman was such a powerhouse, an eternal optimist in the wake of a tortured childhood (his mother perished in a Nazi concentration camp). It's amazing how much I binged his films growing up without ever realizing he was pulling the strings. While I was saddened at the news of his passing earlier this year, his films will always stand as a beacon of light, a ray of hope for all to see.