Orphaned at a young age during World War II, Miloš Forman became one of the prominent directors of the Czech New Wave in the 1960s. After the brief period of artistic enlightenment and liberation that was the Prague Spring of 1968, and the Soviets' subsequent invasion of Czechoslovakia, Forman fled to America, where he found remarkable success and acclaim as director of award bait like 1975's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and 1984's Amadeus.
The Northwest Film Center's Miloš Forman retrospective, beginning this week, is most valuable for its screenings of Forman's lesser-seen early Czech work, but nearly all of Forman's films exhibit remarkably mature and coherent storytelling skills. As highbrow as much of his work is, it's all incredibly accessible, and nearly all his movies—regardless of subject matter—are winningly funny.
After tentative early steps like 1963's Audition and 1964's Black Peter, Forman created his first masterpiece with Loves of a Blonde in 1965, followed by the broad comedy of The Firemen's Ball in 1967. Forman's first American picture, 1971's Taking Off, indicates the expert fusion of music and cinema that would be put to greater use in the triumphant Amadeus, but it was the comically nihilistic Cuckoo's Nest (screening next week) that garnered the first heap of Academy Awards. Hair and Ragtime followed in 1979 and 1981, respectively, and Forman then returned to his native Prague to film Amadeus (also screening next week), perhaps the greatest film about music ever made.
Forman has since directed a few more biopics of subversive outsiders (The People vs. Larry Flynt, Man on the Moon), but nothing has reached those earlier heights. Still, with this retrospective, and its indispensable screenings of Forman's early Czech films, you can view the work of a craftsman and satirist—one with a wide humanist streak and an indelible populist bent—of the highest order.