In this week’s Arts: a new documentary offers an overview of the great Czech film director Miloš Forman, and the 1960s rock group Blue Effect have just brought out a box set of their collected albums.
Miloš Forman: Co tě nezabije [What Doesn’t Kill You]… is the title of a new documentary by another Miloš, Miloš Šmídmajer. It offers an overview of the Oscar-winning director’s career and life, including intimate scenes of Forman at home with his young family. He also discusses the deaths of his own parents in Nazi concentration camps, in a moving scene recorded at the former Terezín ghetto.
“There’s a saying, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And when you consider that as a small boy he lost his dad and later his mother and had to toughen up much younger than other boys… Then he was kicked out of an elite boarding school in Poděbrady…He had to find strength within himself.
“He says, for instance that eastern European directors achieved more in the US than say French directors, because a Czech émigré couldn’t go home, he had to succeed. Otherwise he was in trouble.”
Of course Miloš Forman did succeed in the US, and how. After helping define the Czech New Wave with the likes of Loves of a Blonde and The Firemen’s Ball, it didn’t take him too long to adapt to Hollywood, where he scored big hits with movies such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus, becoming one of the most successful film-makers of his era. He is also a wonderful storyteller, recounting numerous events in his life with great animation in the new documentary.
“It’s just great. If you mention a story to him, he’s able to tell it really well – in the same way he’s able to tell a story in film. It’s got a point, it’s got some drama. He’s actually an actor, and he enjoys it…From a documentary maker’s point of view, it isn’t possible to use a voice-over. Because even the greatest voice-over, read by the greatest actor, is never as good as Forman himself.
“That means you’re working with length, as you can’t cut one of his stories by a couple of sentences…So you’re fighting the clock, but it’s worth it, because you have the feeling that you’re spending those two hours with him in a café, or at his house, and he himself is telling you stories.”
Miloš Forman is now 77 years old. His last feature was Goya’s Ghosts from 2006. This year he released the Czech-language film A Walk Worthwhile, though that was essentially a recording of a stage production. He was reported to be making a new film based on a novel about the Munich crisis, with a screenplay by Václav Havel. Miloš Šmídmajer says that appears to have fallen through.
“I know what his plans were, because Pathe, which I think is today a British-French company, offered him the job of making The Ghost of Munich. But now they’re saying they don’t have the money. As to how much they’re lacking, they aren’t answering.
“Forman has some experiences of this kind of thing, so he doesn’t believe it will be made…Also, of course, for the English and the French that subject is still a bit taboo, because I don’t think they’re all too happy about the Munich Agreement.”
Miloš Forman: Co tě nezabije… is out now in the Czech Republic.
Also out now is a CD box set of all seven studio albums released by the Czech rock band Blue Effect between 1969 and 1989, as well as a new disc of singles and bonus tracks. The group’s leader Radim Hladík is perhaps the greatest Czech guitarist of the rock era. At the launch of the box set recently, Hladík, who is now 64, spoke about various aspects of the band’s history, and what the future holds.
“We were closely involved in developments at the end of the 1960s. Our first album Měsíc was a rock record, and everything went really quickly. The studio where we recorded it was in an archbishop’s palace which the Communists had confiscated from the church. There was a kind of spiritual feeling there – it was a great place to record. I think the CDs in the box set give a good sense of the development of our style. Then everything was alive, now it’s all re-treads.
“Part of the group always believed that English went better with rock music – which I think too. But I also say that if the lyrics are going to be really good and express feelings, then the singer should express himself in his mother tongue. And our English lyrics in those days were really dumb, and bad. So you should sing in English abroad, but it’s better to use Czech here.
“We started out as blues, rhythm and blues, although today rhythm and blues means something else entirely. We were forced to incorporate jazz elements because of the regime here – jazz was allowed when rock wasn’t. We kind of zigzagged in the middle ground between both. The Communists also forced us to change our name from Blue Effect to Modrý Effect. That’s what it was like here then.
“Our box set is a kind of settling of accounts with a certain stage. I’m still looking to the future, though, and hopefully I’ll do something new yet…We play a lot of gigs these days, really a lot. It’s mostly in smaller clubs, but I have to say I don’t like listening to artificial studio albums, I like live music, live CDs and DVDs, so I believe more in close contact with the audience – I think it means more.”
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