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The Image Speaks: Miloš Forman and the Free Cinema Movement

23 – 30 April 2017, Close-Up: The importance of ordinary people, the everyday, belief in artistic freedom and the rejection of established cinematic norms are some of the principles common to the early work of Czech director Milos Forman and the British Free Cinema movement. This programme, marking Milos Forman’s 85th birthday, and screening original 16 and 35 mm prints, uncovers for the first time the striking and instructive resemblances in the development of Czech and British cinema which evolved on parallel and sometimes interconnecting courses.

‘Implicit in our attitude is a belief in freedom, in the importance of people and in the significanceof the everyday’. Lindsay Anderson, Free Cinema Manifesto (1956)

Putting their respective realities on screen Milos Forman and Free Cinema revolutionised Czech and British film making by switching the focus onto the everyday and ordinary people. Exploring reality and allowing critical analysis both movements attracted international attention kick-starting the Czech and British New Waves. The Close-Up programme draws attention to the connections and parallels between the two by presenting seminal films side by side.

In Britain young filmmakers led by Lindsay Anderson rejected mainstream 1950s British films detached from the social reality of everyday life. Calling for personal, authentic cinema representing ordinary, working class people they screened their films as part of the National Film Theatre programme between 1956 and 1959 coining the term Free Cinema. 

Czech director Milos Forman (b. 1932), mostly known for his multiple Academy Award winning films One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (rereleased by the BFI Southbank on 14 April 2017) and Amadeus, started his film career in opposition to classic narrative cinema harnessed to ideological conformity. As was the case in Britain, everyday reality was absent from Czech screens so Forman started to use mainly non-professional actors and scripts almost totally lacking in conventional dramatic development, based on the reality surrounding him.


Audition


‘Documentary’ footage of auditions for the Prague theatre which Forman filmed on 16mm for his own interest and as a record formed the basis of his 1963 debut film Audition. Consisting of two films, If There Were No Music focusing on the rehearsals of amateur musicians preparing for annual brass band championships, and Audition, capturing hopeful would-be singers, the film effectively launched the Czech New Wave. Sharing Audition’s humble beginnings, a desire to record hidden reality and with little prospect of being screened, is Karel Reisz (Czech born) and Tony Richardson’s Momma Don’t Allow (1956). Shot on 16mm as an account of an evening at the Wood Green Jazz Club and similarly to Audition, it captures the emerging youth culture.

Adolescent preoccupation with sex and love is the main focus of Forman’s A Blonde in Love (1965), a subtle and beautifully observed social satire. Often quoted as one of Ken Loach’s favourite films, A Blonde in Love has a parallel in Loach’s own film Poor Cow (1967), an account of a young (and blonde) London woman who, with her husband in jail, is clutching at any chance of happiness via numerous romantic encounters. Forman’s influence is especially clear in Loach’s concern with ‘everyday’ reality, use of little known or non-actors, and unobtrusive camerawork. 

It …(A Blonde in Love)…made a great impression on me when it first came out; its shrewd perceptiveness, irony, warmth. It allowed characters time to reveal themselves.  You weren’t manipulated like US films, but it was also pleasantly free of the stylistic devices typical of the French films”.
Ken Loach


Blonde in Love


In The Firemen’s Ball (1967) Forman moved to the level of satire and metaphor. While his earlier films, like the Free Cinema films Momma Don’t Allow and We Are the Lambeth Boys (Reisz, 1959), were primarily concerned with the exploration of teenage lives and everyday reality, The Firemen’s Ball puts under the microscope the participants of an annual firemen’s ball uncovering thievery, bribery and the incompetence of local officials. Although nominated for an Oscar, the Czech Communist authorities considered the film an allegory of Communist society and ‘banned it

This strong often uncomfortable social satire is screened alongside Lorenza Mazzetti’s poetic Together (1956), a semi-documentary about two deaf mutes in London’s East End, edited by Lindsay Anderson.

Anderson’s own work is represented in the programme by his largely improvised documentary Everyday Except Christmas (1959) capturing the life of the Covent Garden fruit and vegetable market and celebrating ordinary people at work with virtuoso cinematography and an imaginative soundtrack.

In the programme block fully devoted to the Free Cinema films Robert Vas’s Refuge England (1959) provides another unique record of London in the late 1950s. Instead of the bombsites, narrow streets, warehouses and pubs of the East End, it follows, from Waterloo via the West End to suburbia, the footsteps of a Hungarian refugee arriving in London with no English, little money and an incomplete address. 

THE IMAGE SPEAKS: MILOŠ FORMAN AND THE FREE CINEMA MOVEMENT is organised by the Czech Centre London in collaboration with Close-Up.

 

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LISTINGS

Sat 22 April, 5.30 pm
POOR COW
Ken Loach, UK 1967, 101‘, DCP

Sat 22 April, 7.30 pm
BLONDE IN LOVE
Milos Forman, Czechoslovakia 1965, 75’, English subtitles, 35 mm

Sun 23 April, 7 pm
THE FIREMEN’S BALL
Milos Forman, Czechoslovakia 1967, 72’, English subtitles, blu-ray

&

TOGETHER
Lorenza Manzeti, UK 1956, 52’, 35 mm
Sat 29 April, 7.30 pm

AUDITION
Milos Forman, Czechoslovakia 1963, 79‘, English subtitles, 35 mm

&

MOMMA DON’T ALLOW
Karel Reisz, Tony Richardson, UK 1956, 22‘, 16 mm

Sun 30 April
EVERYDAY EXCEPT CHRISTMAS
Lindsay Anderson, UK 1957, 40’, 16 mm

&

WE ARE THE LAMBETH BOYS
Karel Reisz, UK 1959, 52’, 35 mm

&

REFUGE ENGLAND
Robert Vas, UK 1959, 27’, 16 mm

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Note to editors

More information: http://bit.ly/The_Image_Speaks

For images and other press enquiries please contact:
Renata Clark, Czech Centre, clarkova@czechcentre.org.uk,  tel 020 77590072

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