DATE February 15, 2008 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Director Milos Forman, from prior interviews, on life
under Nazism and communism, the role of pornography and censorship
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli of tvworthwatching.com sitting in for
Terry Gross. Our guest today is Academy Award-winning director Milos Forman.
His American films include "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest," "Hair,"
"Ragtime," "Amadeus" and "The People vs. Larry Flynt." A two-week
retrospective of his work began last night at New York's Museum of Modern Art.
Forman began his film career working under the communist bureaucracy in his
native country of Czechoslovokia. His Czech movie "Fireman's Ball" played at
the New York Film Festival in 1967 and was his ticket to the US. Terry first
interviewed Forman in 1994 about his memoir, called "Turnaround."
Milos Forman was a child during World War II, when the Gestapo was in charge.
After the war, in 1948, the communists took over. Both of Forman's parents
died in Nazi death camps. His father was on the fringes of the underground.
One of the Nazis responsible for the death of Forman's parents had been one of
their employees years before.
Mr. MILOS FORMAN: My parents built a very small 50-room...(foreign language
spoken)...or little hotel, if you want, in former Sudetenland, which was the
part of Czechoslovokia which was taken over by the Nazis first, by the Germans
first. And as a kind of a foreman on the building of this...(foreign language
spoken)...in 1920-something, I was not even born--was a German citizen there
who--and I know that my parents are very fair people and they treated him
fairly, but when the Nazi came to power, suddenly this man, of course, was
somehow humiliated that he worked for some Czechs, which is, you know, not a
race or nation which is, you know, up to the Nazi or German stature. And by
sheer coincidence, this man ended up in the Gestapo in Kolin, which was the
town under which Caslav, a little town in the middle of Bohemia, was under.
And when he got all these names and he saw the names of my parents, first my
father and then my mother, he just send the paper with a stamp which said
`return undesirable.' And that's it. And then they perished.
TERRY GROSS, host:
Your mother was taken by the Gestapo after they came to search your house.
What was it like? You were, I think, seven years old or something.
Mr. FORMAN: Eight years. With mother, I was eight and a half, yes. I was
eight and a half years old. I was sick that day, and I had a fever, I had a
flu. I was in bed, and I heard, you know, some voices downstairs because we
are living in a little house, you know, one-story house in Caslav. And for a
long time--and I knew that something is strange because I heard strange noises
from downstairs. And then I hear steps coming upstairs and then the door open
a crack, and my mother is there and she's handing me a cup of water and a
pill, and says, `Now take the pill.' I said, `But I shouldn't be taking the
pill until the afternoon.' `The Gestapo is here.' And she just gave me that.
So I took the pill and I, you know, door closed. And I saw a man standing
behind her there.
And then I realized why she's telling me that. Because I was--my bedroom was
a tiny little room, behind which was another tiny little room to which the
door were covered by cupboard, and to keep the fresh air in, the cupboard was
always a little bit away from the door. And I realized that she wants me to
push the cupboard back to the wall so that it covers the door and when they
come to my bedroom for search that they will not find it. But I was too weak,
and the cupboard was oak wood and a very, very heavy. I took all the things
out, and I was trying to push it back, push it back, and I didn't succeed.
There was the most horrible feeling because I felt like I failed my family.
The irony is that then when they came in and found out, you know, this other
room there, they went in, they looked around, they went out. They were even
smiling at me. And then they went down again with my mother. But then I hear
the door click, and then there was silence. And this was, you know, they came
like 8:00 in the morning and this was like 2:00 in the afternoon. And there
was silence. And I hear the car going away from, in the street. And there's
a total silence. They just didn't even let my mother go upstairs and say
goodbye. And I'm absolutely alone in the whole house, and there was nobody in
the town of Caslav who would come home.
GROSS: So that's the last time you ever saw your mother?
Mr. FORMAN: No. Then we had a very, you know, sort of--everything is such
paradox, you know? About a year later, suddenly we were allowed a visit with
our mother, me, my brother and my uncle, my mother's brother. So we went to
Prague, we were taken down to the catacombs of the former bank, which was now
Gestapo headquarters in Prague. And we all, you know, they locked us in,
closed the door, and we are sitting there, my brother and my uncle, for about
over two hours. And then the door opens, and in the door they brought in my
mother. And in the first moment I realized, she didn't know where they are
taking her. She didn't--they obviously didn't tell her that she's not going
to be interrogated or whatever, that she's going to meet her family. And we
had 10 minutes allowed with her.
And the funny part of it is that, you know, what do you--now when I recall it,
all we are talking about--mother was asking, `Oh, well, how were the prunes
this year?' And, `Did you have enough sugar to make jam?' And, `How is
Mrs...(unintelligible)?' It was absolute--and she was justing holding me all
this 10 minutes, you know. And then the man said, you know, goodbye and say
goodbye, and so my mother left, never saw her again.
GROSS: So what was it like for you to go through the rest of the war without
Mr. FORMAN: Well, that's another big paradox. You know, a child doesn't
really perceive a tragedy like that, especially--you know, I probably would be
much more stricken by grief if my parents died yesterday then when they died
as when I was a child. And the child doesn't really perceive the finality of
life. The death is--especially in these cases, because they were away. They
GROSS: You didn't know they were going to die.
Mr. FORMAN: So you don't know they are going to die. They are somewhere.
And then one day, somebody tells you--in this case, it was my uncle told me,
`My sister--your mother died.' But in my daily life, nothing changed. You
GROSS: So you had extended family to bring you up, uncles and--yeah.
Mr. FORMAN: All my relatives are taking care of me.
GROSS: I want you to recall a specific day during the war, this is a day that
must have had special significance for you. It's the day that the Germans
decreed that all the art houses had to close: the theater, the ballet, the
orchestra, the movies. Were you already interested in the arts when that
Mr. FORMAN: I was very much. Well, not so interested; I was seduced.
Because I was a child. Again, you know, I was 10 years old, or 11 years old,
and my brother, who's 12 years older than I am, he was like 23, he was older,
he was a set designer for a traveling small theater group company which was
playing operettas. And every time when they came to town where I was living
with my relatives, you know, I was every day I backstage. And I was just
mesmerized by the atmosphere as theater. Because I was a little kid, you
know, nobody kicked me out from the ladies' dressing room, right? So that was
very, very exciting; and then, you know, I didn't know anything, you know, why
It was the most weird experience because this was--I remember very well,
"Polish Blood" is the name of the operetta. It's a very fluffy, light
operetta, and this was 1944. And suddenly the third act, during a very merry,
you know, kind of a song, it was like a quartet or quintet and the ballet
dancers and thing on the stage, suddenly the singers stopped singing and
started to cry, tears running down. And the orchestra stopped, conductor
stopped. The people in the theater are sitting silently, quietly, nobody was
sort of upset or surprised. I just didn't know what's happening. And the
conductor tried to start the aria or the quintet again. They started to try
to sing again this very merry, happy song, and again in the middle or
something they broke down in tears and cried. And then the man came on the
stage and said, `Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you understand the emotional
state of the artists, we'll not be able to finish the performance today.
Thank you for coming. It was so nice. Good night.' And the curtain went
down, and that was the end of culture. I didn't know that the day before, the
Germans just canceled culture.
The next day, every single singer, every single dancer, every single musician
had to go and list himself or herself in a factories to work for the victor or
the Third Reich.
GROSS: You ended up trying to go to theater school. You were rejected from
theater school and ended up in film school, which I suppose was really lucky.
Mr. FORMAN: Oh, for me, definitely. Yeah.
GROSS: Had you seen a lot of movies by then?
Mr. FORMAN: Oh, yeah. In the film school. It was another paradox of
communist society, because it was the best school I could ever be going into.
Because after the communists took over, they purged from public life the best
writers, the best filmmakers, the best artists in the country because they
were not enough in--creating in the vein of socialist realities for them, so
they purged them. But they couldn't, you know, they couldn't kill them. They
had to give them some chance to make a living, so make a meager living in
teaching. So the result was, at the film school we had the best minds, the
greatests artists which were teaching us, which we could talk to.
GROSS: Milan Kundera, who wrote...
Mr. FORMAN: Milan Kundera, yes.
GROSS: ..."The Unbearable Lightness of Being," was one of your teachers.
Mr. FORMAN: Yes. "The Book of Laughter and Forgetting," "The Joke," you
know, wonderful book.
GROSS: One of the things that you did--I think this was while you were in
film school, or just afterwards, you hosted what you describe as a sort of
Czech socialist realist Thursday night at the movies show on TV. So what was
the show like? What made it the social realist version?
Mr. FORMAN: First of all, you know, the paranoia and all the communists
control every word which goes through the public, and television was only
live. In that time, there was not...(unintelligible)...and tapes at all. It
had to be live. They had to control everything. So you had to write
everything down, learn it by heart word by word. The censor was sitting
somewhere watching you, checking if you are saying exactly the words you--you
had to send the text to the office, to the bureau of censors. They had to put
a stamp on it, send it back to you, eventually make some corrections, you
know. Then you had to learn it by heart, and they were checking it if you
were saying it exactly, which was sometimes absolutely ridiculous because you
are sort of like an improvised, like a live dialogue conversation with
GROSS: So what would you say to introduce a film? Do you remember any of the
introductions you did?
Mr. FORMAN: All the introductions had to, you know, I was always trying to
show on the television films which had some, you know, which were not just a
propoganda films. But then of course you had to present them in the way which
the communist would accept. If it was film from France, for example, if--I
don't know--"Children of Paradise," beautiful, romantic film. But you had to
stress that, `This film is showing the cruelty of bourgeoisie, how it's
suppressing the working class people.' You know?
GROSS: Did you believe any of that?
Mr. FORMAN: Of course not. Because everybody knew it's nonsense.
Mr. FORMAN: It's a game. It's a game, you know.
GROSS: Right. When you started writing and directing movies, did you have to
avoid what government officials would have defined as bourgeois subject
Mr. FORMAN: I was lucky because, for some reasons, they think, you know, my
first films were comedies, basically, the films in Czechoslovokia. And they
perceived comedies as something not as important, something light, you know,
it was just funny. It's like that. So I was able to do these films very much
the way I wanted to do them.
GROSS: What kind of taste in movies did the cultural apparatchiks have?
Mr. FORMAN: Oh, how it's wonderful to work hard and to surpass the outcome
of steel from his steel mill, or 10 percent more than the steel mills in
capitalist, bourgeois, decadent society. That was the greatest art. Now, the
basic, you know, the basic dilmena or paradox, discrepancy that art philosophy
is that what we are doing here, we are telling stories about life as it is
while the communist propoganda wants to tell and describe in the books or on
the screen the life as it should be according to them.
Mr. FORMAN: And it's so boring, you couldn't imagine.
GROSS: One of the best known of your Czechoslovokian films was "Fireman's
Ball." And this was a comedy. And in the version that's in circulation now--I
don't when you put this part in--I mean, I know you put it in in the late
'60s--the film opens with you in front of the camera explaining that, first of
all, "Fireman's Ball" was released just before the Dubcek leadership took
over, and that the film had a very surprising reaction: 40,000 firemen
resigned in protest against this film.
Mr. FORMAN: Well, they were all but--this film was banned. This film was
banned right away when it was finished and for eternity, was banned officially
GROSS: Now, why was it banned? You said comedies weren't considered as
dangerous. This is a comedy.
Mr. FORMAN: Well, they thought its metaphor on the politbureau and the
Communist Party, you know, that fireman's ball committee, right, it's a
metaphor for the whole leadership of the country, so they banned the film.
Now, that was orchestrated by the government people, this strike or threat of
practically all the volunteer firemen, the whole country. Because they
needed, you know, the people are so apathetic already, you know, didn't give a
damn. But of course if people writing the newspapers that, `Oh, well,
tomorrow, if your house is on fire, just say kiss the house goodbye because
the firemen are on strike, rightly, because they are upset about this film.'
So, you know, that turns people's anger against the artist, against the film,
filmmakers, you know.
GROSS: Were there any fires that you were accused of being personally
responsible for? And did you feel responsible for any of it?
Mr. FORMAN: No, no, no. They didn't go on strike, you see.
GROSS: Oh, they didn't go on strike?
Mr. FORMAN: They provoked this threat so that the government can say that
they have a right to ban the film. So when the government banned the film,
the firemen said, `All right. So now we know what'...
GROSS: Director Milos Forman is my guest.
Where were you when the Soviet tanks rolled into Czechoslovokia?
Mr. FORMAN: I was in Paris in that time. I was in Paris working on the
script for my first American movie. And that's where I learned about it.
GROSS: And your family was still in Czechoslovokia?
Mr. FORMAN: My family was still there, but my French friends, Claude
Carriere and Paul Rassan, drove in car we borrowed from Francois Truffaut to
Prague to bring my wife and my children out, which was again such a
ridiculously, absurdly funny story, you know, because they crossed
the--everything was fine, but when they crossed the border, the Czech
population, when saw Russian army, you know, was, occupying the country, just
to confuse the Russians, so they either turned down or turned around all the
street signs, all the signs on the roads, on the crossroads and everything.
So they, you know, there was no way so that the Russians are confused and
couldn't find anything. And it really took, you know, several weeks before
they found some places of interest.
So when Claude and Paul brought us across the border going to Prague, suddenly
found themselves, you know, driving around and around and seeing deja vu
places because all the, you know, signs on the roads were wrong. When they
realized that, they, you know, stopped, tried to stop some people, you know,
and finally they stopped a motorcyclist and said, `Oh, yeah, I'm going to
Prague. Just follow me.' And he started to drive. So they are now driving,
following this motorcyclist.
And in the middle of this, you know, wild ride through the countryside, Paul
suddenly had an urge to take a leak, right? So he says to Claude, `Stop. I
have to take a leak.' `What do you mean to stop?' You know, `I stop and, you
know, we'll lose him, we'll never find Prague. Well, you know, just open the
window, roll down the window, do it out of the window.' So he climbed into the
backseat of the car, and when he's doing it out of the window, the car,
suddenly a colony of Russian tanks is coming again, you know. And they see,
you know, they could take this as a provocation. So Claude, while driving the
car, you know, just grabbed, you know, Paul and just pulled him back into the
car, and he just sprinkled all over Francois Truffaut's new Daimler, you know,
car. But then finally they reached Prague and they brought my wife and my
BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli. Last night the Museum of
Modern Art in New York kicked off a two-week retrospective of Milos Forman.
Today on FRESH AIR we're listening to a couple of conversations Terry had with
the acclaimed Czech director, whose movies include "Amadeus," "Hair," "The
People vs. Larry Flynt" and "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest." When Terry
spoke to Milos Forman in 1994, she asked him about "Cuckoo's Nest," which was
released in 1975. The film won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture
and Best Director.
Let's hear a clip from the film, which starred Jack Nicholson as the
rebellious mental patient McMurphy and Louise Fletcher as his nemesis, the
no-nonsense Nurse Ratched. McMurphy has entered the psych ward only to avoid
prison, but the constant Muzak is beginning to drive him crazy for real.
(Soundbite of "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest")
(Soundbite of Muzak)
(Soundbite of cough)
Mr. JACK NICHOLSON: (As McMurphy) Uh, excuse me, miss? Do you think it
might be possible to turn that music down so maybe a couple of the boys could
Ms. LOUISE FLETCHER: (As Nurse Ratched) That music is for everyone, Mr.
Mr. NICHOLSON: (As McMurphy) Yeah, I know, but do you think we might ease it
down a little bit so maybe the boys didn't have to shout! Huh?
Ms. FLETCHER: (As Nurse Ratched) What you probably don't realize is that we
have a lot of old men on this ward who couldn't hear the music if we turned it
lower. That music is all they have. Your hand is staining my window.
Mr. NICHOLSON: (As McMurphy) Uh-huh. Sorry, ma'am. I guess I...
Ms. FLETCHER: (As Nurse Ratched) Mr. McMurphy?
Mr. NICHOLSON: (As McMurphy) Uh-huh?
Ms. FLETCHER: (As Nurse Ratched) Your medication.
Mr. NICHOLSON: (As McMurphy) What's in the horse pill?
Ms. MIMI SARKISIAN (As Nurse Pilbow): It's just medicine. It's good for
Mr. NICHOLSON: (As McMurphy) Yeah, but I don't like the idea of taking
something if I don't know what it is.
Ms. SARKISIAN (As Nurse Pilbow): Don't get upset, Mr. McMurphy.
Mr. NICHOLSON: (As McMurphy) I'm not getting upset, Nurse Pilbow, it's just
that I don't want anyone to try and slip me saltpeter. Know what I mean?
(Soundbite of rumbling)
Ms. FLETCHER: (As Nurse Ratched) It's all right, Nurse Pilbow. If Mr.
McMurphy doesn't want to take his medication orally, I'm sure we can arrange
that he can have it some other way. But I don't think you'd like it, Mr.
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: The second film you made in the United States, "One Flew over the
Cuckoo's Nest," is one of your most famous films. It got a bunch of Academy
Awards. You keep stressing the absurdity of stories that surrounded life
under communism in Czechoslovokia, and you found out that you had been sent a
copy of the novel "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest" years before you actually
made the movie, but you never got it.
Mr. FORMAN: Well, there was--Kirk Douglas, who bought the rights for the
book before it was published, and he loved the book and he wanted to make a
movie, but never succeeded to get money to do it. But in that times, he was
still hoping to do it. And he was in Prague on a goodwill mission, which was
originated by President Kennedy, and he came to Prague because he did the
adaption of "One Flew over Cuckoo's Nest" for Broadway, Kirk Douglas. And he
starred in it on Broadway. And even there, you know, this adaptation at that
time flopped. So suddenly he had time on his hands. So he accepted to go to
Eastern Europe and Central Europe. So he went to Prague. They showed him one
of my films, he liked it, and he asked me at a party if he can send me a book,
and if I would read it and tell him, you know--`of course, of course, of
course.' And, you know, the book read OK. So I thought well, you know,
American big shot, and the moment he left the room he already forgot and OK.
Ten years later I'm over here in United States and I get a book in an envelope
sent by the producer, Saul Zaentz, and Michael Douglas, Kirk Douglas' son, if
I would read it, and that was "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest." And well, you
know, of course I said yes. It was the most fascinating, intelligent piece of
literature in the times I was offered and read. And one little, you know, few
weeks later I met Kirk. He said, `You Czechs, you son of a bitches.' Said,
`What, what, what? Why are you saying that?' `Well, listen, I was sending you
10 years ago this book and you don't have even the courtesy to say, you know,
kiss off or something like that.' And I thought about, `Listen, this is the
same thing I thought about you.' Well, what happened was, he sent the book,
but the censors at the customs confiscated the book as a subversive literature
without informing Kirk Douglas that the book--or sending it back to Kirk
Douglas, and without informing me.
GROSS: So did Michael Douglas, when he sent you the book, did he know that
his father had sent it to you 10 years before?
Mr. FORMAN: That's the funny thing. No, he didn't. It was some kind of a
strange fate that the book came back again to me by Kirk's son and Saul
BIANCULLI: Today we're listening back to conversations with film director
Milos Forman. Terry spoke with him a second time in 1996 about his film "The
People vs. Larry Flynt," starring Woody Harrelson as the publisher of Hustler
magazine. The film follows Flynt's rise from small-time strip joint owner to
pornography mogul. It also follows Flynt in and out of court as he uses the
First Amendment to defend himself against obscenity charges. During one of
his obscenity trials, he was shot outside the courthouse, leaving him
paralyzed from the waist down. In this scene, he's about to board a plane in
defiance of a court order not to leave Los Angeles. His lawyer, played by
Edward Norton, is fed up with Flynt's courtroom antics and his continued
defiance of judges.
(Soundbite of "The People vs. Larry Flynt")
(Soundbite of plane engine)
Mr. ED NORTON: (As Alan J. Isaacman) Larry! Hey! Larry! Hey, hey.
Larry? You're not getting on that plane.
Mr. WOODY HARRELSON: (As Larry Flynt) Yes, I am.
Mr. NORTON: (As Alan J. Isaacman) No, you're not! Don't do it! You think
this is some kind of game we're playing?
Mr. HARRELSON: (As Larry Flynt) Yeah, you're right. You're right. It's
a...(word censored by station)...joke! Five and a half years since the--since
they shot me, and now the government has...
Mr. NORTON: (As Alan J. Isaacman) Hey! I was there, too, all right? You
remember? You don't see me running around pissing off everyone we're trying
to get to help us.
Mr. HARRELSON: (As Larry Flynt) Yeah, well, you can walk and you can...(word
censored by station)...and I'm in this chair! And I got money, OK? I got
money, and that gives me the power to shake up this system, Dougie.
Mr. NORTON: (As Alan J. Isaacman) Well, find somebody else to help you then
because this is not what I signed on for. I don't even know what we're
engaged in anymore, Larry! If you get on that plane, I quit.
Mr. HARRELSON: (As Larry Flynt) Alan, don't be so melodramatic. You don't
want to quit me. I'm your dream client. I'm the most fun, I'm rich, and I'm
always in trouble.
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: You've said that one of the reasons why you were interested in the
movie is because you're interested in freedom of expression, and you lived
under two totalitarian regimes growing up in Czechoslovokia, first the Nazis
and then the communists. And I'm wondering if some of Larry Flynt's uses of
the right to free speech seemed trivial to you, both the pornography and
things like nude photographs of Jackie Onassis. Having been deprived of free
speech, did this seem like such a trivial way of taking advantage of it?
Mr. FORMAN: Yes. There's a lot of trivial things in a lot of what Larry
Flynt was doing. And there was a lot of, you know, tasteless things in what
he's doing. But, you know, freedom of the speech is much bigger than Larry
Flynt himself, you know. You know, this country really never experienced
censorship, and so you, you know, we are taking the freedom for granted. And
we don't know what kind of a terrible consequences the loss of freedom of
speech can have because, you know, it might, you know, ruffle some feathers
when I say, `Yes, we have to strive for 100 percent freedom of the speech;
because once you open the door to censorship, it never stops at pornography.
It never stops with smut. It start to spread. You know, who is going to
decide what is obscene and what is not obscene?
GROSS: Was there pornography when you were growing up in Czechoslovokia?
Mr. FORMAN: No, no, there was not pornography. You know, that's the funny
thing, you know, it's probably for these, you know, moralists who are calling
for censorship, you know, the totalitarian regime would be ideal because for
40 years you wouldn't see any pornography on Czech television or in Czech
movies or on the magazines racks. You wouldn't see any, you know, violence,
anything like that. Everything was--and the good question is; do you think
that any kind of a bad things which we tried to blame, you know, our moral
relaxation, for, that they didn't exist in those times? Oh my God, they were
as rampant as always before and always after, you know.
GROSS: Now, you have Larry Flynt playing a judge in Cincinatti who sentences
Larry Flynt to 25 years in an obscenity case. Did Larry Flynt ask to play
Mr. FORMAN: No, no. I was just joking one day, and I, you know, I had a
kick to say, you know, `Larry, do you want to sentence yourself to 25 years in
prison?' And he laughed and said, `Aw, why not?' So he's there. And we all
had a, you know, it brought some kind of a wonderful feeling and atmosphere on
the set because, you know, everybody had a kick out of it.
GROSS: Something I read that you said about pornography, you've said that you
were brought up in an environment where pornography was considered bad and
you've never shaken that attitude about pornography. And you also feel
especially uncomfortable if someone sees you while you're looking at
pornography, and I'd like you to explain why.
Mr. FORMAN: Well, it has something to do with my upbringing, I guess, you
know, because I'm from a--I was born in a small town. My parents, my father
was a teacher, my mother was a housewife, but very active in social, you know,
circles in the town. And I don't know, I was going to church, and all this
made me feel like the sex is bad except in marriage, you know, that it's
something I should be ashamed of even to think about, you know. And that just
stays with you. It stays with me forever, I guess, you know, when I was
a--whenever I said, I never bought Hustler. I bought Playboy maybe I don't
know--I know once I bought Playboy when Jimmy Carter's interview was in the
Playboy, and I was blushing when I was buying it at the corner of 57th Street
and Sixth Avenue, and I had a feeling that everybody's looking at me; and
everybody's looking at me, you know, with such a disdain. So I was like
GROSS: You can tell me if this is too personal, OK? You grew up during World
War II. Your parents were both killed in concentration camps in
Czechoslovokia. So you were on your own by the time you were eight, I think.
How did you learn about the facts of life without a family?
Mr. FORMAN: Well, I lived with other families afterwards. And listen, how
do you learn about these things? It's so ridiculous to think today that, you
know, we have to just hide everything from our children and then they will be
wonderful citizens, you know? I remember that for us, when I was already six
years old, I discovered a medical book, you know, in my father's library.
Every time I was home alone, I was browsing, you know, through this book,
watching this, you know, drawings of human body without clothes. That's how
you discover things. You know, also to believe that films or television, that
they are so powerful that you are educating so beautifully your children for
15, 20 years; and then the poor son of mine sees one movie or one television
show and all this--my education goes down the drain, it's ridiculous, you
GROSS: Did "The People vs. Larry Flynt" get an R rating?
Mr. FORMAN: Yes.
GROSS: Now, as a film director, how do you feel about the ratings system?
Mr. FORMAN: I think it's good. I think the only censorship should exist in
the family. Yes, the parents, they are responsible. They must be responsible
fully for the education of their children. If they deem something which is
improper for their children until they are adults, you know, yes, they should
have a chance. And so the rating system helps them. I think it works. It
works, you know. The danger is that decision, what the children or people can
see or hear, will be done by some government agency or some community board of
censors. You know, that's the danger.
BIANCULLI: Milos Forman, speaking to Terry Gross in 1996. A two-week
retrospective of his film career began last night at the Museum of Modern Art
in New York.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: David Edelstein on the new sci-fi movie "Jumper"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
"Jumper" is the new sci-fi movie by Doug Liman, the director of "The Bourne
Identity," "Go," "Swingers" and "Mr. and Mrs. Smith." It stars Hayden
Christesen, best known for his starring role in the last two "Star Wars"
films, as a man who can think about a place and then be there. Film critic
David Edelstein has this review.
Mr. DAVID EDELSTEIN: Doug Liman's "Jumper" is so in tune with the vocabulary
of modern action movies that you can almost ignore how vacuous it is and go
with the quantum flow. It's about a guy named David Rice who discovers he has
the power to teleport himself anywhere--a few feet down the sofa to pick up
the TV remote or half a world away for lunch on top of the Sphinx. There's no
scientific explanation for his gift, but I'm not sure gamma rays would make
the film more realistic. The point is that thrillers are more hyperkinetic
and computer generated than ever, and no hero lends himself to a stream of
fancy jump cuts like a so-called jumper. A fight begins on one continent,
continues on another and ends on a third: around the world in 80 blows.
David is played by the expressive Max Thieriot as a youth and Hayden
Christensen when he's older and blanker. Deeply alienated, David grows up
with a drunk for a dad and no mom; and when he discovers his sudden ability to
jump from place to place, he doesn't become a do-gooder. He moves to New York
and robs bank vaults. David's refusal to play Superman is made into a cruel
joke. He watches on TV as Katrina victims on their rooftops call for help,
reaches for his umbrella, then jumps to England to pick up a woman at a bar.
It's bracingly unromantic for a mainstream thriller.
But something terrifying stands between David and boundless
self-gratification: a fantical sect of jumper hunters called paladins who
track and skewer them on the grounds that jumping is an abomination in the
eyes of the Lord. The paladins are led by Samuel L. Jackson with white
fungus on his head. It's either the worst rug ever or Jackson is actually a
mushroom from outer space.
(Soundbite of "Jumper")
Mr. SAMUEL L. JACKSON: (As Roland) Anybody can rob a bank. What I'd like
to know is how you rob a bank without opening any doors.
Mr. HAYDEN CHRISTENSEN: (As David Rice) This conversation's over.
(Soundbite of whoosh, music)
Mr. JACKSON: (As Roland) This conversation's not over until you answer my
(Soundbite of someone being hit, grunting, screaming, zapping, pained moaning)
Mr. JACKSON: (As Roland) Tell me, how'd you last this long, huh?
(Soundbite of whoosh)
(End of soundbite)
Mr. EDELSTEIN: That zapping stuff you heard? That's the electrified wand
and spiderweb that keep jumpers from jumping. The paladins also have a
machine that can follow a jumper's trail through space. They chase David to
Rome, where he's busy showing off for his pretty, dull girlfriend, Millie,
played by Rachel Bilson from "The OC." He had a crush on her in high school,
and they meet again in a bar, where she dabs at his face after a fight and
says, `You're bleeding a little. We should take care of that.' Has that line
ever not been a prelude to sex?
It's too bad Hayden Christensen doesn't bring much to the party. What is it
about his voice that's so dead, even without dialogue by George Lucas? He's
Canadian, but his accent makes him sound like he's from nowhere, and it wipes
out the impact of his eyes, which occasionally flash with real emotion. But
the big disconnect at the heart of "Jumper" is that a guy who doesn't walk
anywhere, who can't even bother to slide down his couch for the TV remote,
hasn't got an ounce of flab and even jumps to Fiji to surf the big waves. His
muscles should have atrophied years ago.
"Jumper" is really the ultimate couch potato escapist fantasy, aimed at the
part of us that dreams of sailing off the couch and merging with the action on
screen. It has a lot of buzz and it's fairly entertaining, but I can imagine
the cries of "cheat" at the open-ended ending, which plays like the fade-out
of a TV pilot. If you're a Hollywood executive, you can't just deliver one
hit movie anymore. You only get the big bonus for delivering a franchise.
But the only way I can see people lining up to see "Jumper 2" if is Samuel
Jackson's hair sprouts legs and marches on Tokyo.
BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine.
Coming up, I'll look at "Dexter," an edgy Showtime cable series relocating to
CBS this weekend. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: David Bianculli on the edited-for-CBS version of the
dark Showtime drama "Dexter"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, TV critic for tvworthwatching.com.
The TV writers' strike is over now, but it'll be months before things return
to something resembling normal. Meanwhile, as the networks flood their prime
time schedules with terrible reality shows and other stopgap measures, CBS is
trying something daringly different. It's presenting a scripted series--a
really, really good one--that's never been on broadcast TV. It's called
"Dexter," and chances are you've heard of it. It stars Michael C. Hall, the
repressed funeral home director of HBO's "Six Feet Under," as another
character who's surrounded by death. This time, Hall plays a guy named Dexter
Morgan, who works in forensics for the Miami Police Department. He's a blood
spatter expert by day, analyzing crime scenes; and in his off hours, he
moonlights. He tracks down serial killers who are still at large. And here's
the big, creepy twist: he murders them. In other words, he's a serial killer
of serial killers.
Based on a novel by Jeff Lindsay, the TV version of "Dexter" retains enough of
the character's first person narration to get us inside Dexter's head. And
it's a very strange place to be. Because of the same childhood trauma that
left him with a fascination for blood and death, Dexter thinks he has no real
emotions. Instead, he fakes casual conversation, avoids intimacy and collects
blood slide samples from his victims as a sort of hobby. Though the chances
are good you've heard of "Dexter," chances are even better that you've never
seen it. The program, which recently ended its second season, is presented on
the Showtime cable network. It's average audience there is about a million
viewers, making it unseen by most of the country.
CBS has announced plans to televise the entire first season of "Dexter"
beginning Sunday, all 12 episodes. It's giving Showtime almost 50 minutes of
each broadcast hour for program content, about seven minutes more than most
network dramas get. That sounds generous, but considering the program's
controversial nature, selling enough ads might be a problem anyway.
As for conforming to broadcast standards, there are three issues when a
program like this comes from premium cable, where there are no censorial
standards, to a more restrictive format. Those issues are sex, violence and
language. Programs try to get around the language by recording alternate
versions of potentially troublesome dialogue while the shows are made. Sex
and violence has to be edited, sometimes substantially, and the result can be
vastly different from the original article. I can't bear to watch either the
TBS version of HBO's "Sex and the City" or the A&E version of "The Sopranos"
because they're so painfully watered down. And even "Dexter" on CBS has some
awkwardly edited dialogue. Usually, it's whenever Dexter is confronted by
Doakes, an aggressive and angry sergeant who doesn't like Dexter and doesn't
hide his animosity.
Here's a scene where Dexter, played by Michael C. Hall, is examining a crime
scene photo given to him by Doakes, played by Erik King. The dialogue you're
about to hear, the tamer version re-recorded for CBS, is, quite literally,
frickin' ridiculous. But it does preserve the relationship between the
characters as well as Dexter's ghoulish voiceover afterward.
(Soundbite of "Dexter")
Mr. ERIK KING: (As Sergeant James Doakes) What about these?
(Soundbite of filing cabinet opening)
Mr. KING: (As Sergeant James Doakes) The hotel coke-head murders. This
dealer and the girl.
Mr. MICHAEL C. HALL. (As Dexter) (Grunts) Well, this Hallmark-looking
couple didn't die by the hands of a professional. Nope, this is child's play.
Messy work. All that blood on the walls, looks like a finger painting.
Mr. KING: (As Sergeant James Doakes) You give me the friggin' creeps, you
know that, Dexter?
Mr. HALL: (As Dexter) Uh, is there something I can do...
Mr. KING: (As Sergeant James Doakes) Yeah, you can give me your friggin'
analysis on the blood spatter on these killings. You think I'm here to invite
you to my nephew's bris?
Mr. HALL: (As Dexter) I didn't know you were Jewish.
Mr. KING: (As Sergeant James Doakes) Shut the hell up and write your report
already! Don't even know why I need you. Grab a crayon, psycho, and write
this down. Rival dealer came in, two scumbags slashed to hell, dealer stole
the drugs. Wham, bam, done. And I don't give a damn what you say because
that's what happened, and that's who I'm looking for.
Mr. HALL: (As Dexter) Sure. I guess. I should get over there.
Mr. KING: (As Sergeant James Doakes) Then get over there already, you
friggin' weirdo. I need it quick.
Mr. HALL: (As Dexter) I'm on it, sergeant.
The only real question I have is why, in a building full of cops, all
supposedly with a keen insight into the human soul, is Doakes the only one who
gets the creeps from me?
(End of soundbite)
BIANCULLI: Other cuts in Dexter are less obvious and, surprisingly, not that
many are necessary. The first season of "Dexter" has virtually no sex and
only a scene or two involving nudity. The violence, given the subject, is
much more suggested than overt. Purists will note and miss the image of
Dexter running a sharp scalpel lightly across an imminent victim's cheek to
draw the first hint of blood. On CBS, we see the before and after, but not
the during. And that's kind of cowardly. Like Tony Soprano, Dexter Morgan
can be a monster, and if you don't get to witness that and feel squeamish
about it, you miss the point of the whole series.
I wonder how CBS will handle the episode near the end of the season when one
crime scene contains almost as much blood as that elevator in "The Shining." I
worry more, though, whether CBS will let the series run that long. The
network has a history of canceling serialized dramas long before their central
mysteries are solved. And make no mistake, the first year of "Dexter" is a
season-long mystery. But it's a great one.
"Dexter" ended up on my top 10 list for the year in 2007. I'd prefer people
watch the original version, which is out on DVD, but watching on CBS is a lot
cheaper and it's a mammoth promotional opportunity for the original series on
Showtime, which is still running. If CBS can't make dramas this good anymore,
at least for now they know where to find them.
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