“But they showed no corrections of any kind. Not one. He had simply written down music already finished in his head. Page after page of it as if he were just taking dictation. And music, finished as no music is ever finished. Displace one note and there would be diminishment. Displace one phrase and the structure would fall.”
I heard the music of true forgiveness filling the theater, conferring on all who sat there, perfect absolution. God was singing through this little man to all the world, unstoppable, making my defeat more bitter with every passing bar. Amadeus (1984)
Edited down from a similar documentary made for a long out-of-print LaserDisc release, The Making of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest features interviews with Miloš Forman, Saul Zaentz, Ken Kesey, and both Michael and Kirk Douglas (the only true disappointment here is the absence of Jack Nicholson).
Kirk Douglas bought the rights to Ken Kesey’s novel before it was even published in 1962. While the book became a bestseller and a counterculture classic of the time, Douglas produced a Broadway adaptation with himself in the lead role of Randle P. McMurphy and spent years trying to get a film version off the ground. Turned down by every Hollywood studio and most of the major American directors, it was finally made independently by a pair of first time producers-actor Michael Douglas (who bought the rights from his father) and jazz record impresario Saul Zaentz–and émigré director Miloš Forman (Hal Ashby was originally going to direct, but eventually dropped out and replaced by Forman, according to Danny DeVito’s 2009 appearance on Inside The Actor’s Studio). It became a box office smash (eventually earning $200 million on a budget of less than $5 million) and the second picture in Hollywood history to sweep the top five Academy Awards.
Thanks to frame-paradiso for this trip down memory lane. If you haven’t seen this amazing film or not for a while, don’t hesitate and get the 35th Anniversary Collector’s Edition available at Amazon.
One day, I got a package from California. There was a book inside I’d never heard of written by an author I’d never heard of but when I started to read I saw right away that this was the best material I’d come across in America.
“Hell, Milos, I tried to get the rights to the fucking book, if you know what I mean, but that old boy Douglas beat me to the punch,” said Jack Nicholson when I offered him the part.
All the scenes stood or fell with Jack Nicholson, who was a dream to work with. He had none of the vanity, egomania, or obsessions of a star. He insisted on receiving the same treatment as everyone else. He was always prepared for his scenes and had a clear idea of what he wanted. His sense of humour put everyone at ease, which is always a great asset on a set. He helped the people around him because he knew that the better their performances were, the better he would look in the end.
Discovering Nurse Ratched in the prim, angelic Louise Fletcher surprised me, but the more I thought about it, the more it made me sense. I’d learned long before that it’s better to cast against type in the leading roles and with it in the minor roles. For reasons of economy and clarity, I prefer to give the audience a quick read of secondary characters by casting obvious physical types, but with the principal roles, it’s more engaging to uncover a different personality under the obvious type, to peel away the erroneous expectations, to be surprised by a deeper knowledge of the character.
Also, recommended viewing: here’s a little over 13 minutes of deleted scenes, courtesy of frame-paradiso.
These scenes display what a fine director Forman is. They are all excellent scenes but it’s often said that the ability to cut good material in order to make a better total picture is a hard-learned skill. Scenes included here play fine on their own but the film is so right as it is that they aren’t needed. Of particular note is a scene where McMurphy has the various behavior altering punishments utilized by the hospital explained to him.
Dear every screenwriter, read this: Lawrence Hauben & Bo Goldman’s screenplay for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest [pdf]. (NOTE: For educational purposes only). The DVD/Blu-ray of the film is available at Amazon and other online retailers.
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