Milos Forman, who died Saturday at 86, was never the most prolific filmmaker. But over a career that included two best director Oscars (for 1975’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and 1984’s “Amadeus”) and a nomination for 1996’s “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” he became known for a body of work celebrating fiercely independent spirits.
Born in Czechoslovakia in 1932, to parents who died in a Nazi concentration camp when he was 9, Forman emigrated to the United States shortly after the Communists crushed the politically and artistically liberating movement known as the Prague Spring, in 1968. Three years later, his first American film, the generation-gap comedy “Taking Off,” centered on stuffy middle-class parents who learn to let their freak flag fly after their teenage daughter runs away from home.
But it was with films like “Cuckoo’s Nest,” based on the 1962 novel by counterculture writer Ken Kesey about a convict who fakes mental illness to escape prison, that the director made his name. In that movie and several others, Forman celebrated the rebel, the madman, the genius — the heroes who won’t remain silent in the face of mediocrity, the establishment or outright repression. Here are half a dozen film clips from the director’s work spotlighting his fascination with — and perhaps affinity for — the maverick.
1. The filmmaker’s best known work, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” earned Forman his first Oscar for directing. This scene sets up the battle of wills between Randle McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), a criminal who conned his way into a mental hospital to avoid prison, and steely-eyed Nurse Ratched, played by Louise Fletcher.
2. In 1979, Forman released an adaptation of the Broadway smash, “Hair,” which set music to the American counterculture movement that developed in reaction to the Vietnam War. In the opening scene, a recently drafted farm boy (John Savage) encounters hippies singing in a New York City park.
3. Based on novelist E.L. Doctorow’s sprawling 1975 bestseller, 1981’s “Ragtime” looks at, among other issues plaguing America in the early 1900s, racism and class inequality. Here, a talented black pianist, Coalhouse Walker Jr. (Howard E. Rollins Jr.) is humiliated by a brigade of white firefighters. When Walker seeks — but fails to find — justice in the aftermath of the incident, a violent confrontation ensues.
4. “Amadeus,” which explores the life of the composer Mozart through his interactions with a fellow — and inferior — composer, Antonio Salieri, earned Forman his second Academy Award for directing, In this scene, Mozart (Tom Hulce) dictates his “Requiem” to an awed Salieri (F. Murray Abraham).
5. “The People vs. Larry Flynt” won over critics, but the film failed to find an audience for a biopic that championed the publisher of Hustler magazine as a free-speech advocate. Here Flynt (Woody Harrelson) has a courtroom showdown with a lawyer representing the Rev. Jerry Falwell, the powerful evangelical leader who sued the magazine.
6. In 1999, Forman set his sights on the brilliant, bewildering entertainer Andy Kaufman in “The Man on the Moon.” The movie garnered mixed reviews, but earned Jim Carrey a Golden Globe for his eerie embodiment of the late comedian. Here, Carrey’s Kaufman stumps and amuses a “Saturday Night Live” audience with his rendition of the “Mighty Mouse” theme song.