For my money, Milos Forman is the first really important product of the overrated Czech-Polish "renaissance." In Loves of a Blonde,he dissociates himself from the more adulated Slavs. There is none of their relentless virtuosity-none of Wajda's beautiful but monotonously static compositions, none of the bludgeoning Polanski's Wellesian low angels and shock cuts, none of the coy mysteriousness common to Shop on Main Street and Joseph Kilian. Forman is more Western in temperament, a humanist in the Renoir-Truffaut-Olmi line of descent.
Loves of a Blonde is really, and somewhat schizophrenically, two films, each good in its own right, one social in aspect, one personal. We begin with the social, as the proprietor of a rural factory outside Prague comes to grips with the loneliness of his stranded, barracks-dwelling, all-female employees. A dance is arranged, with lonesome soldiers trucked in from somewhere. A sizeable fraction of the film passes in ironically viewed mating rites. There are scenes of uproarious comedy, as when one lovable idiot of a soldier weighs the righteousness of fidelity to his wife against the pleasure of a dimly conceived seduction. Intermingled with such scenes are others quite heartbreaking, portraits of wallflowers with little to look forward to from life.
The story pivots toward the personal as the "blonde" of the title (Hana Brejchova) deserts her two girls friends, and the soldiers hounding them, to talk with the dance band's pianist, a boy named Mila (Vladimir Pucholt). Mila seduces her with charming awkwardness, and in record time. Moments after they part, we jump-cut one week to her hitch-hiking. He has told her to visit him in Prague, and she is taking him at his word. His parents greet her disconnectedly. Their son is working a dance; they are watching TV. The mother is obsessed by a suitcase our heroine has brought, and this occasions some highly comic dialogue. Finally Mila gets home, and the mother insists that he sleep in the parental bed. Vaudeville erupts; the gruff teddy-bear of a father snorts "He smells like a brewery!" We are in stitches when Forman cuts to the blonde, crouched at the keyhole, convulsed like us, shaking; but a close-up shows that she is sobbing, and our mood is powerfully reversed.
Forman has this rare sense of tragedy's proximity to comedy, and he has the artistic power to plunge us from extreme to extreme. I am not sure whether I think that his power has exceeded his discretion in the first, the social, episode; if not, perhaps there is just something unintegrable about this pointed satire (however compassionate it may be) and the personal episodes following. I think we can guess pretty safely that the earlier episodes, in the dance-hall, are not quite Forman's natural idioms, but more that of his exemplar Ermanno Olmi (Forman eulogized Olmi's Sound of Trumpets in a Sight and Soundinterview last winter). Rereading that interview, I find Forman saying:
"I suppose you can make drama of a sort out of conflicts between the good and the evil, but it is not very interesting, and it is not very real. Did you ever meet anyone who was evil, or thought he was evil? I never did."
Perhaps in the scenes I have labelled "social" in aspect, Forman finds himself forced to make caricatures more unequivocal than he can happily endorse.
It should be noted that Forman is not yet (in this, his second film) entirely adequate technically. He did not graduate from any of those incetuous Middle European national film academies, so unlike every other Slav we know he has neither a spine-warping bag of tricks nor an official certificate of artistry. He got into cinema as a writer, and the continuities he establishes are clearly more dramatic than graphic-which should make his art more accessible than most to the casual moviegoer.
What fascinates me is the authority with which Forman makes his technical "errors." One senses in his Walt Whitman-like momentum and in the obvious abundance of his love the potential power to create a new propriety, to make today's errors tomorrow's principles. Specifically, Forman often neglects to "place" his scenes properly in space. It is hard to lay down principles by which proper placement can be achieved, but by negative example, the color cartoon often violates such principles deliberately, for humorous effect. Thus, when Tom or Jerry gets flattened by a train steaming out of a direction we never knew existed, our laughter is more complicated than that we give a clown's pratfall: we sense, also, that a plastic impossibility has occurred.
Now lately some very funny films have carried the conscious violation of these principles over into films with actors. Morgan, 1000 Clowns, and all of Richard Lester's stuff, particularly Help!, have been training our eyes to new conventions, all logical extensions of the conventions implied by any cutting (as opposed to the conventions implied by tracking, the moving camera). Perhaps those of us heading for our dozenth look at the Beatles are becoming prepared to recognize such conventions in serious film; this would entail learning to "summarize" the emotion latent in a shot more hastily than we normally do, without suspending judgement so completely as we wait for the shot that follows.
All this sounds rather far-fetched if we forget how completely we have assimilated into our nervous systems conventions that seemed outrageous when new. When D.W. Griffith invented the close-up, the good people of 1915 demanded their money back: they hadn't paid to see random fragments of anatomy! Likewise, the first cuts completely disoriented audience accustomed to fadeouts.
I am not suggesting that Forman is a conscious innovator in form, or that he will necessarily continue his gleeful negligence of film grammar. No doubt his rough spots could be sanded away by a valedictorian from any of the academics. It doesn't much matter. Through his own flaws or through some lesser soul's corrections, Forman's large soul will continue issuing an uncommonly perceptive love for humankind.