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domenica 27 marzo 2011

Taking Off from East to West: Milos Forman's social satire

Jeannie is a fifteen years old girl. She’s out with an excuse from home to attend an audition for a stage musical, off Broadway.
In the meantime Larry and Lynn, her parents, have discovered the lie, and after a while Larry in company of one of his friends goes out to look for his daughter. But the only thing in which he’ll succeed is to get drunk at the local bar.
At dawn, Jeannie is back, but instead to be happy Larry hits her and want to set things the old fashion way.
While having a quarrel with his wife about this, he doesn’t realize Jeannie is taking off again, this time for good.
The couple will look for her for months, having any sort of adventures and meeting other parents of fugitive kids. They will attend dinners of an association for distressed parents, they’ll experiment drugs as well, their biggest concern, to understand what is going on in the young people’s mind. In the end Jeannie will be back. She’s fine, not on drugs, she’s with an hippy boyfriend only, a singer that makes Mum and Dad unhappy, until they’ll realize the guy is actually making a fortune out of his songs.
Milos Forman’s first English language film, Taking Off  features all the themes and sarcastic tones of his previous movies Horí, má panenko (Firemen’s Ball), Lásky jedné plavovlásky (Loves of a blonde). Shot with a cinema veritè style, with mostly non professional actors, its’ a fun ride trough the stereotypes of a typical middle class American family, took as an example that could be applied to any family in the world. Unable to understand the changing in contemporary life, too much absorbed in their little idiosyncrasies and problems, Lynn and Larry are the symbols of an old conception of life that is giving up under the pressure of new generations’ needs and ways of living. The conflict generated by the sexual revolution and the 68’ movement and protest, leaves no room for a truce or a peace meeting. The parents are unable to understand their sons and daughters, because the main problem is they can’t really understand themselves. The “façade” of an happy marriage is constantly kept on, but could miserably fall down any moment.
This dramatic set up is brought up with a light and ironic touch making fun of everything and everybody, with a black humour Forman was able to display before in Cerný Petr (Black Peter) and the already mentioned works; even his first opus, Konkurs, is evident here, in the audition sequence that Forman admits shot as a kind of remake, to achieve a result that was impossible at the time he made Konkurs due to the limit of budget and equipment.
Coming from a foreign country Forman, with the help of famous screenplayer, Jean Claude Carriere, fully understands Western civilization and can’t help to make fun of it and expose all his contradictions. The finale is the best part of the movie, the reconciliation between the parents and the daughter is achieved when they’ll realize her long haired, moustached, boyfriend is making a fortune as a protest singer. He’s rich and, most of all, he’s accepting the contradiction to make money out of something like the social and political involvement and the fight for a cause. His earnings are a healthy three hundred thousand dollars, before taxes, as he’ll admit, declaring with this assertion that while fighting the system, he’s actually accepting his rules and constrictions. In this, the movie is a sort of a prophecy of what the 68 generation would become later, at least a big part of it.
All the beauty of idealism, free love and altruism will be digested by the capitalistic societies and regurgitated as a product to be sold in stores at 99 cents. The rebellion and the ideals brought on by youngsters in the 60’s and 70’s, will leave room to a frantic consumerism;  protesters’ minds, once corrupted, will turn to the Reaganian hedonism of the 80’s; the hippies will transform into white collars.
The movie provocations would cause more than a stir if made today, in this devastating era of political correctness; the scene in which all the parents experience drugs, marijuana, to fully understand the risks and the dangers tight to its use, it’s funny and comes to a conclusion that it’s actually a positive practice to liberate the inner self.
While flopping at the Box Office, the film was well received by film critics everywhere, and awarded the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1971. Forman’s ability to overcome frontiers was highly recognized and this work helped him to establish himself as a reliable director and ultimately led him to one of the most successful career in Hollywood, with such reknown classics like One flew over the cuckoo’s nest and Amadeus. Forman was able with his talent to catch the changing of the times, exposing all the stereotypes of both sides. Fundamental to the build up of the Czech new wave, his cinema will constantly develop further on; making him one of the most prominent figures in the business even today.
Previously available on DVD in just few countries, the movie has been painstakingly restored for its Blu Ray debut courtesy of French distributor, Carlotta films.
Miroslav Ondricek’s magnificent lensing, appears to be intact, and all the grain of the film has been preserved with no digital manipulation applied. Conditions of the original elements are unknown but what we get here is a pristine HD master free of any damage, dirts, specks or whatsoever. OAR of 1.85:1, 1080/24P, AVC encoded.
Blacks are strong, with sharp detail all along the picture with no evident edge enhancement.
The BD is stated to be region B locked, but played flawlessly in a native region A player. The mono track is strong and has been restored as well, English is available with removable French subs.
While being actually region free, the extras are 50 hertz Pal, making impossible to reproduce them in a Region A player. Once played in a region B one, they consist of 3 featurettes. One very interesting with Forman telling stories about his first steps as a filmmaker and the making of the film. The footage comes from a year 2000 interview and lasts for thirty minutes; low quality standard def, but the facts narrated makes it definitely worth a watch.
The others are: a six minute introduction by Luc Lagier, and a sixteen minutes interview with Jean-Claude Carriere.
The BD case is housed in a nice O-card with a sticker stating this collector’s edition is limited.
This is a great film; there are many take offs in it, with drugs, of clothes and from home. It’s a wild trip in a long gone world, while what remains today it’s the hypocrisy of it: the very same one of our modern and past life. In all his movies Forman has always been able to capture this duplicity of human nature, and for this reason, he is going to be remembered and celebrated.

Film mass is ended you may go in peace
The Vikar

 Sequences from the film

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