Filed in: Director Series

Director Series-Milos Forman-Goyas Ghost

December 6, 2006 | By

Milos Forman began his career in the forefront of the Czech new wave ofthe 1960s with such social comedies as Loves of a Blonde and TheFireman’s Ball. When Russian tanks moved into Prague in 1968 he saw hiscreative freedom dissolve and headed for America, where he would makesuch films as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Hair, Ragtime, Man onthe Moon and Amadeus.
His latest film, Goya’s Ghost, is set duringthe revival of the Spanish Inquisition in the 18th Century. It starsJavier Bardem as a chief inquisitor and Stellan Skarsgard as thepainter who observes and paints the carnage of the era and steps in tohelp liberate a young woman played by Natalie Portman who is unjustlyimprisoned for heresy.

Milos Forman: I first read about theSpanish Inquisition in the 1950s when I was a student. At the time, theStalinist trials were going on and I thought nothing much has changed,though you understand I had to keep that to myself. Obviously Iidentified strongly with that time and I simply do not understand whywe continue to repeat the mistakes of history.
BTL: The allegoric quality comes across. Was it difficult to devise the story?
MF:The idea really goes back 20 years when I was in Spain for the openingof Amadeus. One afternoon I went to the Prado with (producer) SaulZaentz and we saw the Goya paintings and I told him I thought there wasa movie where you could use the paintings to inform what was going onduring the Inquisition. He liked the idea.
BTL: It must have been difficult to arrive at a script.
MF:It really wasn’t. I felt that I needed to collaborate with someone thatknew the period and approached the French writer Jean-Claude Carriere,who immediately saw the possibilities. We took our time and both of ushad other commitments that would interrupt the process. It was writtenin spurts over six years and completed just before the Iraq war.
BTL: Was it a conscious decision to use a largely Spanish crew?
MF:Conscious? Let me think about that. Certainly there was no questionthat it had to be shot in Spain. I made several trips with Jean-Claudewhile we were writing and we found all the places where it would beshot. You know the entire film is actual locations, (productiondesigner) Patrizia (von Brandenstein) didn’t have to build any sets. Itdoesn’t really make her job any simpler because everything still has tobe dressed. She was the only one of the key creatives that I had workedwith before. You really want someone who sees things the way you doand, actually, better than you do and having done four picturestogether there’s a comfort zone in having someone like her to relievethe stress about how the picture will look.
BTL: The look is obviously influenced by Goya’s work and having the light must have been essential.
MF:Well, that’s also the cameraman Javier Aguirresarobe. I was told that Ihad to have one of two Spanish cameramen. They told me he spoke alittle English and when we met there appeared to be a rapport but itwasn’t till we began filming that I realized he really didn’t speak anyEnglish. I did a test and he’d say, “si, si” to everything I suggested,including taking a break and going into Madrid to kill the king.
BTL: That must have made you very anxious. Did you work through an interpreter?
MF:There are a lot of ways to communicate other than language. Reallyother than the actors, you don’t have to speak a common tongue. Javierknew Goya’s work and I don’t know how but he intuited what I wanted.Yes, I was initially nervous, but after watching the dailies for thefirst few days I could see he was doing brilliant work. Basically Istopped talking to him because I didn’t want to spoil anything.
BTL: Was it generally the case that once you set the initial parameters, you left your craftsmen alone to do their work?
MF:That’s always the wisest path. But I want to get back to the Spanishcrew. I think the decision to use virtually all Spaniards — the costumedesigner Yvonne Blake is British but she’s lived in Spain for 20 years— was subconscious. In the back of my mind I was probably imaginingthey would either know Goya’s work formally or instinctually.
BTL: Can we assume that was the case?
MF:Oh, yes. It really turned out to be the most pleasant shoot I’ve everhad. They were not simply very professional; they came to the setinvolved with the production. There was a sense of comradeship and theyhad great humor. You had the feeling that everyone was making the samemovie and that’s unfortunately not usually the case.
BTL: Truffauthad that great stagecoach analogy where you start out with theexcitement of a great journey and as you progress encounter a wheelbreaking, drought, Indian attacks and whatever, and finally only havereaching your destination as a goal.
MF: Yes, I think anyone who’s made a few movies can relate to that.
BTL: Do you have a sense of the final form of the film before you go into the editing?
MF:Yes and no, but it’s complicated. I should explain that I’ve alwaysworked in a certain way. I don’t edit during production because I havea lot of other things on my mind during filming. However, my editor,Adam Boome, convinced me to let him cut scenes this time and he hasthis genius personality. So I indulged him.
BTL: Did that have an impact and what you filmed?
MF:Definitely. The Avid is an amazing tool. It’s just so fast andversatile. Adam was the assistant editor on Man in the Moon and he hasthe key elements you want — intelligence, patience, humor andinvention. He’d show me cut scenes and then he convinced me to let himput together sequences and you get to see a bigger picture and itopened me up to trying things on the set. I really liked this and Iguess it just proves that you can teach an old dog new tricks. I shouldadd that I don’t ever leave the editing room until I’m convinced thatI’ve seen every possible combination of using the material.
BTL: Are you surprised at what you see?
MF:Not really. Well, there are subtleties you miss because everything isso rushed when you’re making a film. There’s a line in the film thatNapoleon said when he declared war on Spain. He told his troops thatthey would be welcomed with flowers like liberators. Now, as I saidthis script was finished just before the Iraq war, so when Dick Cheneysaid the same thing I got chills and thought about cutting the line.This film is really about everything that has happened in my lifetime.
BTL: I’d like to ask you about the film’s composers. It’s rather unusual to have two composers that worked separately.
MF:I think you have to blame or credit that to my naivety. When we werecutting I was given music by a young Czech composer named Varhan Bauerand a Spaniard, Jose Nieto, to use for the temp track. I really lovedtheir work and went to Saul and asked if we could commission both ofthem to write the score. It was my idea that we would pick and choosewhich pieces we liked and in the end it worked out to be very close to50/50.
BTL: What was their reaction?
MF: Well initiallyneither of them was very happy that we weren’t using their entirescore. It got better after they saw the film because they came toappreciate how collaborative the process is. Music is often moreimportant than dialog because of the emotional impact it has. Remember,there are a lot of ways to communicate something.

Written by Len Klady