Taking Off (Milos Forman, 1971)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Taking Off.

criterion logoMiloš Forman’s first film in the United States is an affectionate satire of the generation gap dividing America in the late 1960s and early ’70s.  In Taking Off, Forman casts his focus specifically on middle class New York, the Tyne family, and the bourgeois mores that divide Larry and Lynn Tyne (Buck Henry and Lynn Carlin) from their runaway daughter Jeannie (Linnea Heacock).  Through the Society for the Parents of Fugitive Children, Larry and Lynn delve into the counterculture in an effort to understand their wayward child and begin to step out of the hegemony of America’s silent majority.  Punctuated by musical sequences, including performances by a young Carly Simon and a still unknown Kathy Bates, Taking Off humorously captures the tensions between a challenged conservative America and the hippie movement already struggling with its own contradictions.

Disc Features:

  • New digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • Optional remastered uncompressed stereo soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • Clara Kuperberg and Julia Kuperberg’s Miloš Forman: Taking Off in America, an hour-long, 2011 interview with the filmmaker discussing his journey from Czechoslovakia to Hollywood
  • Before Taking Off: Miloš Forman’s Road to America, Robert Fischer’s 30-minute newly edited and illustrated archival interview with Forman on his time in Czechoslovakia and his opportunity to film his first American movie in New York City
  • Two Europeans in New York, a 16 minute interview with co-writer Jean-Claude Carrière
  • New interviews with co-writer John Guare, Buck Henry, Carly Simon, and Kathy Bates
  • I Miss Sonia Henie, Karpo Acimovic-Godina’s 1971 short film made in collaboration with Forman and Buck Henry, as well as Tinto Brass, Mladomir “Puriša” Ðjordjevic, Dušan Makavejev, Paul Morrisey, and Frederick Wiseman
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Photo gallery
  • PLUS:  A booklet of essays by film critics J. Hoberman and Dave Kehr, and writer and documentarian Luc Lagier

Somehow lost between his brilliant Czech films of the 1960s, including Criterion titles Loves of a Blonde (1965) and The Fireman’s Ball (1967), and his major Hollywood studio movies, including One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), Amadeus (1984), The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996), and Man on the Moon (1999), is Miloš Forman’s American début, Taking Off (1971).  It’s rather a shame, as Forman’s film manages to be formally inventive, emotionally stirring, sociopolitically insightful, and frequently hilarious.  Taking Off even won the Grand Prix at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for 2 BAFTAs including one for Best Picture.  Still, the film lacks its deserved attention, even within Forman’s own filmography.  Grey market DVD-Rs are available, as are European Blu-rays, but no proper North America release exists on home media.

The impetus for Taking Off is Jeannie Tyne (Linnea Heacock), a young runaway who leaves her New York home to attend an open-mic audition for a record label.  Cut throughout the film is footage of these auditions, which includes a young Carly Simon and a still unknown Kathy Bates (credited as Bobo Bates).  These auditions voice the ideals and unconventional attitudes of this new generation.  In contrast are Jeannie’s parents, Larry and Lynn Tyne (Buck Henry and Lynn Carlin), who love their daughter but fail to understand her, let alone maintain a sufficient relationship to keep her at home.  Larry and Lynn join the Society for the Parents of Fugitive Children, a support network for parents of runaways.  The group goes to great efforts to understand the circumstances of their children and, in the process, find themselves shaking off their middle class strictures and rediscovering some of their own youthful exuberance.  Taking Off‘s narrative proceeds through a series of vignettes, including Larry and Lynn’s attendance at a Tina Turner concert, a boisterous game of strip poker, and, most famously, a seminar on smoking marijuana.

Forman brings the insight of an outsider to bourgeois America and produces a film that keenly examines the generation gap that divided much of the Western world.  Taking Off strongly resembles his earlier Czech films, but it’s a key work to Forman’s transition to Hollywood heavyweight and is a masterpiece in its own right.  Taking Off deserves better and it’s been a long time since the Collection has cast its gaze in the filmmaker’s direction.

Logan Faerber Royal TenenbaumsMost cover art for Taking Off emphasizes either the garish 1970s affluence of the film’s parents or the youthful, hippie women attending the auditions, yet these approaches never seem to properly capture the strange middle ground of the generation gap that the film delves into.  With that in mind, let me put forward Bostonian artist Logan Faerber as a potential packaging creator for an imagined Criterion Collection release of Taking Off.  Faerber seems to have an eye for bohemian style and expresses the kind of twee-ugliness that ’70s popular culture exhibited.  He appears at home with that ochre and pea-soup-coloured design style of the time and, if able to master the period’s affection for over-sized patterns, could be a perfect match for a spine-numbered edition of Taking Off.

Credits:  The Kuperbergs’ documentary has aired on TCM, but may not yet have a release on home media.  Robert Fischer’s documentary appears on the UK and French Blu-rays of Taking Off, while the interview with Jean-Claude Carrière appears as a special feature only on the French edition.  John Guare’s discussions of Taking Off are so entertaining that a series of interviews on the film built around Guare’s comments seemed natural.  Luc Lagier provides a video introduction on the French Blu-ray, so an essay by him was also an easy choice.  J. Hoberman and Dave Kehr are frequent contributors to the collection and are fans of Taking Off, making them easy choices for essays as well.

3 thoughts on “Taking Off (Milos Forman, 1971)

  1. conradino23 November 28, 2013 / 12:47 am

    This is a good movie, just a lil’ bit screwed up by terrible editing and somehow poor acting. I found this whole cinema verité style interesting, but shaky. It’s not as raw as it could have been, but funny bits help it pull through. Far from masterpiece, but not a complete failure!

    • spinenumbered November 28, 2013 / 2:46 pm

      Naturally, I’ll have disagree about the film’s editing and acting, although it is fair to say that the film allows for a wide spectrum of acting styles (from non-professional realism to Hollywood gloss) in abutting sequences and even within given scenes. As a result, Taking Off’s narrative style can definitely encourage viewers to pick and choose what they like and leaving the whole under-appreciated.

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