Milos Forman, who passed away last week at the age of 86, was best known as the Academy Award-winning director of those ’70s and ’80s classics One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus, but he was a sensation before he left his native Czechoslovakia in 1968. His first feature, Black Peter (1964), was well received (it took the top prize at Locarno) but it was his two subsequent features, Loves of a Blonde (1965) and The Firemen’s Ball (1967), which made his name both at home and abroad and which remain two of the great fire-bursts of the Czech New Wave. Both are social satires set in small Czech towns, filmed on location, using mostly non-professional casts, in a distinctly cinema vérité style. Both were nominated for Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film (Blonde lost to Lelouch’s A Man and a Woman and Firemen to Bondarchuk’s War and Peace) and both, as far as I can tell from the wide array of international posters, were distributed to great acclaim around the world.
The two posters above—Hannah Bodnar’s ethereal Polish artwork for Loves of a Blonde and Peter Merczel’s inspired 1988 matchbox design for The Firemen’s Ball—are two of my all-time favorite film posters, but both films inspired numerous and very varied designs. A lot of them verge on the prurient: sex sold foreign films in the 1960s, and the story has it that when one international distributor told Forman that Loves of a Blonde was too short for American audiences and didn’t contain enough nudity, he shot some additional scenes that were only ever seen abroad. Despite that, it is the decidedly less sexy Firemen’s Ball that has the most salacious posters, especially a couple of German designs and one Danish that look British seaside postcards or posters for a Carry On film. The original Czech posters by Vladimir Bidlo are wonderful in their collage style; I love the French pop art design by Ferracci and, of course, the wonderful Polish poster by Jerzy Flisak.
Below are the best posters I could find for each film, beginning with the original Czech designs and ending with the American one sheets and some US ephemera. If you’ve never seen these films do check them if you can find them—they are wonderful.
Posters courtesy of Posteritati, Heritage Auctions, KinoArt.net and eBay.