Monday, June 07, 2010

Was that acting? Noooo...that was the real thing.

The head of the Oregon State Hospital stated only one condition to the director of the movie „One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest“: real patients must be involved in making the film so that they can sense that they are useful...

Uncredited and unknown, to multi-millions audience, hero of the famous Miloš Forman’s movie “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest” was actually a doctor - Dr. Dean Kent Brooks, the head of the Oregon State Mental Hospital at that time.

The film is an adaptation of the 1962 novel of the same name by Ken Kesey. “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest” tells the story of a rebel Randle Patrick McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) who is placed one day at a mental institution for evaluation. The “nest” (mental hospital) is actually a symbol for human’s nest, a complex spiritual space where we spend our whole life. If someone tries to exceed laws and imposed (economic, social, bureaucratic, emotional…) rules, he will be considered as a lunatic. He will then be forced to be obedient, a do what is expected of him. If he opposes and starts a quest for a true happiness and freedom, he will be offered with a small bitter pill from a harsh hand of a medical nurse, ruthless and mean Mildred Ratched (Louise Fletcher).

In 1974, movie creators, leaded with Czech director Forman, were granted from the head of the Oregon State Mental Hospital to shoot whatever they want however they want. They could even make as much noise they wanted and turn on reflectors whenever they wanted to. There was only one little condition: real patients must be involved in making the film. To be exact, that they be of help, that they feel useful and, what is most important, to get paid for a job they do.

Doctor Brooks thought that paid job, while important and expensive movie was filmed there, could have a positive effect on health of those who were treated at this mental institution.

Forman promised that, if it becomes necessary, he will ask for their assistance. And paid them for their effort, of course.

It turned out that their assistance was needed indeed.

In the meantime, hospital accepted actors in order to they get used to conditions which dominate at a place like this. It should be noted that in mid-1970s, these actors were relatively unknown: they were, among others, Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, William Redfield, Brad Dourif and Vincent Schiavelli. When the movie was finished, they turned out so convincing that there was almost impossible to distinguish them from the real patients.

The director prepared the actors by letting them to hang out and live with the real patients. He even demanded that everyone gets a resident bed in the rooms where real patients where staying. Every actor had his own mate (a real patient) which he was supposed to portray while staying in the hospital. That means that every movie character was matched with a real character from the Oregon hospital. The filming progress was closely supervised by doctor Dean Kent Brooks.

Miloš Forman, however, thought that all this wasn’t convincing enough. As the film-making progressed he came to an idea that doctor Brooks should also play a role. He was assigned with a simple task, in comparison to the real actors. He was supposed to play himself. Only his name was changed – to Dr. John Spivey. The scene where he receives McMurphy in the hospital wasn’t in the script. It was a fruit of imagination and experience by Dr. Brooks. In other words, pure improvisation, and Jack Nicholson managed cleverly to adopt him-self there. What more, he even won an Academy Award for Best Actor.

In the end, doctor Brooks was hardly ever mentioned. His patients “assistants”, also.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest” won four more Academy Awards: for Best Picture (Michael Douglas, Saul Zaentz), for Best Director (Miloš Forman), for Best Actress (Louise Fletcher), and for Writing Adapted Screenplay (Laurence Hauben, Bo Goldman).

One more thing about are dear doctor. During the filming of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest " he diagnosed actor William Redfield (who played psychiatric hospital patient "Harding") with Leukemia (this was long before the days of bone marrow transplants), and gave Mr. Redfield 18 months to live (he died 18 months later, pretty much to the day).

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