Milos Forman and Ken Keesey
Milos Forman is a brilliant director, because he knows how to cross cultures to talk about his life. It took me ages to watch One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, because I knew it was going to be fucking intense. And Stef tried to make me watch it for the first time in French and I was like “Fuck off!” Anyway, we did watch it together, I got the deluxe DVD. And there’s an amazing documentary on there about the making of the film. It was independent, that was not a Hollywood film, but he found backers who did come from Hollywood money, which was amazing. And he was actually making a film about his life in Eastern Europe. That was an Eastern European story. And he did it in an American style. His process for getting his actors into character was phenomenal, because he let them be crazy all the time. They actually lived on the ward and people stopped being able to tell if they were the patients or the actors. Some of them totally regressed, but they had a psychiatrist on staff who calmed them down and let them know that they were just playing like children, it was okay, they were going to be fine. And they were fine, because Milos set up the ultimate safe working experience. He made sure they were okay even though they went hardcore into their characters. And they didn’t have to put it away at the end of the day, they got to stay in character ALL the time. And most of those actors were then unknown, but of course now you look at them and so many have gone on to do amazing work.
And he was a true collaborator. He let them go where they wanted, some of it was totally unscripted. And he did put in a code, which was amazing, and I use it too.
We think it’s a film about Randall P. McMurphy, and it kind of is, but in the Ken Keesey book, it’s actually written from the viewpoint of Chief. It’s all about Chief watching this stuff happen to a white guy and seeing that race doesn’t matter, anyone can get seriously fucked over. Ken Keesey was a genius too. He wrote Cuckoo’s Nest after spending some time working as an orderly in a psych ward. And then of course he went on to drive around America in his Acid Kool-Aid van. He was a hippie! And to learn about power, he was an orderly, and obviously he didn’t like what was happening there.
There’s a great scene in Cuckoo’s Nest where McMurphy gives Chief a stick of juicyfruit as they are on their way to the ECT room. And Chief finally says something, after all that time being super quiet. And he starts trying to help McMurphy without being noticed, because he needs the staff to keep thinking he’s a dumb Indian. And they have these intense conversations about growing up as men and how you get worked on. But Chief was never going to say anything to McMurphy as long as McMurphy was racist. It was only when he finally realized McMurphy was curious about him that they really became friends.
I think maybe it is a good film to watch right now, if you do feel crazy. Because the end is amazing!
I actually did find a few people who helped me in the ward, it was hard though, because I was a closeted transman and they were gay men. And they spoke French, so we needed a translator. This was in the hardcore ward with the sex offender. Anyway, the translator I used was an HIV positive gay man. And he was awesome, it was hard on him though, because he had no clue what I was doing. And I remember when I went into the ward the staff kept saying “Don’t touch him, he’s . . . special.” They wouldn’t even let me hug him, they were so paranoid. And we weren’t going to have sex, we just needed to be affectionate with each other. So we held hands when no one was looking. And he started falling in love because no one was touching him, he was a pariah, really, and that threw him because he thought I was a lesbian, everyone did. I remember one time I forget what I was doing and the gay male orderlies were like “You can’t do that here, this is a straight ward!” And I said “What? No homosexuals allowed?” I knew what they meant but I didn’t want them to get away with a translation slip. And they started giggling like little girls, they were like “No no no, we mean strict!” I don’t think the man I was incarcerated with knew I was going to be okay, because by the end of psych care they do get rid of empathy. But I knew enough about HIV to know we couldn’t do anything, I mean, they sure as hell don’t pass out condoms in the ward. I hear that’s changing now. And the guy I was with, he was having a hard time on his meds because they stopped him from being able to ejaculate. And it was torture on him, I mean, it was the only release he had and he could not get it even on his own.
And I remember I really fucked up people, because they didn’t know why a girl wanted to be treated with respect. They were so confused on that front, because they assumed girls were passive and meek, and I was all “Fuck all y’all!” They called me a princess, and it really bothered them, because someone like me wasn’t supposed to be so uppity. Not a GIRL! If I had been a bioman, it might have been slightly different, but I doubt it. They always find some way to fuck you up with gender there.
So maybe my point is just that you should buy some juicyfruit for friends.