Milos Forman’s Taking Off is one of the very few American movies that dealt with the 1960s’ “generation gap” with a clear-eyed lack of hysteria and hype. Forman’s sympathetic direction and screenplay (co-written by John Guare) is witty, wise and passes no judgement on its characters - everyone is going through messy changes in Taking Off and ultimately everybody in the movie has something to learn from everybody else.
When it was released in 1971, I remember thinking how refreshing it was to see a movie about hippies and drugs that wasn’t moralistic or pumped up with melodrama. In Taking Off, the kids really are alright. Even though there really aren’t a lot of hippies or drugs in the film, Forman condenses the spirit of the era in just a few well-constructed set pieces that capture the changes taking place at the time. The audition scenes where we encounter dozens of young faces of women who are flowering, transitioning from repression into freedom, hints at a revolution brewing. Forman’s empathy for the spirit of rebellion was further put to good use in One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest and Hair.
Taking Off has many memorable scenes. Among my favorites is Vincent Schiavelli schooling a room full of squares on how to smoke pot. It is particularly hilarious with a really sweet vibe and I get a contact high every time I watch it. Other notable moments are Bobo (Kathy) Bates singing her song “And Even The Horses Had Wings” and an all-too-brief performance by Ike and Tina Turner tearing it up on the stage of a Catskills resort. Also, keep an eye out for Carly Simon (she’s not hard to spot) and check out how “Air” by The Incredible String Band is used to lovely effect.
Taking Off is an unpretentious little masterpiece that is inexplicably unavailable on VHS or DVD in the USA. I purchased my Blu-ray copy from France. How is it that it’s available in France (on Blu-ray!) and unavailable in the States? Makes no sense. Fortunately, I found the movie in full on Youtube in a fine quality upload. Enjoy.