THE FIREMAN'S BALL
Review by Michael Jacobson
Jan Vostrcil, Josef Kolb, Jan Stockl, Stanislav Holubec, Frantisek Svet
Director: Milos Forman
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Features: Milos Forman Interview, About the Transfer
Length: 73 Minutes
Release Date: February 12, 2002
the people stole the lottery, they cannot win it!Ē
about the people who honestly bought tickets, but didnít steal?Ē
should have stolen.Ē
Firemanís Ball was Czech director Milos Formanís first color film, and his last
creative hurrah in his native land before the arrival of the Russians.
On the one hand, itís a rather uneven, graceless comedy whose primary
humor probably doesnít much survive the translation outside of a Socialist
state. On the other hand, no movie
banned forever by the Communist Party can be considered all bad.
all the recent news about the heroism of firefighters, itís a little amusing
to see a picture where they are hopelessly inept, both as individuals and as a
group. They are trying to stage the
gala event of the title, but itís a disaster from the startÖtheir attempt to
hold a beauty contest is a disorganized fiasco. Their precious lottery table gets stolen from repeatedly.
Worst of all, a fire breaks out nearby during the ball, and our intrepid
heroes canít do much about it!
can sense Formanís sly digs at his Socialist government, but unfortunately,
unless you happen to be a member of such a state yourself, a lot of that humor
is lost. Weíre left only with
painful, broad humor that dips into the well once too often.
sequences would be funnier if they werenít so maddeningly long.
Even in a relatively short film, the beauty pageant scene is driven into
the ground and broken off, as reluctant ladies march into the firemenís office
for unceremonial judging. When it
comes time to announce their candidates, they canít get anyone on stage.
The band finishes their song and proceeds to drink their beer while the
emcees are left hanging!
the while, the food and prizes from the lottery table keep growing less and less
in number, while the men argue and bicker over whoís supposed to be guarding
it. One of the menís own wives
helps herself to a head cheese, which provides for an amusing rim shot near the
end of the film.
most disturbing sequence, however, is the fire, which rages out of control while
the firemen canít even get their truck unstuck from the snow.
They manage to save the old man and a few possessions, but the house
burns to the ground while our hapless fighters can only throw meager shovelfuls
of snow at it. They try to
recompense at the ball by having everyone donate their lottery tickets to the
old man, who only grumbles sadly that he needs money, not those tickets,
which are practically worthless by that time anyway.
The only amusing part is that the waiter from the ball tries to collect
his bills from the attendees, who all vacated the venue to watch the fire.
of these are political in-jokesÖthe people under the Socialist government were
impoverished and starving, so yes, there was theft. The firemen, like the political machine, was disorganized,
clueless, and when it came right down to it, unable to do one job they were
supposed to do. But change the
politics of the audience, and these become mere socio-economic footnotes, and
not forces that drive the humor. Whatís
left is a meandering comedy with no rhythm, no memorable or distinctive
characters, and only a few laughs.
bright side, however, is that the filmís ultimate banishment from Russian
controlled Czechoslovakia paved the way for Formanís journey west, where he
has since repeatedly defended The Firemanís Ball, but more importantly,
gone on to make acclaimed and beloved movies here in America.
itís best to view the movie like the old chairman receiving his honorary award
at the end. He finds the box empty
(naturally), but stoically hides his disappointment and goes on.
is a very good color transfer from Criterion, preserving the integrity of
Formanís images with natural looking tones, sharply defined images and no
instances of bleeding or blurring. Grain
is mostly non-existent; only once or twice is it even slightly noticeable.
The print itself is in very good shape, and not suffering from the usual
marks, spots or fading you might associated with a picture this old.
A quality job from start to finish.
simple mono mix is a decent one, with plenty of music and lively dialogue to
give the audio its range and punch. I
noticed no distracting noise or interferenceÖa smooth presentation all the
is a 15 minute interview with Milos Forman, describing the difficulties in
making and releasing the film (producer Carlo Ponti almost sued to get back his
$65,000, for starters) and how it was received both by the masses and by the
powers at the time. There is also a
5 minute look at the transfer process, featuring Forman and cinematographer