The Fireman’s Ball: Criterion Collection

January 28, 2012 7 Min Read

Review by: Fusion3600

Plot: What’s it about?

At a small town fire department, the heads of the office have decided to put on a ball of sorts, to honor a former supervisor. The man will soon turn eighty-six years old and has cancer, which is why the men want to give him a night of his own, before it is too late. The firemen go into the ball with the best intentions, with plans to hold a beauty contest, a lottery with some excellent prizes, have music for the people to dance to, and of course, they have a special gift to give the guest of honor, who is expected to make a speech. The event is not supposed to be small either, as the entire town has been invited and it seems like quite a tribute to the man’s service to the area, but as the party starts, things begin to run amok. The entertainment committee ends up in a brawl while looking for women for the beauty contest, booze begins to take hold in some attendees, lust rears its head to cause some trouble, and someone is even stealing the lottery items, right from under the nose of the man assigned to watch over them. Will anything go as planned on this night and in any event, will the guest of honor truly feel honored, or will it be more like embarrassed & insulted?

This movie is not what it seems, as it takes an artistic and political message inside a story of hapless, often helpless firemen and succeeds, with flying colors. You don’t have to look too deep to discover the connections with the events in Czechoslovakia at the time, though writer/director Milos Forman is clever with his approach. You could sit down and watch The Firemen’s Ball and never make that connection, but still have a good time in the process, unlike many films that try to weave in serious political topics. You can double your pleasure if you pick up on the threads of course, but in either case, The Firemen’s Ball will not fail to entertain. The tone is outlandish, but also very realistic thanks to the performances and material involved, which keeps the events in check, even when they go right out of control. The scenes with the scantily clad girls and the speech from the guest of honor are classic moments, but The Firemen’s Ball is consistent throughout. You’ll cringe, you’ll laugh, you’ll wince, and you might get a little depressed, but one thing is for certain, The Firemen’s Ball is an excellent film and shouldn’t be missed on DVD.

His films are often labeled as controversial, so it should be no surprise that director Milos Forman’s The Firemen’s Ball is no exception. This film drew a lot more heat than most controversial movies however, ending up banned “forever” in Czechoslovakia and playing a major role in Forman’s move to the United States. He had to deny that any political messages were found within the film at one point, but anyone could tell that wasn’t the case and soon enough, The Firemen’s Ball was on the banned lists. Forman weaves the political themes in without making them overpowering, so the humor of the material is still intact. He is able to create a party filled with chaos and nonsense, then bring it all into perspective with a few short strokes, very impressive indeed. The cast is mostly non actors and that gives the flick a natural, unforced texture which really enhances the material and the impact it has on the audience. Other films directed by Forman include Loves of a Blonde, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Hair, Man on the Moon, and The People Vs. Larry Flynt.

Video: How does it look?

The Firemen’s Ball is presented in a full frame transfer, as intended. This looks much better than expected, given the film’s age and low budget roots. The print looks very, very clean and shows minimal problems, even grain is never an issue here. A few small defects do arise, but not enough to be concerned about, not even close. This was Forman’s first color picture and the hues look good here, natural in scope and never off balance, while flesh tones seem normal also, no real complaints to be made. The black levels look to be on the mark also, with smooth contrast throughout and no loss of detail is evident. As per usual, Criterion has issued a great looking visual effort and done all of the film’s fans a wonderful deed.

Audio: How does it sound?

The original Czech soundtrack is presented here via a mono option, which sounds good, all things considered. I couldn’t find any problem areas to speak of, as the material sounded clean throughout. No hiss was presented and distortion was never an issue, so the materials have aged well and not degraded much. The vocals come through in clean, crisp form, while music & sound effects are well presented, though age & the limits of mono factor into the equation. This disc also includes new & improved, optional English subtitles.

Supplements: What are the extras?

This disc includes a fourteen minute interview with Forman, as well as a featurette on the film’s visuals and how the transfer was created.

Disc Scores