The Firemen's Ball (Horí, má Panenko) (1967)
|Category||Satire||Audio Commentary-by Rolando Caputo and Scott Murray editors of Senses of Cine|
|Year Of Production||1967|
|RSDL / Flipper||No/No||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||4||Directed By||Milos Forman|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Full Frame||
Czech Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||None|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.33:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
Milos Forman didn't invent the Czech New Wave but he was at the forefront of this minor revolution in Eurpoean cinema which lasted roughly from 1963 to 1968. The first date may not be important but the second represents the end of the Prague Spring in August 1968 when Soviet tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia and freedom of expression all but dried up. He was also the only director of the New Wave to have attained subsequent international significance.
Prior to the 60's Czechoslovakia was known only for its animation but once the New Wave started a group of directors presented wryly funny, often literary and tragic films to an appreciative public.
The Fireman's Ball represents all that was good about the New Wave as well as the reasons why the Soviets were so keen to suppress the movement. On its face a gentle comedy, the film has often been taken as a bitter satire on the communist state. It is short, funny and a little wicked.
The Firemans Ball has no true protagonist. At the beginning we learn that at the annual ball the previous fire chief is to be awarded a ceremonial fire axe, despite the fact that the proper time for bestowing the honour has long passed. This short (73 minute) movie spans the length of the ball from the preparations on the day to the sun coming up the following morning. What comes between is a public function where nothing goes to plan. The all important raffle is beset with a bad case of the disappearing prizes. The beauty contest, keenly controlled by the menfolk, is a disaster as none of the girls come remotely up to scratch. Then, in the middle of the chaos a real fire breaks out and the firefighters spring into action. All the while the dignified former fire chief waits, waits and waits for his presentation.
Although the film can be enjoyed as an amiable comedy about a provincial celebration it was also seen by many as an attack on the Communist state. The bumbling firefighters represented a beaurocracy of regimentation and surveillance but they are unable to carry the most simple plan throught to its fruition.
The cast is largely amateurs and this helps give the film its authentic feel. Everyone looks like they have spent a lot of time in the provinces and the lack of good dental work is evident throughout! The film was financed through Italian producer Carlo Ponti. As a result Forman had good quality colour stock to work with ( the other classics of the New Wave were all black & white). But Ponti refused to have any further involvement in the film after he saw it and it had the distinction of being banned forever in Czechoslavakia after the Prague Spring ended.
It was nominated in the Best Foreign Film category at the 1969 Oscars, losing out to War and Peace.
The Firemans Ball comes to DVD in a 1.33:1 transfer being its original aspect ratio (although IMDB suggests it was 1.37:1).
It is difficult to know where to begin when describing the transfer quality. Perhaps we should start at the beginning - a title screen which reads:
How you take that comment depends on your personal level of cynicism. It either means: We have done the best that we can to bring the film to you or it means We have just slapped this movie onto DVD - good luck!.
The Firemans Ball is a rare movie and any film fan would be prepared to put up with a bit of wear and tear to see the film. However, with the Criterion Collection having produced a restored version of the film which has drawn positive comments from reviewers as to its picture quality it is a great shame that we in Region 4 get an unrestored film.
In short, the film is in pretty bad shape. There are artefacts throughout. Though some scenes, such as the fire towards the end, seem cleaner than others this is a print that has seen better decades. There are all manner of artefacts - scratches, dots, blobs and a nasty black line down the middle of the frame which runs from about 10.25 to 10.58.
The colours are washed out and dull dominated , intentionally, by browns. The flesh tones are in keeping with the whole picture quality.
The film is presented on a single sided disc which does not present any compression problems for this short movie.
Whether the imperfections described above "affect your viewing enjoyment" is a matter of personal taste and I did find myself adjusting to the look fairly quickly. However, it is hard to appreciate the film in its best light when it looks so average.
The sound for The Firemans Ball is Dolby Digital (mono) running at 192 Kb/s.
The sound for the film is in keeping with , although a little bit better than, the picture quality. There isn't a great deal of subsurface noise but there are at least three occasions where the sound dropped out, usually at the end of an edit. These are at 9.17, 36.55 and 51.34.
The audio sync seems to be appropriate. The music for the film is mainly provided by the on-screen band and is jaunty and fun.
|Surround Channel Use|
Rolando Caputo and Scott Murray, both editors of Senses of Cinema, provide an interesting commentary to the film.
It is a different tack to have two academics discuss a film as there are some points where they don't exactly see eye to eye. One of the key areas of dispute is whether the film is an innocent comedy or a savage satire. Both are knowledgeable speakers and the commentary flies by in the 70 odd minute running time of the film.
An interesting side line is the extent to which the Czech New Wave were both supported and reviled by the French New Wave with Truffaut complaining that the final scenes of the film "mocked the common man".
Although the commentary is worthwhile it would have been nice to see a documentary on the Czech New Wave.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
The Region 1 version of the film, available via the Criterion Collection, is a classy affair. It features: New digital transfer mastered from a 35mm interpositive, with restored image and sound
Video interview with director Milos Forman
A behind-the-scenes look at the transfer process, featuring cinematographer Miroslav Ondricek, and comments from Milos Forman
New and improved English subtitle translation
For fans of Czech cinema or this film the Region 1 version would seem to be the immediate choice.
The Firemans Ball is a fun romp with a cunning undertone of dissent. At 73 minutes it is probably a bit too brief to make a big impact but it is definitely worth a watch, if you can put up with the ordinary transfer.
The extra commentary is engaging and makes a worthy listen.
|DVD||Pioneer DVR 630H-S, using Component output|
|Display||Panasonic TH-50PV60A 50' Plasma. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080i.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.|
|Amplification||Onkyo TX - SR603|
|Speakers||Onkyo 6.1 Surround|