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The Criterion Collection presents
The Firemen's Ball (Horí, má panenko) (1967)

Vaclav: Where is that headcheese?Josef: What headcheese?Vaclav: There was a headcheese here.Josef: Well, there was a chocolate ball here, you know, that was here, but no headcheese Vaclav. Vaclav, well really...I was here. No, there was definately no headcheese. No!Vaclav: And where is that chocolate ball?
- Václav Novotny, Josef Kolb

Review By: Jeff Ulmer  
Published: February 11, 2002

Stars: Jan Vostrcil, Josef Sebanek, Josef Valnoha, Frantisek Debelka, Josef Kolb, Jan Stockl, Vratislav Cermak
Other Stars: Josef Rehorek, Václav Novotny, Frantisek Reinstein, Frantisek Paska, Stanislav Holubec, Josef Kutalek, Frantisék Svet, Ladislav Adam, Jiri Libal, Antonín Blazejovsky, Stanislav Ditrich, Milada Jezková, Jarmila Kucharova, Alena Kvetova, Anna Liepoldova, Miluse Zelena, Marie Slivova, Hana Hanusova, Hana Kuberova
Director: Milos Forman

Manufacturer: IFPI
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mature themes)
Run Time: 01h:13m:49s
Release Date: February 12, 2002
UPC: 037429165522
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A-A-A- B-

DVD Review

Milos Forman may not be as easily recognized in name as some of his European contemporaries, but the same can not be said of his work. His 1975 Hollywood production, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, swept the Academy Awards® with five wins, including both Foreman's (director) and Jack Nicholson's (best actor) first ever. Lavish productions followed in Hair and Ragtime. 1984's Amadeus captured 8 Oscars®, including best picture and director, and The People vs Larry Flint secured Foreman's third nomination for best director. Born in Czechoslovakia, he was raised by relatives after being orphaned when his parents were executed at Auschwitz. He attended the Prague Film School, whose alumni also include Jiri Menzel (Closely Watched Trains), Jan Nemec, and Ivan Passer, a frequent collaborator on his films. He became a dominant force in the Czech New Wave when he was nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar® for his 1965 film, Loves of a Blonde (Lásky jedné plavovlásky). Released in the political climate of 1967's Prague Spring, its successor, The Firemen's Ball, would become a turning point in Foreman's career. In honor of their retiring chief, a group of volunteer firefighters plan a benefit ball, which is to be highlighted by the presentation of an award for his years of service. The spirit is soured at its onset, as the firefighters have only just learned of their commissioner's cancer, which worries many about the perceived intention of their gift. Nevertheless, the plans are moving forward, which include a lottery for a host of prizes, topped by a beauty pageant, whose winner will present the award. The preparations are not without incident, including the discovery that one of the prizes has vanished from its display table, which sets up another unfortunate accident as the decorating staff encounters mishap. The night of the ball arrives, and the committee members have to pick contestants for the pageant, however participants are less than eager to be a part of the festivities, outside the parents of some of the less desireable options. As the evening wears on, things go from bad to worse, with problems compounding, and the poorly organized committee facing challenge after challenge, with hilarious results.The film is a comedy of errors, presented in a dark and understated fashion—just about everything that could go wrong, does. The beauty herein lies with the tone; its matter-of-factness exposes the absurdity of the goings on, without creating an overtly comedic atmosphere. The chaos is unstoppable, the damage irreversible, and its organizers are clueless as to how to right this disaster of an event. The humanity of the situations are a large part of the success of this film, as the ensemble cast deals with the variety of problems with even worse ideas for solutions. The clash of personalities, the realities of the social atmosphere, and the ineptness of the hosts make this a remarkably funny, yet sadly poignant caricature of Czech society, and one that would raise the eyebrows of the people with the power to subdue its release. The Firemen's Ball is a film which, at many points in its production, survived being shut down. The task was to create a follow up to Loves of a Blonde, but feeling stifled and uninspired in Prague, Foreman, Ivan Passer and Jaroslav Papousek set out for the quiet of Vrchlabi to write the new film. To ease the boredom of this rural location, they decided one night to attend the local Firemen's ball, and witnessed an event that had them talking for days. Abandoning their original script ideas, they wrote the screenplay for The Firemen's Ball—or what they would present as the screenplay, since any Czech film production had to get regulatory approval before it was sanctioned. They managed to get Italian film producer Carlo Ponti to put up the money, which allowed them to shoot in color—a first for Foreman—and decided to use local villagers for actors. While Foreman dismisses any intentional allegory, after the censors had raised issues with the film, the Czech authority also had issues with it, sensing a ridiculing of the common people and more importantly, the communist regime. Due to the differences from what was originally submitted as the story, Ponti also backed out, leaving Foreman in an extremely dangerous legal situation. He was saved by two of France's foremost directors, who bailed him out financially.That issue resolved, Forman was still not in the clear. While they wouldn't normally place an official ban on any work, the Polit Bureau would try to use more subversive means to suppress anything deemed inappropriate. However, their plans backfired, and despite their efforts, the film got its release. Then, within three weeks came the Soviet occupation and intolerance for works that cast any kind of negative light on their society meant the film was pulled, and once again faced banishment, this time officially and permanently. The new foreign involvement freed The Firemen's Ball from Czechoslovakia, and saved it from destruction. As a result of the political climate, Foreman would leave his homeland for Hollywood, marking this film as his last Czech production, which Criterion presents here in a newly restored edition.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Created from a new interpositive off the original negative, this transfer was supervised by cinematographer Miroslav Ondricek. As such, it accurately captures the rich, earthy tonal palette the filmmakers intended. Contrast is moderately high, with deep blacks and the sparse color areas appearing slightly undersaturated. Aside from the occasional streak, defects are minimal, and fine grain is naturally rendered. I doubt this could look much better, given the care that went into the transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Mono audio is available in the original Czech language. The transfer is free from any major defects, while still showing signs of its age in spots with typical oversaturation distortion, and a bit of edginess on some of the dialogue, both of which are attributable to the source. The tonal balance seems pretty even, with no excessive sibilance, and good definition. I have no real complaints in this department.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 17 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
2 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Interview with director Milos Foreman
  2. Transfer process demonstration
Extras Review: Criterion supplements The Firemen's Ball with two well chosen additions. The first is a 14m:14s interview with director Milos Foreman, which contains a wealth of information on the making of the film, and the challenges faced in doing so. From the script development to the tactics of the censor board and his near incarceration for the production, Foreman outlines the story of his work under the political system of his native Czechoslovakia in the 1960s. He also comments on the difference between producing under the communist regime and within the western commercial system. Very educational, and extremely engaging.The second feature is a 04m:37s behind-the-scenes look at creating the new transfer, which was done in Czechoslovakia at Barrandov Studios, the same lab where the film was originally processed. Milos Foreman provides a prologue, discussing the difference in working with color over black & white, and we are then taken inside the control room where his cinematographer, Miroslav Ondricek, supervises the color correction. An essay on the film by Village Voice senior editor, J. Hoberman, is included in the leaflet.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

A masterful dark comedy chronicling a nightmarish sequence of events surrounding an awards ceremony for a retiring fire chief. Utilizing an all amateur cast, Milos Foreman presents a comedy of errors of epic proportions, painting a candid parallel to communist Czech society, as an inept bureaucracy tries to will their mislaid plans into being. Criterion does what they do best, resurrect a film that was nearly lost with a wonderful new transfer, and in this case, adorn it with a pair of content rich supplements. Highly recommended.


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