This is my first actual post on the blog for a few reasons. I wasn't able to get the last film between Netflix and the Virginia Tech library (which does have a pretty good selection) but also because the first film brought some pretty intimidating posts. I studied film as my concentration in undergrad and have done some research on film as a grad student thus far, but it seemed like most of the contributors for The Emperor's Naked Army were very well versed in the filmmaker and much of the history behind the film. That said, I decided to no longer worry about that. The idea behind this blog is great and I'm just going to contribute as much as I can with my limited experience.
Enough of that. I watched The Fireman's Ball last night and laughed my ass off the entire time. Simply as a comedy, Forman did an incredible job. The facial expressions on the bald fireman alone (especially while dancing in the circle of marching beauties) were worth the price of admission.
Besides enjoying it purely as a comedy I was impressed by the use of comedy so well as a tool for political expression. Ed's post is great at showing how much of this there is only in one scene. The thing that struck me last night was also the lack of individual identities throughout the film. Some of this might be because I was relying on subtitles, but I don't think it's all that.
There were some individuals which stood out. The 86 year-old former chairman is one, as well as the victim of the fire and Ruzena's father. Other than that, it seemed that the more important identity of most of the characters was the group they were a part of. Some firemen were more recognizable and more important, but they were most importantly part of the fire brigade. This is accentuated more when one of them chastises another for returning a stolen lottery prize by saying that the reputation of the brigade is more important than any honesty.
Similarly, most of the party goers seem to be more important as members of the crowd than individuals. The symbolism of the groups is fairly clear. The firemen are the authority trying to maintain control and run the system (however poorly) and the crowd as the people -- who steal and end up in a state of chaos. When the fire breaks out and everyone rushes out to go watch, workers at the ball attempt to collect on bills, but because of the disorganization of the system and the force of the mob this is almost impossible. Once outside, the manager of sorts continues to go around to people, but it's clear that the system has failed in the goal of collecting on all the bills.
A trip to IMDB confirmed this sense of collective identity as the primary one (at least as one of Forman's tools) as most of the cast members listed are named only as "committee member" or "'Miss' contestant." This most reminds me, of course, of Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin. I haven't seen many films from Russia or the (now former) USSR made before 2007's Night Watch, so this was the biggest connection I could make.
The use of collective characters, whether purely a result of soviet montage's influence or only influenced by it, not only makes the symbolism of each group stronger. It also makes the comedy stronger. Because I don't have to remember faces for names mentioned in the dialogue I'm able to concentrate on, and better appreciate, the wonderful action and interaction of each group involved in the beautiful chaos that Ed described so well.
Watching Fireman's Ball definitely makes me want to seek out Forman's other films, particularly The Loves of a Blonde, to see what his overall style is like. Great choice, Marilyn, and I hope to keep active in this community.