#5: The Fireman's Ball (1967)
Delayed a year after its completion, The Fireman's Ball – Milos Forman's final film before Hollywood – was released at the height of the brief period of Czech liberalisation known as the Prague Spring. A few months later Soviet tanks entered the country to reverse the reforms and reassert Moscow's authority. This invasion was greeted with widespread (ultimately unsuccessful) working class resistance, and led to many in the international communist movement breaking with the USSR.
In its mockery of conformity, corruption and authoritarianism, the film anticipates a spirit of independence that would animate the Prague Spring, as well as many of Forman's American pictures, from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) to The People Vs Larry Flint (1996). And, as a harbinger of this bland, vicious officialdom, the crowd is the villain of the piece. The swell of bodies at the titular party facilitate the many abuses of power. Citizens become anonymous in the melee, and inevitably they end up cheating, groping and stealing. In a running joke, the items for the raffle continuously go missing, and one of the main culprits is a senior firefighter.
The whole film is a study of crowd dynamics, but the audience only really becomes aware of the crowd as such when they spill out of the hall and into the snow. A building is on fire. The fire engine is stuck in a snow drift (pictured above) so the firefighters – pissed, sweating and without equipment – resort to shovelling snow onto the burning wreck. This section creates some of the film's funniest images. The old man who's been saved from the building is turned away from his home in case it upsets him. Fearing he's getting cold, the revellers then move the old man closer to the furnace, and he cranes his neck to observe the carnage.
Despite Formon's ridicule, you can't help loving this crowd: the pride in their civic institutions, the weathered (non-professional) faces, the voracious drinking. They're also as quick to offer solidarity as they are to steal.