seen @ College Point Multiplex Cinemas, College Point, Queens, NY
I have so many thoughts about Casablanca that I find I can't arrange them in a seamless narrative, so I'll have to list them point-by-point instead:
- I'm more convinced than ever that movies need to be seen on a big screen with a (good) audience, especially classic movies. I don't care what anybody says, watching a movie, any movie, on an iPod is not really watching it. This is a point I've made here before and I'll continue making it for as long as I write this blog.
I had seen Casablanca before, naturally, but it wasn't until last night that I truly appreciated it. On a big screen you notice things you wouldn't on a TV or a computer monitor - and yes, I know they make TVs bigger now, but not everyone owns those widescreen ones (yet), and even the biggest of them still can't compare to a movie screen.
I also had a good audience to watch it with. They clapped at the scene where Victor leads the crowd at Rick's into a chorus of "La Marseillaise" to drown out the singing Nazis, and at least a couple of women actually hissed every time Renault's boss came on screen! And of course, everyone cheered when Rick finally killed him.
This was the rare movie where I sat in the middle of the row instead of on the end. I had no choice; I was waiting on line for candy, and by the time I got inside the room it was mostly full. I sat next to an old dude with a younger companion and they exchanged brief but quiet asides throughout the first half. Didn't bother me too much; I can hardly begrudge a little talking in appreciation of a movie like this. The old guy breathed kinda heavily, though, and that bothered me a little more, but what can you do?
- When I wrote about To Be or Not To Be, I marveled at the fact that not only was it an anti-Nazi comedy made during World War 2, but it was made before America entered the war, when no one knew for sure how long it would go on or how bad it would get. The same applies here. The "Marseillaise" scene actually gave me chills, thinking about what it must have meant to audience of the day.
I think back to all the anti-French sentiment during the lead-up to the Iraq War, a conflict they cautioned us against, about "freedom fries" and about how the French in general seem to get a bit of a bad rep in this country sometimes. In the context of that scene in Casablanca, however, being French was synonymous with resistance and with actual freedom, and you totally did not have to be French to get that message, not now, and certainly not in 1942.
I also thought about the recent films about the Iraq War and how only one, The Hurt Locker, came close to having an impact on the public, and that was only because a woman happened to direct it and win the Oscar for it. I recall many film pundits tried to explain why audiences weren't interested in watching war-related movies during wartime, and their explanations varied, but I suspect that when you get right down to it, none of them, not even The Hurt Locker, had the emotional impact that Casablanca has.
- I've enjoyed reading the classic film blogs both inside the LAMB and outside, and the one thing they all seem to have in common is a love for TCM, and I was reminded why last night as well. If it were simply a classic movie cable channel, it would be fine enough, but the fact that they were instrumental in arranging this event, and that they do events like this often (including a film festival), speaks very highly of them and their urge to share old films with the world.
Prior to the movie, TCM host Robert Osborne narrated a brief intro on the history of Casablanca, where I learned a few things (Ronald Reagan as Rick? Really?), including how difficult writing the screenplay was, and how this was the film that turned Humphrey Bogart from a supporting tough guy into a romantic lead. TCM really performs a valuable service in hosting events like this.
- In the volume Roger Ebert's Book of Film, an anthology of essays from throughout the 20th century on film (excellent book, well worth picking up), there's an excerpt from the book Suspects by David Thomson which creates fully-fleshed-out lives of classic movie characters, and one of them is Rick from Casablanca. Thomson's secret origin of Rick has him being born in Omaha, Nebraska, instead of New York as he claims in the film. This version of Rick was also a high school quarterback, speaks Russian, took up Communism for a time, and might have been secretly gay. It's not too far removed from the Rick we see in the movie, but there's clearly some invention and extrapolation going on as well. It doesn't explain, though, why he went by Richard in Paris, when he knew Ilsa, and Rick when he moved to Casablanca. A way to put his past behind him, perhaps?
- A quick word about Sam. Ilsa refers to him as a "boy" when asking about him early in the movie (Dooley Wilson was 56 at the time of the film's release), which I'd never noticed before and kinda pissed me off, but aside from that misstep, Sam may be one of the better black characters in classic Hollywood films I've seen. He's deferential to Rick and Ilsa, but not to the point of obsequiousness. Wilson actually gets a few moments of genuine acting, as opposed to simply being a background character, and if he doesn't appear to have a life outside Rick's, well, neither do any of the other staff. I like him. He doesn't have dimension, but he's not an embarrassment either, and that's perhaps the most one can expect from black Hollywood characters of this era.
- I'm shocked - SHOCKED - at the number of familiar lines from Casablanca. I knew about them, of course, but seeing them in their original context reminded me of how good they are, which is ironic given how much of a struggle the screenplay was. And, of course, I'm fairly sure I could hear audience members reciting the familiar ones here and there.
This was my first time at the College Point theater. It's in an, to me, unfamiliar part of northern Queens and is part of a group of big-box stores that includes a Toys R Us and a party goods store (the whole thing can't really be called a mall), surrounded by a veritable lake of parking space. Still, I only needed two buses to get there. It's like any other multiplex: big, gaudy, with overpriced food.
I would've seen Casablanca in Manhattan, but the theater I went to was sold out a week in advance. I was prepared to go searching all over the five boroughs and beyond if the College Point was sold out too.
Anybody else out there attend the screening last night, or have thoughts about the movie in general? It's one of the all-time greats for a reason, after all.