21 September 2009


It is always interesting when we notice something about ourselves that is a little off beat, a little weird. For a solipsist it is a delight and hearty food for thought. One of the things in that category in my own life has been the slow evolution and development of my near obsession with the movie Casablanca.

Although I was never a fanatic, I must say that I derived a great deal of enjoyment from movies in my earlier life. The only time I approached fanaticism was a stretch of years in my late forties when I watched every foreign film available on tape in the Cedar Rapids Public Library. That collection is now destroyed of course, but it was impressive for a community the size of that one. I watched classic French films, Chinese films, Australian films. I watched all the Werner Herzog films I could lay my hands on anywhere. Pedro Almadovar. And other directors. Enough. You get the idea.

I have lost all that. I haven't the slightest urge to rent a movie, let alone go to a theater. I do not wish to waste the time necessary slogging through the dross in order to find something worthwhile. And I do not give a damn about the worthwhile anymore anyway.

But for some reason there remains Casablanca. I have the disk with me. It is the only movie on disk that I have now. I am not going to estimate for you the number of times I have watched it on the laptop since striking out on this venture. I would be embarrassed. There is no way that I could estimate the number of times I had watched it during my life previously. But the number of times that I have watched it is not really the point. The point is that that damned movie has had an impact upon my life. No other movie has, thank goodness.

I cannot explain to you why this is so. I could talk about how utterly beautifully Ingrid Bergman is filmed in certain scenes. I could talk about Humphrey Bogart's performance, which is an unsurpassed portrayal of bitterness and cynicism transformed. The great, great supporting cast. The song. Stuff like that. And all of that would be true even if ineptly addressed. Unlike everyone else in the world, it seems, I do not consider myself a qualified commentator on movies. Worse, it would be boring because there is no way that I could say anything that has not been said a hundred times before.

So why did I bring the subject up? I am not sure. I am not sure. I cannot quite formulate a satisfactory explanation of why, subjectively, I myself find that film so entertaining. Figuring out why it is so entertaining for me would only be the first step however. Now I have come to the point where I am convinced that if I can discern the real reason or reasons for my fascination with this film, I will have learned something important.

Maybe if I watch it one more time. . . .


Bloggerboy FFM said...

That film really grows on you. There is something about the speed at which it moves that takes your breath away. I think the speed enhances the tragic element of the film. The plot, too, has some great tragic elements. I was about 19 when I first saw the film, not yet a film buff, and I almost cried when Ingrid Bergman walked into the cafe that first time. I had never seen that kind of beauty on screen before. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, er, sorry.

Señor Steve said...

It is comforting that you did not suggest that I seek treatment, Bloggerboy. Ingrid Bergman's beauty in this movie is other worldly. No human woman can be that beautiful. You are so right about that scene when she first walks into Rick's. Also, the scene with the closeup when her eyes wet up. . .I sit and watch with my mouth agape while flies crawl in and out.

Señor Steve said...

"There is something about the speed at which it moves. . . ." That is a fascinating statement, which I will have to ponder more. And today I have some serious pondering time available.

Candy Minx said...

I also don't know what I could sy that hasn't been said about this film too.

I saw it for the first time when I about 18 or 19.

I do know why the film has as s significant motif for me though. Yes, I love Bergman she is breathtaking. I love the setting. I cry when the house band sings "La Marseillaise".

But...and these elements are so wonderful...but that is not the main motif that clings to me. I have experienced a fair bit of loss. More than others? Maybe, maybe not... the sense of loss I had experienced being so greatly understood, captured and played out in this movie touched me so deeply. That we could live by our belief in doing "the right thing"...even at a cost of loss...and still find comfort in what was left after making such major decisions.

The sense of risk and loss in "Cassablanca" has always been what I have found...almost comfortting...about the movie. That it may be terribly painful to live and act by doing the right thing but somehow we do still survive and not only that there is a sense of a higher power in such decisions. And...what is remarkable about the "higher power" in this film..for me...is not a "god." That love and friendship is as valuable a "reward" as a religious idea of "reward" for doing good.

Cassablanca is the movie that has a spiritual morality without dogma or religion...but a secular and organic earthly friendship based on just one other person maybe knowing we did the right thing.

Anyways, sorry to leave such a long comment...but that is how Casablanca feels for me...

Señor Steve said...

Candy, you may leave comments here that are as lengthy as your heart desires. This one was a dandy.

Señor Steve said...

The Maltese Falcon has better lines, not that Casablanca is in any way lacking in that regard.

I used to get a little rush when Sam Spade says:

That means if you're a good girl, you'll be out in 20 years. I'll be waiting for you. If they hang you, I'll always remember you.

But nearly all of the great lines in The Maltese Falcon involve Sam Spade cracking wise. At the end of the film, he is the same Sam Spade as he was at the beginning.

What I am getting at through the back door is that I am starting to think you may be onto something here, Candy.

Candy Minx said...

Arthur Edelson was the cinematographer for both "The Maltese Falcon" and "Casablanca".

We watched TMF recently so it's interesting to think about these portrayals of Bogarts.

I think what you might be saying or hinting at here is that Bogarts role as Sam Spade has it's appeal in his trajectory being spot on, wise cracking, all the way through.

Yet...in Casablanca Rick actually has transformations. At first he is pissed when he sees Iilsa, no? But when she explains why she abandons him/leaves him suddenly without word..his eyes melt.

Yes, Bergman is stunning, and the way she is filmed by Edelson is remarkable...a lesson to be learned for any filmmaker for lighting a sympathetic woman...but this is Bogarts movie.

His Rick is the role of the transformative person. He is the art that is transformed by his love and by his choices and actions. He's a bit of a dick in the beginning. I mean sort of a mercenary, no? But we see him learn throughout the movie...to the point where we first believe as a new audience of the film...that he is going to get the girl. It seems to be that his original vibe as a mercenary, or trickster...is played out on the army/Nazi's and also on us. No one is more surprised than the audience that Rick plans such a secret mission, also tricking Ilsa...and us!

The idea that true frienship is built between people who act for doing the righ thing is so important to me. After I visited your blog and left my comment...I was doing dishes...and I started thinkig about my friends. And ALL of them...ALL my good friends have done something in their life that eiher went against the grain...or a group...or something they had to take a stand and "do the right thing".

Without a doubt...I know exactly what each of my beloved friends would do in a crisis or in a moral dillema, they would "do the right thing"...even if it was unpopular or difficult.

In fact, I immediately thought about Mister Anchovy at an arts meeting for a show...and I remember him taking a stand. He sounded "angry" and he was very forceful...but he was sharing and not accepting a line he couldn't cross. I could think of several examples over the years.

I believe the movie shows us how this kind of moral struggle can be a way of living...how it can be a way to open dialogue between nations and religions...as a foundation. The movie seems just as relevant to me and contemporary life as the first time I saw it as a teen...and actually...many more layers I learned from it as an adult.

Señor Steve said...

Exactly, Candy. Well said. And I am giving fair warning that I will return to this subject soon because why should what you have so accurately described have such personal significance for me?