Wednesday, February 04, 2009

the not-top ten project
a series of posts in which an amateur film critic discusses ten movies he loves, in no particular order, that may or may not be his favorites.

entry #3: Casablanca

Narrator: With the coming of the Second World War, many eyes in imprisoned Europe turned hopefully, or desperately, toward the freedom of the Americas. Lisbon became the great embarkation point. But, not everybody could get to Lisbon directly, and so a tortuous, roundabout refugee trail sprang up - Paris to Marseilles... across the Mediterranean to Oran... then by train, or auto, or foot across the rim of Africa, to Casablanca in French Morocco. Here, the fortunate ones through money, or influence, or luck, might obtain exit visas and scurry to Lisbon; and from Lisbon, to the New World. But the others wait in Casablanca... and wait... and wait... and wait.

Having received a new DVD copy for Christmas and already watched it twice, it seems inevitable that Casablanca should be included in a list of movies that might possibly be my favorites. As I was telling a friend the other night, this is the one film that I can watch at any time, whether I feel like it or not. The moment it begins I am hooked, swept right in, and captivated all over again... And I have seen Casablanca a lot of times.*

I thought I would be a bit more reluctant to write about it than I actually am, though. The pretentious part of me feels like it's too obvious, maybe even redundant, to heap more praises upon such a popular, mainstream film. My insecurities make me question whether I am qualified to address a film about which so much has been said by critics, scholars, and loads of people who are far smarter than me.** And my nostalgic instincts urge me to revel in my feelings for Casablanca privately, rather than share them with anyone else.

Ultimately, it is my passion that inspires this love letter to Casablanca; whenever I see it, even think about the film, certain praises want to burst out of me (Wow. I think I just came a little). Okay, I'm on the verge of composing a sonnet right now, and no one wants that. So I will spare everyone by simply expressing some of my thoughts about the film in the more accessible literary tradition of "point form."

- For all of its indelible performances, famous moments, and oft-quoted dialogue, the first thing that comes to mind when I think about Casablanca is the Marseillaise sequence. I can't believe the number of times I've been choked up while watching this scene:

- I first saw Casablanca when I was 12 years old. I had to watch a classic movie for a school project, and I chose this film because I was intrigued by a cartoon that came enclosed in an old edition of Trivial Pursuit. It was a one-panel caricature of Bogie and Dooley Wilson with the caption, "Play it again, Sam." It hung in my locker all throughout high school.

- One of my fondest memories of the time I lived in Vancouver is the night I watched Casablanca on the big screen at a repertory theatre. It was enhanced by the atmosphere: an old cinema house with a balcony, and an ashtray at every seat.

- I know a lot of trivia, history, and behind the scenes stories about the film. This has never affected my being absorbed by the story.

-The minor characters in Casablanca are as interesting as their leading counterparts. Every role is well drawn, and the faces in this film are mesmerizing.

Mr. Leuchtag: Mareichtag and I are speaking nothing but English now.
Mrs. Leuchtag
: So we should feel at home when we get to America.
Carl: Very nice idea, mm-hmm.
Mr. Leuchtag: [toasting] To America!
Mrs. Leuchtag: To America!
Carl: To America!
Mr. Leuchtag: Liebchen - sweetnessheart, what watch?
Mrs. Leuchtag: Ten watch.
Mr. Leuchtag: Such much?
Carl: Hm. You will get along beautiful in America, mm-hmm.

- I'm not a huge fan of Ingrid Bergman, but I am addicted to her in this film. The precision with which her face is lit is a testament to the art of cinematography.

-I pray to the gods of cinema that Casablanca will never be colorized or remade. Rumors (a while back) that Madonna and Kevin Costner were to star were very distressing.

-In Roger Ebert's insightful DVD commentary, he addresses the debate about whether or not Casablanca is a "perfect" movie. He cites a couple of lines of clunky dialogue and a few unconvincing special effects as evidence that it is not, but I have never labored over these glitches. I love Casablanca, imperfections and all.

I could go on forever lauding Casablanca and reminiscing about the fond memories and life experiences I have that are intertwined with this picture. Suffice it to say, Casablanca does not fall into the ambiguous region in the category of "what may or may not be my favorite films"... We're in the midst of a beautiful friendship, I like to think. So I prefer not to be one who is fortunate through money, or influence, or luck. I'm not looking for an Exit Visa anytime soon.

* Second only in viewings to The Muppet Movie.
** Who would undoubtedly have phrased it "...than I."

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