Monday, June 18, 2007

Casablanca Discussion

1. Rick and Lazlo are both portrayed as heroes, just different types of heroes. What are your perspectives on their similarities and differences? What are their motivations behind their heroism? Is one more heroic than the other? More courageous? How does Ilsa affect their heroism?

2. What makes Humphrey Bogart's performance in this movie so damn intriguing and powerful? Or, if you're not a fan of his performance here, why?

3. Any other performances jump out at you as stellar? Or the opposite -- anyone not carry his/her weight?

4. Do you agree with Sour Grapes, who posted in the comments two posts below that Casablanca is not an allegory, but merely a cheesy love story that pulls the right strings?

5. Why has this movie taken on a cult status, and why is it still loved by so many? Is it simply because of the romance, or the performances, or the film-making? Or is there more to it than that?

6. Were there any moments from a film-making perspective that made you take notice? In other words, any particular moments of cinematography, or lighting, or framing of shots, or use of shadows, or props/sets?

7. If this movie were to be remade today (heresy, I know!), and you were able to hand-pick the director and stars, who would they be and why? (let's go with the roles of Rick, Ilsa, Victor, Captain Renault, Ugarte and Sam)

13 comments:

Sour Grapes said...

On point three, it's hard to single out anyone whose performance isn't perfectly right. The characters in this movie are now mythic, to the extent that if you see Claude Rains, say, in something else -- and he had a vast and varied career apart from this film -- you think of Louis Renault.

But is it the fact that they're so good that makes them mythic? Or is it the other way round? Would Ilsa have been as effective as a tragic heroine if she had been played by someone else? It's hard to say, at this remove. But it's worth remembering that Bogart was third choice, after Ronald Reagan.

When you look closely at the acting, of course, there's nothing much to see. Casablanca may be one of the first movies in which actors start behaving as if they're on a giant screen lit up in front of us, and not projecting down past the footlights in some cavernous theatre. All of them, with the exception of Peter Lorre, act as if each shot is a tableau: there's virtually nothing going on. Bergman's eyes shine; Bogart's lack of emotion is his character; the same goes for Henried; Rains acts with a tilt of an eyebrow. Everyone reins himself in; with the exception of Bergman they've all been more demonstrative in other work, so we know they're doing it consciously. This is film acting as its own genre, and a far cry from the style of acting that came up through the silent movies from the scenery-chewing conventions of the 19th century stage.

Jeff said...

"This is film acting as its own genre, and a far cry from the style of acting that came up through the silent movies from the scenery-chewing conventions of the 19th century stage."

That is such a good point. What we take for granted in film today -- subtlety -- took half a century to develop in Hollywood. I think you also answered #2, in that Bogart could portray emotion without a flinch. The circumstances and surroundings were as much a part of defining his emotions as his own facial expressions and body language. Much like C3PO.

Eden said...

1. Well Lazlo is interested in The Greater Good and Rick is interested in his own interests. I don't think that makes Rick worse than Lazlo or Lazlo is automatically noble. Neither is a bad guy. Both choose to be heroes (instead of being forced into a situation). I think if I had to choose, I'd say Rick is the greater hero b/c he steps outside what's expected of him (and what he expected of himself) to give the letters to Ilsa & Lazlo so he changes. Lazlo's motivations stay the same.

2. It's really not so different from his earliest performances. If you've ever read Lulul In Hollywood, you'll remember Louise Brooks talking about the Humphrey she'd known and the "Bogie" character created in Hollywood. I think maybe Rick is closer to the man than his gangster or tough guy characters. Rick has more humanity and I think Bogart could be more elastic in the role, as there was more depth and interest inherent in the role.

3. Peter Lorre and Claude Raines are good. I also get mesmerized by Ingrid Bergman in this, her body language and movement more than her appearance. It's one of the only things I enjoy about the movie.

4. I sure do and I don't think that's a negative comment. I think people try to thrust things upon this movie that simply aren't there.

5. I have no idea. It could be Roger Ebert's theory that there are no "bag guys" in the movie. It could be simple nostalgia. It is a visually lush film and the performances are good. I just don't find it outstanding, at least not to the extent that it's praised.

6. The lighting is lovely in this film. I haven't watched it for a year or so but the sweeping light springs to mind as a visual. The lighting on the faces also adds depth to what's happening onscreen. There are also lots of well-framed shots that remind me of Kane in their composition.

7. Hrm. I'm thinking maybe Ang Lee directing, if it were in period. I don't know who I'd pick if the setting were moved in time (say to Saigon or Baghdad). I keep thinking of Kate Winslet as Ilsa. Maybe Clive Owen as Rick. Not sure about the others. This requires a lot of thought.

Arleen said...

I never saw Casablanca until a week ago. Ummmm...that's probably not a good thing. Or maybe it is. Not sure. The thing is, it didn't grab me. I've grown up with some of the lines, so that kind of ruined the delivery of them, I think.

I probably would have liked it if I'd seen it when younger and had nostalgic remembrances of it, because I liked old movies while growing up. I don't know how I missed this one. But now, at this age, having watched so many movies in my lifetime, it was just another piece of entertainment for me, nothing special.

I couldn't relate to Bergman, Bogart wasn't convincing, and Laszlo was too goodie-goodie. The only one who was a little interesting in a slimy sort of way was Renault.

I won't be watching this movie again. If I must watch Bogart, give me the African Queen over this one, any day. Besides, Katherine Hepburn is more my style of leading lady.

Sorry, didn't answer any of your questions, really. It would have been too much like doing literature homework on a story that bored me.

(should I duck and run?)

Teacake said...

I don't think Casablanca is particularly an allegory either, at least not primarily, but I also think it has nothing to be ashamed of for being "just a story." That's really all any story should aim for, IMO, and those that try to be something else may succeed at that, but they fail as stories.

I say Rick is the more heroic of the two, because in his case doing the right thing required him to act against his nature, which is harder.

I think Claude Raines' performance is standout, mainly due to the chemistry he and Bogart have. And he knows his job here. He's funny without stealing scenes, which is not an easy balance, I think.

Ingrid Bergman is a competent actor in this film and certainly lovely and holds her own against Bogie just fine, but she's not what I'd call standout in the role in the sense that I feel there's some particular spectacular excellence to what she does.

As for Bogart himself, I think Rick's appeal is Bogart's appeal, which may make him a worse actor in some estimation, I don't know. IOW, I don't think Rick is anywhere near as appealing if Bogart is not playing him. Bogart's got pure charisma. He's one of those actors who is not particularly good looking, and looking at, say, a headshot you'd be all, WTF is the attraction? You have to see him actually alive and moving, and then you cannot take your eyes off him. There are other actors that fall into this category for me: Geoffrey Rush, Gary Oldman, and to a much lesser extent, David Duchovny.

Yeah that was a tangent.

Casablanca should NEVER be remade, simply because it would be stupid to invite comparision. The only way to remake it would be to do so in a completely different style. Don't look for "today's" Bogart, looko for someone completely different. Let David Fincher direct it and put a really dark creepy spin on it or something.

Teacake said...

It could be Roger Ebert's theory that there are no "bag guys" in the movie.

Except the Nazis, which also explains the timeless appeal of The Sound of Music and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Satan himself is less universally loathed. Villains come and go out of fashion, but Nazis are not trendy. They transcend the idea of "villain" to a complete representation of Evil, something we always love to see thwarted.

And I love Eden's point about Rick being the one - possibly the only one - who really changes. There's your hero.

Jeff said...

"The only way to remake it would be to do so in a completely different style."

Ooh, how about Baz Luhrmann? Casablanca as a grand musical!

Sour Grapes said...

I nodded furiously at er Teacake's comment about Claude Rains being funny without stealing scenes. We might forget from our viewpoint, but Rains was a pretty big star when this was made, in a sidekick role. That's a sign of the calibre of the cast in this movie: even the bit players are first-class: Marcel Dalio, who plays a waiter (he was uncredited) had previously worked with Jean Renoir on La grande illusion and La Règle du jeu, as well as Pépé le moko, which became Algiers with Charles Boyer. He was so famous in France that he went by the name of Dalio.

Take a look at some of the bit-players at random in imdb. Every one of them has a pedigree as long as the elastic in Sidney Greenstreet's shorts, often from the European cinema. That's at least part of the reason Casablanca works: it's actually a well-made film on a purely functional level.

Jeff said...

I watch Grande Illusion once a year. Which reminds me that I plan to do a non-English language movie post (we call them foreign films here in America, but hey, we gots some feriners participating!) soon. I'd do a Movie Madness of non-English films, but the thought of Breathless going up against Les Carabiniers makes me want to cry.

Schadenfreude said...

I know I'm late, as RL has gotten in the way, but since Casablanca is and remains my all-time favorite movie I have to add a little to this discussion before it disappears in the archives forever.

Rick to me is the hero who doesn't want to admit he's a hero. One who will do what's right and what's wrong for a greater good. Not a greater purpose, but a greater good. He may play the uninterested observer ("I stick my neck out for no one" --really, who are you trying to convince with that line?) but just look at his record even before the movie takes place -- he fights for the underdog not because they're the underdog, but because it's their cause that's just. Bogie is the hero because his actions and obstacles he overcomes makes him the most human.

From a filmmaking perspective the composition of shots is as efficient as they are stunning. Aside from some of the "special effects" that don't hold up so well today this is a master class on shot composition and lighting. Frighteningly few movies have ever reached this benchmark.

Remake this movie and there's a special place in hell reserved for you.

Anonymous said...

Do you think Rick and Ilsa had sex after she met with him to get the letters of transit. When Ilsa submits and asks Rick to make the decisions, the scene cuts and then shows Rick smoking a cigarette looking out the window. I always laugh to myself when seeing that scene.

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