I have a habit of saving really good movies to watch during the worst of times. Movies are an escape from the tedium of life, the frustrations of reality. It’s why fantasies and adventures and dreams and heroes are so popular. It’s why the worlds we visit in the movies entrance us, distract us and invite us so welcomingly into the characters, their hopes, their struggles and their journeys. I think it’s such a beautiful thing to have so many worlds and lives to escape to when our own become difficult to live in. As I sat in a sardine can of a flight, sandwiched as usual, struggling against my mind, dreaming of wide open fields of grass, a soft bed to sprawl across, the freedom from masks and seatbelts and shoes I decided to watch Casablanca.

Evergreen Love

Everyone knows the story of Casablanca. Everyone knows of the legendary tale of love and loss, struggle and victory. Released in 1942, Casablanca has the unfortunate privilege of being made during one of the most impactful and tumultuous times in human history; a depressing reflection of the worst of humanity. Amidst the Grand Suffering is a story of pain and emotion that can be felt far deeper than the impersonality and inhumanity of guns and ammunition.

Casablanca romanticizes the fleeting, foreign love of far away lands. A glance here, a secret there, a stolen kiss between sips of fine champagne. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to find someone special, somewhere special, and feel something special? Wouldn’t it be lovely to fall in love? The price of love, however, comes as the pain of its loss. Getting your insides kicked out, so to speak. Pain enough to drive a sober man drunk, a hard man soft. If such pain were to follow, was the love a gift or a curse?

Ok yeah that’ not me reviewing the movie that’s me pretending I’m a fancypants ginrunner in the desert. Shut up.

Nevertheless, I can see how that moment in Paris can be construed as true love, and it can be argued that Elsa should have stayed with Rick. That’s who she belonged with. I’m not saying that that love wasn’t real, but I am saying that the love was wrong. Elsa felt those emotions, or thought she did- but what’s the difference between being in love and believing you’re in love?

Painting the Silver with Black and White

I was interested in seeing how filmmaking techniques differed in 1942 compared to today. The acting, the cinematography, the dialogue, is all so different than what we’d see today. Casablanca relies on only steady cams, sometimes on wheels, following the actors around, and allowing the motion to come from them and the environment rather than from the frame.

Nothing crazy, just casual alcoholism, nbd

It’s a far calmer and poised way of shooting a film, but it’s arguable more ‘boring’. I was worried my silly little millennial attention span wouldn’t be entertained or focused on the film, but I find that this older technique is far more entrancing, far more engaging. Our minds don’t have to struggle to follow the motion, distracted by trying to reconcile with the shaking and moving and swinging of the frame. Instead, we’re allowed to drink in the wonderful sets, the colorful actors, the culture, and the mood.

The construction of each set is a work of art, framed by beautiful Moroccan doorways, handcrafted lamps that cast patterns and shapes across the walls, gorgeous bottles of alcohol and an ingenious use of light. Anyone who’s worked with cameras, and especially cameras whose settings you have to set manually, will tell you how difficult it can be to work with lighting, and getting all the little the details of your set in your shot. The black and white medium is a bit of a gift to the film, as it allows the light to actually mean something.

It’s not just casting a blue hue when someone does magic, it’s using the darkness to paint away that which doesn’t matter and illuminate that which does. It’s using a different kind of lighting to demonstrate something beautiful, something angelic. Then again, in the very same shot, it’s using the swinging search lights to remind us of the world outside the bar, the troubles and struggles that await Rick and Elsa outside their own little world. The scene where Rick drinks alone at the bar and has Sam play their song is such a beautiful set of visuals. I don’t think I’ve ever seen something so beautiful put onto the screen in so long.

I remember the goosebumps I felt while watching Avengers: Endgame when Steve Rodgers stands alone against the full might of Thanos’ armies, with a grey-yellow sky billowing out behind them. I thought it was a beautiful shot too. I knew it was digital, but it didn’t matter. This was it. This was Captain America: the immovable object standing between us and them. I knew something special was going to happen. Now I lament that the shot wasn’t better. Much of the climax of Endgame is a reward, a service to the fans, the payoff of years and years of investment. That should have been represented in something more than just a surface-level rendering of a man alone against an army. I’m not saying it was bad, and I don’t have any suggestions to change that moment, but I wish it was better because I know see that it could have been better.

Sam’s Songs

I particularly enjoyed the use of music in Casablanca, and more specifically the usage of the theme, which played in the beginning and the end of the film, and then peppered itself in throughout. (It may have been another song, but it was there.) I wish more movies had a theme, and I don’t mean the way you’ve got a riff for Batman and a motif for the Skywalkers. It’s not something I see often, and I wish I did.

Why are all Sam’s such great people? Samwise Gamgee, Sam the Pianist, Sam Witwicky…

The songs sung and performed in the bar served a function in the story, a purpose less shallow than the main character bursting into song and falling in love by the end. The song Sam sang was metaphor for Rick and Elsa’s love, one that hadn’t been heard or felt since those wonderful days in Paris. It demonstrated love far better and far more convincingly than two actors clasping hands and breathlessly admitting their love through canned lyrics.

That brings me to my final note of love to the movie. The dialogue isn’t dialogue, it’s poetry. The words spoken are lyrics, a beat and a rhythm. What a time it must have been to have your films have their actors speak with such eloquence and delicacy but not be seen as pompous. I’m not saying that fun, witty banter isn’t fun, but I am saying that it was endearing to listen to Rick tell everyone he meets that he ‘don’t stick his neck out for nobody’. Just *chef’s kiss*

I’m an alcoholic too, you should totally make out with me a lot

My enjoyment of Casablanca is much like the Rick and Elsa’s love for each other. Did I really like the movie that much? Was it really that damn good that it’s popped into my top 5 favorite movies of all time? Or am I just pining for a café with lively music, a beautiful woman, poignant liqueurs and pockets full of Francs? Am I just feeling romantic? 9/10. I took a point away because there were no boobies.

Was it love, or was it just a dream?

I enjoyed Casablanca from an airplane’s entertainment service, but according to JustWatch, it’s also available to stream on HBOMax, or to buy on the a few other platforms.

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