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The classical film Casablanca (1942) is a romantic story set in the times of World War II and is about two men who were in love with the same woman. Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) owns the most popular nightclub and gambling hideout “Rick’s Café Americian” that is located in Casablanca. During the war many people wanted to escape Europe for America therefore, people who wanted to escape went to Rick’s Café. Rick’s café became heaven for the people who wanted to escape looking to buy illegal letters of transit to allow them to escape. Unexpectedly a gorgeous lady, Ilsa Lazlo (Ingrid Bergman) enters the nightclub with her husband Victor Lazlo (Paul Henreid). Ilsa was Rick’s true love who had left him when the Nazis conquered Paris. Ilsa wanted her husband to escape to America; however, she wanted to stay behind in Casablanca after renewing her love with Rick. Though, Casablanca did not end in an entirely happy ending because Ilsa has escaped with Victor.
The director (Michael Curtiz) uses many elements throughout the film such as: using actors, dialogue, elements of lighting, elements of camera movements, sound, editing and production design to show the audience the understanding of the whole story. The director used different styles throughout the whole film to send an emotional, and political messages implied by the characters action.
The director (Michael Curtiz) uses famous stars Rick (Humphrey Bogart) and Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) in the romance film Casablanca. Rick as a mysterious handsome café owner with a love past, set up in the business with his friend Sam (Dooley Wilson) as a piano player. In addition, all the refugees are under Rick’s protection which means that he sells illegal documents for the refugees who wants o escape to America. Curtiz makes Rick’s café seem very real. In addition, the film focuses on Rick clash between love and virtue: since he must choose between doing the right thing by helping Ilsa’s husband (Victor Laszlo) escape or his love to her. Also Curtiz chooses Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) to be a beautiful lady who Rick falls in love with, and married to Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid). Ilsa’s role is basically a lover and a help a great man (Victor). The movie is a metaphor for American involvement in World War II. Curtiz makes the dialogue very touching and ironically funny.
Casablanca obviously prefers closed formal compositions as opposed to open one, and opening framings play a famous role in the visual design and staging of shots (visual design refers to the static organization within shots while visual staging refers to organizational shifts within shots). I will speak about the scene where Rick had his Paris flashback and waiting for Ilsa to show up after she arrived to Casablanca. The shot demonstrated to the audience how the camera was moving from right to left movements from Rick’s face to his hand which tips the glass. Moreover, the second shot shows the audience the camera movement that was following Sam the piano player walking on the right towards Rick leaving space between both Sam and Rick and the door was showing in the background. This shot sets up the audience for the approaching scene where Ilsa will enter unexpectedly from the door in the background. After that, Ricks grabs the alcohol bottle so he can pour a drink for himself; by doing that it showed a clear view of Ilsa’s entrance. This scene provides attention towards Ilsa’s entrance. When Ilsa is about to enter the cafe both Rick and Sam immediately turned their heads towards the door, the lights where darkened before Ilsa’s entrance; and when Ilsa does enter, the lighting of the room is back and it highlights that Ilsa is framed by background door. In this scene there were many pauses on some parts to show the importance of the character or information such as the faces, hands, body movements and eyes. Therefore, by doing the pauses they will grab the attention of the audience towards the specific shot. According to Louis Giannetti, movements that are from right to left physical movement in this direction seems natural however, movements from left to right seems mysteriously tense and uncomfortable. (Giannetti, 2010).
As well, the major musical pattern which is the song that Ilsa asked Sam the piano player to play her and Rick’s song “As Times Goes By”. The song showed the audience the love and romance between Ilsa and Rick. The music appeared again when Rick was lost in his sad memories, in the flash back sequence in Paris. By playing the song it will bring to the audience an emotional atmosphere. According Louis Giannetti in Understanding Movies, music merged with lyrics, music acquires a more real content because words have specific references to the film. With or without lyrics, music can be more specific when contrast with film images. (Giannetti, 2010). In Casablanca, while playing the music in Rick’s flashback it showed the audience the love between both Rick and Ilsa. Furthermore, according to Louis Giannetti, loud sounds tend to be threatening and intense; however, quiet sounds strike as delicate, hesitant, and often weak. (Giannetti, 2010). Moreover, when Rick remembers the time he spent in Paris with Ilsa, when they were in the car driving or drinking wine together there was a soft music playing in the background which showed the audience that it is a romantic and happy scene. Also, when the German war planes were overhead, the tanks rolling down the road towards Paris and the German troops crossing the river the music that was playing in the background was loud which illustrated to the audience that there is danger. When Rick was going o take the train from Paris there was the sound of heavy rain at the station, and when the conductor says “All aboard, last train leaving in three minutes” this demonstrates to the audience a very anxious and nervous scene to whether Ilsa will be showing up or not. After remising there was a freeze shot where no music was played and suddenly music was played when Ilsa came in this illustrated that this is when something will unexpectedly happen.
Moreover, Casablanca shows many techniques of film noir, mainly with the use of shadows and lighting throughout the film. The effect of lighting in Rick’s Flashback to Paris is the only bright sequences in the whole film that helps the audience to understand the happiness of Rick and Ilsa when they were in Paris. Rick is sitting, drunk and in a total dark room remembering the good times he had with Ilsa in Paris. The sudden change from dark to light illustrates to the audience the comparison of how Rick was happy in Paris and unhappy now. The final scene in Paris, where Rick is waiting under the rain for the train, the cloudy gloomy clouds and dimmed lighting on the scene indicates that Ilsa will not be showing up. It tracks the set up pattern of the light scenes are the pleased and joyful and the dark scene are sad and misery. In addition, the logo in Paris café, a shadow on a white background, this shows the whole scene a bright and happy tone. This illustrates for the audience the mood and purpose of the flashback. Moreover, the name of the café “La Belle Aurore” which indicates the meaning of “the beautiful sunrise”; this is another point of the good times they have experienced in Paris. On the other hand, the logo for Rick’s Café “Rick’s Café Americian”, has white letters on a dark background which shows the differences between both cafes. This use of lighting demonstrates the happiness in Paris and the sadness in Casablanca. Furthermore, in Casablanca Rick’s face is glowing through the whole film; however in one scene his face was not glowing (this shows that the shadows on Rick’s face demonstrates the loss of the power). This scene is when Rick was drunk waiting for his love Ilsa in his café. This point out that Rick has lost all the power and that Ilsa holds significant influence on him. According to Louis Giannetti in Understanding Movies, the use of light and shadows creates mood and emotional impacts on films. While using spotlights, which are highly selective in their focus and intensity, the director can guide the audience’s eyes to any place of the scene. There are various different styles of lighting, usually is designed as a lighting key, the style is connected to the theme and mood of the film, as well as its type. Tragedies and melodramas films are usually lit in high contrast, with harsh shafts of lights and dramatic streaks of blackness such as Casablanca. In general, films have darkness suggests fear, evil, and the unknown. On the other hand, lightness suggests truth, joy, and security. (Giannetti, 2010)
In addition, the dialogue of this scene is very touching to the audience. After the Café has closed and streets are empty, Rick is depressed sitting in a dark room while smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol heavily. Rick’s face is completely unreadable. Sam feels that Rick is troubled and says to Rick “Boss” go home to bed. Rick stubbornly tells Sam that he is waiting for a lady Rick is expecting Ilsa to come back to him. “She’s coming back; I know she is coming back”. This shows the desperation and the bad mood Rick is feeling. Then Sam again feels that Rick is trouble and suggests that they should take the car, get drunk and drive all night or stay away until Ilsa is gone so Rick can avoid seeing Ilsa. This shows that Sam is worried about Rick. Before Rick starts to reminisce about the good memories both of them had, he then pound his fist down on the table and says “out of all the cafes in town she has to walk in mine”. Then Rick raises his head, trying to get his control and power back Rick madly orders Sam to repeat the song he played for Ilsa “As Time Goes By”:
Rick: What is that your playing?
Sam: Oh, just a little something on my own
Rick: Well, stop it! You know what I want to hear
Sam: No, I do not
Rick: You played it for her; you can play it for me
Sam: Well, I do not think I can remember
Rick: If she can stand it, I can. Play it!
While hearing As Time Goes By, the camera blurs into a dissolve from his face into a flashback- it takes Rick back to happier moments with the romance he had with Ilsa in Paris. Ricks remembers the past to oppose the explanation that Ilsa will tell Rick of her disloyalty in Paris. Rick feels rejected because of his true feeling for Ilsa and Ilsa leaving him in Paris without any explanation. At the end of Rick’s remembering, the camera pans from left to right, locating Rick drunk. The camera relocates Rick on the left when unexpectedly the door of the café opens. Ilsa appeared wearing a scarf and a white coat. As Rick expected, Ilsa has come back to him, but she gets up Rick’s angry feelings by telling him that she would not have came to Casablanca if she had known he was here. Ilsa tries to talk to Rick but he refuses to hear the explanation she has. Rick hesitates in talking:
Rick: Why did you have to come to Casablanca? There are other places. (This showed the audience how miserable he is when he found his true love with another man).
Ilsa: I would not have come if I had known that you were here. Believe me, Rick, it is true. I did not know.
Rick: it is funny about your voice, how it has not changed. I can still hear it. “Richard dear, I will go with you any place. We will get on a train together and never stops”. (Rick saying this to Ilsa shows that he is being sarcastic and he is hurt).
Ilsa: Please do not. Do not Rick! I can understand how you feel.
Rick: Huh! You understand how I feel. How long was it we had, honey?
Ilsa: I did not count the days.
Rick: Well I did. Every one of them mostly, I remember the last one the wow finish. A guy standing on a station platform, in the rain with a comical look on his face, because his insides had been kicked out.
After completing the conversation, Ilsa tries to continue explaining her past story, with tears in her eyes, the reason for keeping her secret from him earlier. But Rick’s rude sarcasm and irritation stops Ilsa from continuing her explanation.
Furthermore, editing is a very important technique to any film. Editing is used expansively and is more stressed than other film techniques such as panning or dolly shots, angels, light, mise en scene and tracking. Editing is not only important for the storyline of the film but it is significant in the sense that it allows for the engaging of several types like action, romance, and history. Through the use of cuts, the director can show numerous coincident scenes at ones that represent a different genre. According Louis Giannetti in Understanding Movies, editing is and artistic and narrative process by which scenes shot for a film are put together to create a logical visual and a narrative form. One of the most important elements about editing is that it removes the unnecessary time and space in the film. With the connection of ideas, editing associates one shot with another or one scene with another. (Giannetti, 2010)
The main point of a film is that it tells the audience the story. All the films are based around a plot or storyline that includes many scenes and sequences all of which it contributes to the overall story. The use of the camera and editing is an important element of moving the image language. The director uses basic elements to get their point to audience, such as: the dialogue sequences that occur by a series of shots from one actor to another, the sequences of the scenes that will point out their point in the film. The lighting of the film can show who, where and what is important. The music can illustrate the importance of the scene. They can also point out their point to the audience by illustrating it as a story such as Casablanca the director used a storytelling technique. The director raises the some types of questions that would be asked of any manuscript document- questions about its information content, its background context, and its historical influence. Also, demands of the close reflection of camera angle, lighting, shot composition, editing and the ways in which each of these and other elements of visual language add slight patterns of understanding. If not a frame-by-frame or shot-by-shot analysis, surely a scene-by-scene or sequence-by-sequence breakdown is essential for understanding the order of images and how they may play on one another and interact with whatever soundtrack there may be. (O’Connor, 1988)
To sum up, lighting, movements, sound, actors, dialogue, and editing are very essential in a film. Therefore, these elements help to provide a vivid image in the audience’s head, to point out their main issue across the film, and to emphasis the important parts throughout the whole film. The director should know all of the types of elements to make sure he/she uses the correct element added in the film. If the director uses the wrong element in the film he/she may be sending a wrong message or picture to the audience.
Argument of Films Reflecting the Political and Social Mores of Society at the Time of Creation
Some historians argue that films reflect the political and social mores of society at the time of creation and some say otherwise. This question is arguable because it can either be that the film reflects the political and social more of the society or the society drives the entertainment. However, social and political issues can affect films and films can affect the society. Any film can be based on a political issue or a social issue that is happing in the world for example, like financial crisis there has been many films made about it or based on a history of the famous piano player Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri in Amadeus. Films can be based on a social issue that has to do with under age prostitutes, buying illegal guns such as Taxi Driver; this kind of social issue can be seen in the world.
Films can do what books cannot do: provide the audience with a story, as well as an image to back up the story. Watching a film or a commercial is a very inactive activity, allowing the audience to sit, stare and absorb everything that is presented in the screen. Films can symbolize a powerful element that can spread the ideas in a quicker form. Film-makers often manipulate their audience into believing that what they are seeing is the truth. Some film makers can also twist the truth in the film. By using a variety of techniques in their film, an audience’s feeling towards one subject or another can change after watching the film. While watching the film no matter what their political or social views, their views can be changed towards the end of the movie. This kind of reaction to the audience is because of the lighting, camera movements’ angles and overall screen play on the film. Films can affect society in various ways. For instance, many films can affect the audience’s attitudes and morals like horror and violent films in some cases the film makes the audience act out the way they see it in the film. The audiences can start acting violent and aggressive and by doing that they will affect the society as a whole. Moreover, war films often have big bodily fit men as sergeants and most of time they would be smoking cigarettes when showed in films. Many people started buying cigarettes to be like those men this also affects the society. According to The Journal of Marketing, the president of the California state senate recently held a hearing on the issue because he believes that “screen smoking does have an impact on young people” and he wants the industry to respond to this problem. (Pechmann & Shih, 1999). This example shows the audience that films do affect the society and the industry. Drug films also teach the audiences that doing drugs makes the audience look cool or selling drugs can make you rich. Romance films show the audience that everything ends happily when in reality not everything ends happily. Those examples changes the way the audience sees things and changes in their beliefs, perspectives and values which also affects the society.
Films are cultural works of art that are formed by cultures, which reflect those cultures. Films are considered to be a vital art form, a source of popular entertainment and an influential method of educating of teaching the audience. According to the book History in Images/ Images in History: Reflections on the Importance of Film and Television Study for an Understanding of the Past, what films hides in the cinematic gift are the moral narratives needed to maintain the society that produces and supports these stories in films in the first place. Film packages this social gift in alluring visual images, economic clarification, romantic myths, political explanations, emotional validation, and convincing religious and legal value systems. The generis narratives that characterize much of the current cinema are intended to be traditional are designed to generate a sense that the audience has moral responsibility to head the warning of the film. The advice which comprises the cinematic gift is concerned with how to be recognized and how to function as a proper individual in the particular society that offers the film. The audience is exposed to socially excused instructions about how the society and individuals should ideally function. If the film gives the audience social misinformation understood in terms of entertaining story, the audience must, according to the laws of reciprocity give it back a promise to maintain the type of society that will continue to create and support stories. Some audiences see life as if it were “just like in the movies,” films that are created and controlled by a small number of audiences who maintain a limited vision of the social as well as the individual body. (Mascia-Lees & Sharpe, 1992).
Since 1930s, films have become major factors in politics and the culture. Film and culture implement an overly simple, reflective model of the film-culture. The issue demands some understanding of theory and recognition of the need to understand a film as one part of a much larger, complex and ever-changing culture. Understanding a film as artifact needs a consideration of its production background, the difficult joint process involved in its creation, and the political or other reasons a film may be meant to serve. Based on the acknowledgment that the audience may read in a single film differently, attention has focused on the ways in which class, gender, and political associations influence the understanding of a film’s signs and symbols. Film makers should draw awareness to equally vital differences in the meaning films hold for people in various cultures or other eras. Film makers should ask themselves if the films current at the time, social or culture influences that may have leaning the audiences at some specific place and time in the past to react to a film in one way or another. (O’Connor, 1988).
In other words, this is a debatable issue; research could not come to an answer, whether films reflect the political and social mores of society at the time of its creation due to the fact that it depends on each society’s value and priority. However, film has a huge influence on forming our thinking or it sometimes reflects real life, the issue is important. Society can drive the entertainment industry. Social and political mores of society can affect films which create a film within a specific moral, social or political, for example, Casablanca it is driven by the society with a political issue since it was set at the time of War World II and the film was about the refugees trying to escape to America.
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