Memory, The Magic of Hollywood, and Casablanca at 75 Years

…the film’s release anniversary is January 23, 1943. The 35th Anniversary of Ingrid Bergman’s death and the 102nd anniversary of her birth is Tuesday, August 29, 2017.

I once had an old-flame that I fell hard for who I told, “you make me feel like Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca.” She replied, “we’ll always have Paris.” When I left her, it was always, “here’s looking at you kid.”

To this day, seeing that film stirs those beautiful memories deep in my soul — in a way that only the flicker of a great film can.

The cynical Rick (Humphrey Bogart).

The magic of Hollywood is truly something to behold. The flicker of a film is like a metaphysical pulse that transports us into the lives, dramas, trials, tribulations, highs, lows, and every conceivable emotion of the characters whose stories we are engrossed in. Yet, it is all imaginary, all an illusion. Even still we believe it, with a powerful urge if the film shows a good degree of artistic acumen.

Hollywood’s magic is achieved principally through that magic of suspension of disbelief — we believe because we want to, even though what we are seeing is not real. Despite that magic artificiality of the flicker of a film, the emotions wrought in the viewer are VERY real.

Movies have a tremendous knack for affecting very real emotional change in their viewers, and it is through this propensity for the stirring of emotions that memories and associations are formed. Movies cause the firing of our neurochemical receptors as humans when we see them socially or alone. Our suspension of disbelief stirs neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine for the good times, and chemical messengers like norepinephrine in times of excitement and fright, and new pathways are formed in the brain, leading to new memories and associations regarding the cultural material in the film itself. Forming Richard Dawkins’ idea of the meme as well, and spreading it far and wide throughout the popular mind.

The incomparable Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa Lund. Bogart had to wear platform shoes to get the desired height when compared to Ingrid Bergman.

Perhaps no film is better representative of the incredible memetic quality of cinema than Michael Curtiz’s (who would go on to direct Mildred Pierce in 1945) genre-shaking tale of world-weary love Casablanca (1942), a film celebrating its 75th anniversary on January 23, 2018. The film’s main starlet, the incomparable Ingrid Bergman, died 35 years ago on August 29, 2017.

Despite Casablanca’s relative lack of photographic genius — it did not really blaze new trails in cinematography or melodramatic acting — the “invisible style” or the film never ceases to rivet me. This “invisible stye” is best defined as the mise-en-scéne added on to the dramatic arc of the story of Casablanca — adding up to an incredibly lush cinematic experience when the very historically accurate mise-en-scéne meshes with such a great story, and acting that is superbly non-over-the-top.

Before delving deeper into the film, there are other superb crew that should be noted for their histories and contributions to this untouchable feat of cinematic greatness. Director of Photography Arthur Edeson, who worked with John Huston a year earlier on The Maltese Falcon, lent his deft hand to the pictorial layering of Casablanca to achieve that incredible “invisible style”; while art director Carl Jules Wyle of the original The Big Sleep (1946) adding the necessary elements in proper amounts, to get that expansive mise-en-scéne as perfect as possible. Composer Max Steiner of Gone With the Wind (1939), and Don Siegel, future director of Dirty Harry (1971), also lent his expertise by directing the film’s frenetic opening political montage.

Humphrey Bogart as the world-weary Rick Blaine is the embodiment of cool and smooth in Casablanca, and Ingrid Bergman is the paragon of class as his ex-lover Ilsa Lund. When she arrives in Rick’s bar in French-occupied 1941 Casablanca, Morocco, the tired Rick tries to keep his defenses up as best he can, with a quote encapsulating his entire ordeal quite well: “of all the gin joints, in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”

This quote is often not said correctly by most people.

Rick and Ilsa’s slowly rekindled romance (and how it pans out) is indeed the key to Casablanca, yet its backdrop is just as vitally important, adding a degree of the frenetic because of the turbulent political climate of impending war around them, with very interesting degrees of truth within them. For instance, the famous scene where the “Marseillaise” is sung over the German song “Watch on the Rhine”, many of the extras had very real tears in their eyes because they were real refugees from German camps. Also, many of the Nazis in the movie were played by European Jews who escaped the Nazis.

The backdrop of Casablanca makes the film even more intense. It is as if Rick and Ilsa’s love is a fatalistic one, or love during revolution and upheaval, not knowing if it will be around the next day. This fatalism adds a profound degree of romance to Rick and Ilsa’s story, yet is ultimately optimistic in it’s outlook, because:

The powerful conclusion.

That’s a hell of a thing to form a memory on around: a chapter of my life that was also frenetically beautiful. The magic artificiality of cinema is truly something to behold, especially in this utterly powerful embodiment of it — indeed, “we’ll always have Paris” in our memories; let us hope Casablanca will also remain there: comfortable in its status as immortally powerful cinema and helping more people form solid attachments to the flicker of the film.