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A Side Question On Casablanca


dialoguy
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While Casablanca is of course a much loved film, it is often given a strange dismissal, that somehow there was no "art" at work here, that it was just a culminated climax of the "studio system" that somehow happened, despite noone thinking much about it, or treating it in any way differently from any other Warner Bros product of the time.

 

I've never been especially comfortable with this, as the film seems so many steps above the average product. I'd like to turn your attention to the flashback sequence when Ilsa and Rick are at their happiest, and they take a trip from Paris out to the French countryside, all of this represented in a single shot, of Ilsa and Rick in an open car, wind blowing Ilsa's scarf about, and behind a rear projection screen, giving the impression of driving around the Arc de Triomphe and then dissolving into a country road -- the rear projection is dissolving while Rick and Ilsa, and the windblown scarf, sit happily in the car, what fun to be together!

 

Now this event, this film event, is unique in my memory. I cannot think of a single other film that uses a dissolve in this way, the rear projection going from one location to another while the shot remains continuous. I would be glad to hear of other examples, thus putting me in my place, although I do think it is at least an extremely rare technique, quite outside the normal.

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It?s fairly unique.

 

I think it was actually a direct cut from one background scene to another, while the foreground of the two people remained the same long scene. Some people have wondered if that was a mistake. But I think not. I think it was just a bad decision by the editor or director, thinking it would look ok and ?artistic?, since this was a dream or flash-back sequence.

 

In other films they would have dissolved both the background and the foreground at the same time, to show time passing and locations changing, and that is more reasonable.

 

The Casablanca effect looks like someone made a mistake editing two different rear-screen scenes together, although it was probably done as an ?artist? idea.

 

What I really like are the slow half-frame dissolves in ?Citizen Kane?, where Joseph Cotton is talking to the young reporter in the nursing home. The right side of the frame slowly goes dark, and at the same time the right half of the flashback scene appears in its place. So we see about half of both scenes for several seconds, then the left half of the first scene goes dark as the left side of the flashback scene becomes visible.

 

This looked like a matting of the right side of the first scene, and the fade in of the right side of the second scene, with the left side of the second scene being dark matted. Then the left side of the first scene is matted black as the left side of the second scene is unmated. It makes for a very interesting long dissolve from one scene to another, with half of each scene being dissolved into half of the other scene.

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No, it's a dissolve. Here's the YouTube clip:

 

 

As to it's being a mistake, that just sounds crazy. I don't know what it means. The editor and lab prepared it. Presumably everyone on the set saw it; there's a camera move at the end and Rick responds to the new country weather... Maybe you mean, some people don't like it, which may be so. I like it, and I admire its originality...

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Ok, yes I see it is a dissolve. I suppose it was supposed to be ?artistic?. I think the dissolve had to be in the projected print before the foreground was photographed, so it must have been a major decision that the director agreed with. I don?t like it, but I don?t complain about it. I would have dissolved both the foreground and background at the same time. But nobody asked me to direct the film. :)

 

I like the way they made his hair dark black, and they gave him more hair and made him look younger.

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I don?t see anything so unique about this typical projected-background dissolve. Obviously, because this was a totally produced studio film, in the confines of Warner Brothers, this edited system saved a lot of time, if not, money. From a technical standpoint, it only becomes apparent, if you are distracted from the whole aura and flow of this quick montage memory. In general, most fans will never notice or take issue with the scene in question, due in large part to the quality and beautiful atmosphere of the montage. I?ve always believed that this was a sort of expeditious movie ploy to simply have the audience play upon their imagination or go with the flow of the scene, based strongly around the personality strength of the stars! It sort of makes sense to me that while this scene is routine, amid what appears to be a rather ?straight-forward technical-ruse,? it doesn?t come across as an error or something to hamper the movie; it?s just a device being unitized quick enough to keep the film on its intrigue of plot and characters. Looking at the scene, I?m reminded of what llsa remarks in the apartment, just after Rick pours her a glass of wine: ?We said no questions. . .?

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I don't know if it is such a bad idea either. I like the dissolve, since the whole concept is the bits and pieces of Rick's fantasy/memory of the events. The visuals convey the story; remember, show the story. If they wanted to show just one scene, it would give the impression of one ride. But the dissolve shows me that they were already on a getaway together, and that the relationship has deepened.

 

In the movie, Notting Hill (1999), there is a passage of a year for Hugh Grant's character. It shows him walking in profile along Notting Hill, as the weather changes for an entire year within a 100 feet walked down the street! I also found that very effective visual storytelling.

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> {quote:title=casablancalover wrote:}{quote}

> In the movie, Notting Hill (1999), there is a passage of a year for Hugh Grant's character. It shows him walking in profile along Notting Hill, as the weather changes for an entire year within a 100 feet walked down the street! I also found that very effective visual storytelling.

 

That reminded me of George Pal's The Time Machine, 1960, which has LOTS of rear projection dissolves, showing movement through time.

 

I like the technique as it was used in Casablanca. I think it is just silly to think that there is no "art" in a film, just because it is a studio film. No doubt those making Casablanca had no idea that it would become the film icon it is, but that doesn't mean they weren't using the cinematic arts, or trying to give good performances.

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> {quote:title=MovieProfessor wrote:}{quote}

> I dont see anything so unique about this typical projected-background dissolve. ....

Well, please do me the favor of citing a couple of examples of a film from that era that showed continuous action in the foreground while showing a dissolve in the rear projection. That would settle the question of "unique."

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This was not the first film by Englishman and noted Warner Brothers editor Owen Marks to utilize this technique. It had already been done in numerous films throughout the late 1930s going into the 1940s. While the memory montage in ?Casablanca? is rather different than most other films that had a background (changing) shot, it was a routine method. My point to this matter is simply to signify that the method was typical of a studio production; even if there is significant reason to believe the use of the shot in ?Casablanca? was a first of sorts. Most film historians agree that Owen Marks was probably the greatest of all editors at Warner?s. Certainly, his work in collaboration with director Michael Curtiz should be considered some of the finest in Hollywood history.

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> {quote:title=MovieProfessor wrote:}{quote}

> This was not the first film by Englishman and noted Warner Brothers editor Owen Marks to utilize this technique. It had already been done in numerous films throughout the late 1930s going into the 1940s.

 

Could you name those films please?

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> FredCDobbs and dialoguy

 

 

OK . . . I needed time to go through my library of films and pick out a good one! Low-and-behold, I found one! It?s not from the period of time I first mentioned, it?s from the 1950s! I forgot that film editor Owen Marks continued to work at Warner?s right up to the time of his death in 1960; Owen died right after his last assignment on the film ?Parrish.? So, my excellent example of what I would refer to as a typical, ?Owen Marks ? back-matted projected edited shot? is from the 1954 Doris Day musical ?Lucky Me.? This is a most striking and incredible back-matted projected scene; certainly one of the finest Owen ever collaborated on with his film crew at Warner?s. The scene begins with Doris meeting up with actor Robert Cummings at a downtown Miami, Florida arcade. He arrives in an old beat up Model A-Ford convertible. As Doris and Bob drive off, matted in the background behind the obvious movement of the Ford convertible is a shot of Collins Avenue on Miami Beach. The shot looks routine enough, except for one very, very astounding aspect to the shot! As the two performers are seated in the car, the various passing shadows of buildings and trees are vividly matched into the scene or overlaid onto the ?live? performers! While most fans would realize it?s all done from the concept of having been conceived within the studio, it?s a wonderful technical marvel or movie wizardry to some added affect. As the automobile turns off onto what is the old ?MacArthur Causeway? in Miami, the lighting in the scene changes to match the atmosphere that is then brightened up from the previous back-matted shot of the street scene; the scene is also shot from various different angels of close-ups, from side to side, displaying different vistas of both the city of Miami and Miami Beach in the background! While this isn?t as interesting or perhaps as sophisticated as the quick shot in ?Casablanca,? it is so typical of Owen Marks, but now having even gone to a higher realistic extreme, adding what some might feel is the right atmosphere.

 

Owen never won an Academy Award. He was nominated only twice. First for another Michael Curtiz directed project, ?Jamie,? and then for ?Casablanca.? Other films to watch that utilize this back-matted typical Warner Brothers shot are ?Mission to Moscow,? ?June Bride,? ?White Heat? and many others Owen edited at Warner?s. Please don?t misunderstand my point about this subject relating to "Casablanca." Since there is the issue of a ?crossover dissolve?, I do believe this was a sort of first and as of now, I haven?t been able to find or remember of one from that period; I?ll be looking around. I do agree that Owen?s shot in ?Casablanca? is rather interesting, if not, different, but from a technical aspect of it all, it was just good old plain movie magic and the film itself (thanks in part to Owen!) will forever remain a bona fide masterpiece! ?Here?s looking at you kid . . .?

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> {quote:title=MovieProfessor wrote:}{quote}

> So, my excellent example of what I would refer to as a typical, Owen Marks back-matted projected edited shot is from the 1954 Doris Day musical Lucky Me. This is a most striking and incredible back-matted projected scene; certainly one of the finest Owen ever collaborated on with his film crew at Warners. The scene begins with Doris meeting up with actor Robert Cummings at a downtown Miami, Florida arcade. He arrives in an old beat up Model A-Ford convertible. As Doris and Bob drive off, matted in the background behind the obvious movement of the Ford convertible is a shot of Collins Avenue on Miami Beach. The shot looks routine enough, except for one very, very astounding aspect to the shot! As the two performers are seated in the car, the various passing shadows of buildings and trees are vividly matched into the scene or overlaid onto the live performers! While most fans would realize its all done from the concept of having been conceived within the studio, its a wonderful technical marvel or movie wizardry to some added affect. As the automobile turns off onto what is the old MacArthur Causeway in Miami, the lighting in the scene changes to match the atmosphere that is then brightened up from the previous back-matted shot of the street scene; the scene is also shot from various different angels of close-ups, from side to side, displaying different vistas of both the city of Miami and Miami Beach in the background! While this isnt as interesting or perhaps as sophisticated as the quick shot in Casablanca, it is so typical of Owen Marks, but now having even gone to a higher realistic extreme, adding what some might feel is the right atmosphere.

 

So in which scene is the jump cut in the background scene, from one location to another, while the foreground shot of the car mock-up doesn?t change? You were supposed to come up with a definite example like the background jump cut (the fast dissolve) from the Arch de Triumph to the rural country scene in ?Casablanca?, while the studio car scene doesn?t change along with the background scene.

 

As far as the shadows go, it?s the same in these two scenes in ?Rebecca?:

 

 

 

At 3:14 and 5:09

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Ok Fred . . .

 

Still looking . . . Meanwhile, try the 1962 version of ?The 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse.? There?s a scene in that one in an automobile, in of all places Paris, right around the Arch de Triumph! Then, there?s another one that might not be acceptable, due in large part to the rather obscure way it was shot: the automobile scene in ?Two Weeks in Another Town.? Both films were directed by Vincente Minnelli and edited by Adrienne Fazan, one of the very best at MGM. Anyway, I won?t give up that easily until I find a film, other than ?The Time Machine? that clearly has the back-matted, crossover dissolve. Most films that have utilized a scene in an automobile, with a back-matted shot have quick cuts and not the crossover dissolve so clearly seen in ?Casablanca.? This is why the issue might be considered for some a bit confusing. I?ll just keep hanging in there, because already several friends of mine have insinuated that the method is as old or was actually used in various silent films. As to which ones, well that might take another long and tedious trek to track down.

 

As for the scene in "Rebecca," it's nice, but no match for the one in "Lucy Me." In fact, the editor of "Rebecca," a W. Donn Hayes didn't even receive credit for his efforts. Forget about the so called managing editor, Hal G. Kern and associate James E. Newcom; everybody in town knew that it was Hayes who really did the work. Strange, but that's the way it sometimes went in old Hollywood. Hayes ended up mostly doing low-budget films, hardly ever landing steady work at a major studio. This left his career somewhat unnoticeable. Kern and Newcom were regulars at Selznick International. They are best remembered for their work in "Gone With the Wind" that led to their winning the Academy Award.

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> {quote:title=MovieProfessor wrote:}{quote}

> Ok Fred . . .

>

> Still looking . . . Meanwhile, try the 1962 version of ....

>

 

I'm not trying to be impossible, but finding people who copied the Casablanca dissolve twenty years later will not be relevant. The point of this thread is to inquire whether there was some truly original work in Caasablanca that belies its reputation as a typical, however superb, example of the studio product, without anything outstanding or special, just a perfect coming-together of the every-day at Warners. I have pointed to that dissolve as something special, indeed: unique. You have suggested that such dissolves were commonplace, and now you point back to the mists of silent film, but we are all waiting for one single example of the technique (ever!) from the period predating Casablanca.

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> dialoguy wrote:

 

>

> I'm not trying to be impossible, but finding people who copied the Casablanca dissolve twenty years later will not be relevant. The point of this thread is to inquire whether there was some truly original work in Caasablanca that belies its reputation as a typical, however superb, example of the studio product, without anything outstanding or special, just a perfect coming-together of the every-day at Warners. I have pointed to that dissolve as something special, indeed: unique. You have suggested that such dissolves were commonplace, and now you point back to the mists of silent film, but we are all waiting for one single example of the technique (ever!) from the period predating Casablanca.

 

You bring up a very good point on the issue of the period that ?Casablanca? was released. Well, while I don?t want to make any false claims or harp too much on this issue, Owen (the editor) must have known that the method or style he used in the now famous memory montage had been done before. My mistake was not realizing, as it was pointed out to me by some friends, the method or idea must have come from some previous film, mostly likely from the silent era. This makes perfect sense to me. I?m not trying to debunk the issue of ?Casablanca? having any classic movie status. I just wanted to say that the whole idea of the memory montage (while interesting and probably a first during that time) wasn?t so special, nor does it have to add something so awe-inspiring to the final outcome of what was essentially a beautifully produced studio project. In the end, the real, remarkable aspect to the whole ?Casablanca? legend and aura was its fascinating conception that at first didn?t amount to much, only to later on turn into something way beyond anyone?s simple thinking. Perhaps I?m overstating the whole concept to this memory montage, but from a technical standpoint, it was something that I felt might be easy enough to expose as a routine aspect to any film.

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> {quote:title=MovieProfessor wrote:}{quote}

>

> .... Owen (the editor) must have known that the method or style he used in the now famous memory montage had been done before. ... Perhaps Im overstating the whole concept to this memory montage, but from a technical standpoint, it was something that I felt might be easy enough to expose as a routine aspect to any film.

 

I reject your insistence that Owen "must have known" anything. In most ways, if you ever managed to come up with ANY movie of the era or from the silent days, it wouldn't take away from the charm and craft of the editor's work, nor even its originality. But the truth is, I've not seen anything at all that says this little curlew was ever tried in any other film, whatever your friends may suggest.

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dialoguy wrote:

*The point of this thread is to inquire whether there was some truly original work in Caasablanca that belies its reputation as a typical, however superb, example of the studio product, without anything outstanding or special, just a perfect coming-together of the every-day at Warners. I have pointed to that dissolve as something special, indeed: unique.*

 

In the end, what difference does it make (what was the line about a hill of beans?). Why must there be validation in the status of Casablanca as an all-time classic by "some truly original work" in terms of cinematic innovation? What is so wrong with it as "just a perfect coming-together of the every-day at Warners"? I beg to differ on the statement "without anything outstanding or special" because the whole film is outstanding and special, with or without technical innovations. The magic of the studio system the superb artisanship involved worked to make this film the beloved work of art it is, and why spoil it by intellectually NEEDING there to be an innovation to validate this.

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> {quote:title=FredCDobbs wrote:}{quote}

 

>

> *It is just fun to discuss it. :)*

 

 

Exactly so. I love Casablanca, and have surprised myself over the years to discover how highly I place it in the trove of good films. And in this thread I -- and others -- have been considering one small aspect of it, and that has been fun. I have been struck by that dissolve in the rear projection, and have wanted to bring it -- and its uniqueness -- to the attention of others. I'm glad I have.

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And what makes movie magic magic ? I think Casablanca is the something extra.. The editing work and camera angles are superb, with some of the conversation moving quickly and the camera picking up the pace too. They enhance the story, and I wonder if the editor thought some scenes needed that. At first, I thought it to be a mark of Michael Curtiz shooting style, but Mildred Pierce doesn't have that quick of pacing. . .

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