Sunday, January 03, 2010
52 Films in 52 Weeks: Casablanca
I frequent a pop culture discussion board and some of the participants have been doing a project called "52 Films in 52 Weeks" the last few years. The idea is to list 52 movies to watch during the year. Some list films they've been meaning to watch but never got around, some list films by decade or by year, some by director. I've never participated before, so this will be my first year. For my theme I am going with best picture winners I haven't seen or barely remember watching. That only took me to 45 movies, though, so I chose seven wild card movies, classic best picture nominees. I kicked off the series last night by watching Casablanca, which I owned. I picked it up at Virgin Records' clearance sale as it was about to shut down. I've had it for a year and just never got around to watching it.
With a lot of things--movies, books, albums--that have stellar reputations, approaching them can be a bit of a disappointment. Catcher in the Rye, for example, just couldn't match the breathless adoration people had for it. It probably didn't help that I read it after college, way past the ideal age for the novel to matter. Casablanca is an undisputed classic. As Roger Ebert says, no one has said one critical thing about it. It's a film even those who hate black and white movies fall in love with. Frankly, he's right.
Casablanca lives up to its reputation. The dialogue crackles, the performances are perfect, and the story captivates. It's unabashedly romantic but moreso because it's more complex, suggesting that love isn't just about getting the girl in the end, that sometimes letting her go is an even more truer expression of love. The film's love triangle between Humphrey Bogart's Rick, Ingrid Bergman's Ilsa, and Paul Henreid's Victor works because it is not uneven. Where most film love triangles are of the scalene variety, Casablanca's is refreshingly equilateral. Victor is a noble and worthy combatant for Ilsa's heart. The film tilts in favor of Rick and Ilsa on the passion meter, but it also wisely avoids painting Victor as unworthy of Ilsa's affection. If anything, we might wonder if Ilsa is worthy of Victor's love. Isn't it also interesting that the film seems to advocate for polyamory? The film does not judge Ilsa at all and justifies her love for two men at the same time. When was the last time you saw a movie that depicted polyamory as valid?
Watching Casablanca was a great way to kick off the series. I doubt, though, that they will all be as good. In fact I'm dreading quite a few of them. I've heard nothing good about Cecil B. DeMille's Greatest Show on Earth. One down, 51 more to go. Imagine, if all goes well, in a year I can say that I've seen almost all the best picture winners (I may miss some due to availability).