Casablanca on the Big Screen at TCMFF
I’m sure you know of the film, Casablanca. I wonder if it isn’t the most streamed, most borrowed, most bought, most watched film ever. I cannot even guess at the number of times I’ve seen it. This year at the TCMFF 2017 I saw it for the first time on the big screen. I have to admit I was looking hard at the details, the sets, the lighting, and the little things. To no surprise, I found the film to be a work of competent art all round.
In the past I have watched it alone with popcorn when the cable was out – a good way to spend a rainy night. I have watched it with a friend as part of a romantic evening – nice. I have watched it several times with a friend or friends as a part of a “girls” night with wine and finger food - and a good time was had by all. And yet, watching it on the big screen with several hundred others at the same time brought a whole new experience I couldn’t have imagined. Obviously, we had all (or at least most of us had) seen the film before. The collective sigh of recognition as a beloved character enters the scene, the collective intake of breath as Elsa walks into Rick’s – we the viewers knew what was going to happen, and empathy mixed with a bit of voyeurism filled us.
Although no one in the audience recited the dialogue, I suspect most of us could. The large gentleman to my right had come all the way from Brooklyn to spend time at the festival with his son, his lips did not move but he was smiling, and I knew. A soft hum would wave across the audience during those most familiar, most poignant scenes. There was a small hiss that went up for the Nazi officer and a heartfelt “yeah!” and a few claps at the commencement of the singing of the French national anthem. There was a silence among us all as the small stories with in the story played out and reminded us it was not just the problems of Rick and Elsa playing out before us, but the repercussions that the impact of war has on rearranging the lives of millions of people. This was the intended result when the film was produced in 1942, and it still held the same power regardless of the years that had past.
Afterwards, there was a sense of camaraderie between those on the screen and those watching. After all, Casablanca was for me (and much of the audience) the last film of the festival. So, as we left the Egyptian Theater, I don’t think I was alone in feeling as if I were walking out across the tarmac with Humphry Bogart and Claude Rains. Rick and Elsa might always have Paris; I would always have the TCMFF 2017. It was a fitting icing on the cake to end four days and nights of classic films.