Casablanca – the greatest film of all times ironically has long been just another ordinary film. Adopting the unstaged play, the screenwriters barely made it profitable to keep the production on. However, the movie has ultimately won Academy Awards and Best Picture awards. Undoubtedly, it is now known as a cult film for the best actors’ performance and, of course, the music that is easily recognizable by any American. The film’s popularity has grown so much that it can be called iconic. It is frequently heard that almost every line from Casablanca is quoted. It is considered that largely the quotable phrases are complemented by good music, namely, the central As Time Goes By. This is a great movie to discover for everyone who lacks pure and nice films rather than a pop contemporary production; which makes Casablanca even more tempting to analyze in terms of the absence of pop scores but the highest popularity until nowadays. This paper will unveil the significance of the sound and what role it plays to make the movie a quintessential Hollywood film (Eco, 1987).
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Developing the Technique
Since the development of the sound had to start from the sound-maker, there was a very prolific Austrian composer involved in the work. Max Steiner used to appear in numerous film credits from 1930 to 1940. He wrote soundtracks for about 150 films at those times. However, he was not the one to compose As Times Go By from scratch. “Hollywood and Broadway together accounted for more than 80 percent of the most-performed songs in 1942″ (Smith, 1998). The song had an earlier life when used on Broadway stage written by Herman Hupfeld. Max Steiner, however, composed new music and used already-made tunes to meet extraordinary narrative purposes. As such, the song from Casablanca played a really important role for the movie to be easily recognized nowadays as contemporary popular music due to its vocal and instrumental ways of expression. Just like ‘classical highlights’, the popularized music from the old movies like Casablanca can be used to unveil time, place, or cultural identities. Therefore, a Hollywood composer has to adjust the sound to all of the requirements listed above for complementing the long-termed (although not aimed for) goals. Casablanca has it all.
In the film, the song was performed by Dooley Wilson who played Sam, the pianist who played the melody was Elliot Carpenter. It is said that the song’s other version remained on the top charts of the radio for 21 weeks. They say the older films like Casablanca have empty soundtracks, while the contemporary ones are more selling ones, hence fuller. However, while the technique has been developing and the movie was one of those hastily shot and written, it has to be noticed that the director – Michael Curtiz – met the main requirement: a good sound had good actors and a wonderful storyline to be heard by many.
The interweaving of the Techniques
The sound is very dependent on the visual effects and scenes of the movie. Even though the main theme of Casablanca is extremely famous and has been rerecorded in different variations, it would be nothing if there wasn’t the actual movie shot and screened. So, the dialog editors play an essential role in creating a film’s fluent flow and in attaching the lines to sound effects cohesively. It has to be noticed that it was problematic to record sound and image simultaneously in those days. The viewer would not want to hear everything that was happening during shooting, that is why the camera was placed in a soundproof blimp and then the sound was recorded only afterward. If they would record it right away, it would not sound psychologically right. The soundtrack from real-life settings was dense for the film. To be more exact, a human mind filters out noises and takes them up to the foreground especially when there are some more sounds in the background. So, the dialog editors had to work hard to combine the sound effects and the lines when the film sound was recorded.
The interweaving of visual and aural effects is very tight. The thing is that even a very sophisticated audience is not able to notice the soundtrack apart from the lines. This is exactly what the film creators in Casablanca – they put the audience through the feelings and emotions subconsciously by manipulating visual and aural effects together. In this sense. The major part of film’s music is heard by not necessarily listened to by the audience which creates a cohesive unit of the two techniques working for the benefit of each other.
Importance of Sound. Contemporary and Old Use
The movie abundantly showcases how the scenes can be quoted throughout ages and generations. The movie does not get old no matter what thanks to its good match of sync sound and lines of actors. Today, there are thousands of prolific directors’ works that astonish and stun the public with visual and sound effects. However, there is hardly any movie that will make a listener associate the song with certain scenes screened. This is what makes Casablanca so tempting to watch it over and over again through the years. Contemporary soundtracks do not make it possible to adjust the listener’s attention to the separate changing scenes of the movie, whereas As Times Go By is the song that does it all (Smith, 1998). Although contemporary movie soundtracks are stuffed with multiple effects, most of them are not the ones to remember and carry on through the years because of the absence of interweaving. Nevertheless, Steiner was unhappy with the choice of the melody for the movie. At those times it was thought that all artists were influenced by European trends in art and music. Steiner did not choose the song it was given to him. And not knowing that the song will bring so much success in the future, Steiner used to say: “Composition is a highly developed art that’s now dominated by young men who can only hum a tune” (Prendergast 1992).
The sound techniques were developing rapidly: overhead booms were improved, the microphone could follow the actors around the shooting sets which was challenging for many actors because their voices did not suit the talkies anymore.
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Creating a Plot with the Help of Sound in Casablanca
The mise en scène, cinematography, and sound create a perfect mix of unison features to make a cult movie with significant meaning. To be more exact about the meaning of the movie applied through this song’s usage, a scene with Rick slouched at the bar should be mentioned. This is when a director lets the song in via piano man playing it. Rick’s lines express utmost sadness about abandonment by Ilsa and every time the song is played the viewers get to come back to their feeling and thoughts about each other subconsciously. Therefore, now both Rick and Ilsa are associated with music pieces from the movie. These nondiegetic effects happen to be very memorable exactly because they add emotions to decisive moments (Harmetz, 2002). There are some moments in the movie when scores get a little bit more suspenseful but if you listen closely to it, this is As Time Goes By. The diegetic music used in the movie is singable and easy to reproduce. Rick and Ilsa are somewhat apparent via the score, so are their gestures, and the setting of Paris. The scene of the heroes kissing in Paris with Sienna in the background is probably very memorable to everyone who watched the film, at least, once. So, the sound is a very effective tool to enhance the feelings and appeal to the audience when the camera zooms to medium and the viewer gets to experience the romantic moment right when it is interrupted with yet dramatic music. (Prendergast, 1992).
Political Movements in Casablanca’s Sound Application
The movie itself is shot during the furious times of World War II that were invading many countries all over the world bringing horror and the Nazi regime along. Casablanca has its reflection of the political regime in several scenes throughout the film. And overall, the score is frequently foregrounded as an essential part of the action and general plot. This is explicitly shown in the scene when Laszlo forgets about any caution and asks to play La Marseillaise. The viewer gets involved in the scene so much that usually, people start singing along together with people in the movie and the French girl Yvonne. The score used here is emphasizing the mutual forces people accumulated to show Germans our superiority. Significantly, this is not only a song in this case it holds much more – the strength and unity before the enemy. This, of course, intensified the political plot of the film. And, overall, the strategy of foregrounding music is perhaps the main one in Casablanca.
Notably, the thriller plot is complicated with the romantic plot here. However, it is exactly the thriller plot that makes Rick decide on love eventually. The scores in the movie happen to complement the love story plot which is the second one as per the thriller main plot.
Although at the beginning of the movie the underscoring plays a role in the characterization of the locality (Arabic sounds), further on the viewer gets more of emotional realization of the situation played out, not just a cultural or traditional effect. The exception is a chase scene along the streets of Casablanca. Moreover, no emotional appeal will be applied through music before Rick and Ilsa meet.
Casablanca is a quintessence of visual and audio effects applied as skillfully as it was only possible at those times. What makes the movie so popular and cult is the cohesive usage of sound and plotline which is complex in its turn. Having the main plot and a subsidiary one, the director carried out a significant work telling a tale of Casablanca and unveiling the horrible events of WWII. There are neither pop scores nor commercialized content. However, the association of the music with the lead actors and their characters still follows by when a person hears the song As Time Goes By.
Eco, U. (1990). Travels in Hyperreality. London: Picador.
Harmetz, A. (2002). The Making of Casablanca: Bogart, Bergman, and World War II. New York: Hyperion.
Prendergast, R. M. (1992). Film Music. A Neglected Art. New York: Norton.
Smith, J. (1998).The Sounds of Commerce. Marketing Popular Film Music. New York: Columbia University Press.