CASABLANCA part 3



The Death of the Author/Father

One of the consequences of ferninist film theory's ascendancy is an undermining of "la politique d'auteur" that recentlyobserved its twenty-fifth anniversary in American film criticism.[35] The auteur theory of cinema--which identifies thedirector as the true author of a firm--can be understood as a means of "centering" the reading of a film around a single artisticvision, giving movies the same aesthetic legitimacy as, for example, a symphony of Beethoven or a painting of Van Gogh. Inthis sense, auteurism helped clear room in the academy for flm study, bringing with it an aesthetics and a canonical list ofdirector/ authors. By characterizing classical cinema as fundamentally a transmitter of the dominant (patriarchal) ideology,feminist theory has "decentered" film study, granting less importance to the director' s vision. One of the more intriguingdevelopments in recent feminist criticism involves postauteurist approaches to male directors, such as Tania Modleski'sstudy of Hitchcock, as well as to female directors, such as Kaja Silverman's work on Liliana Cavani.[36]

We doubt, however, that there will ever be much interest--among male and female critics--in reading Casablanca across the lifeand career of its director, Michael Curtiz. In fact, the life of Curtiz is a dark continent on the globe of film history,especially considering his voluminous filmography. According to Kingsley Canham, Curtiz began his career by working onover thirty silent films in Hungary. In Sweden, Germany, Italy, France, and Austria, he directed more than twenty filmsbefore leaving for America in 1926. Between 1930 and 1939, when he was most productive, Curtiz directed forty-four flmsfor Warner Brothers.[37] Before his death in 1962, he had signed nearly one hundred American films, many of themconsidered genre masterpieces: The Sea Hawk, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Mildred Pierce, Mystery of the Wax Museum, TheKennel Murder Cose, Adventures of Robin Hood, Angels with Dirty Faces, and Casablanca. Perhaps the sheer bulk of hisoutput has intimidated scholars who might search out the signature and obsessions of a less prolific director.

Nor is enough known of Curtiz's life to anchor the kind of psychobiographical studies that directors such as Chaplin,Hitchcock, and Welles have inspired.[38] Even the substantial bibliography on Cosablanca makes no connection between theexpatriate American Rick Blaine living in exotic Morocco and the expatriate Hungarian director living in exotic Hollywood. Itshould be remembered that directors like Welles, Chaplin, and Hitchcock have inspired psychobiographical speculation not somuch because of the stories they have told but because of stylistic eccentricities that separate them from the Hollywoodmainstream. From the beginning of his Hollywood career, Curtiz learned to submerge himself in the conventions of his craft,intentionally becoming the transmitter of ideology that anti-auteurists have sought to find in all Hollywood directors. But thewilling denial of his own subjectivity, especially in terms of his identity as a Central European Jew, suggests interpretivepossibilities. So does Curtiz's long working relationship with Errol Flynn: After directing Flynn in twelve films, Curtiz andthe actor ended their relationship in 1941 during the filrning of Dive Bomber, possibly because of statements that Curtizmade about Flynn's estrangement from his wife, the French actress Lily Damita. [39] Curtiz made an international star ofDamita while directing her in three flms just before his departure for America in 1926. Curtiz' s self-effacing style mayexplain the absence of critical speculation on Curtiz's handGng of the Rick-Ilsa Laszlo triangle just one year after he severedhis own triangular relationship with Flynn and Damita.

America Dreaming

Psychoanalytic thought is relevant to Casablanca's poGtical agenda as well as to the film's expression of American ideology.We are most concerned here with the extent to which the "dream work" of the film censors or displaces political material thatmay be intrinsic to American mythology but incompatible with the war effort. Michael Wood was one of the first critics toobserve that Rick is portrayed as a patriot ultimately dedicated to fighting the Nazis even though he represents awell-established breed of American heroes, who are more suspicious of compromising entanglements with friends than withthe predictable hostility of enemies.[40] According to Wood, the well-known poster of Bogart as Rick, "staring into themiddle distance, a gGnt of heroic self-pity in his eyes . . . is a picture of what isolation looks like at its best: proud, bitter,mournful, and tremendously attractive. "[41] When Rick hands over Ilsa to Laszlo, he tells her, "where I' m going, you can'tfollow," and yet if Rick and Laszlo now share the same cause, why is it suddenly so essential that she follow Laszlo and notRick?

In A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema, Robert B. Ray categorizes Casablanca as "the most typical" Americanfilm.[42] Ray uses Casablanca as a tutor text for what he calls the "formal paradigm" of Classical Hollywood as well as the"thematic paradigm" that addresses the conflict between isolationism and communitarian participation. Thematically, the filmis typical in its appropriation of an official hero (Laszlo), who stands for the civilizing values of home and community, and anoutlaw hero (Rick), who stands for ad hoc individualism. Although these mythological types at first appear to be at odds,they share a common purpose by the end, just as they do in films as generically dissimilar as Angels with Dirty Faces, Shane,and Star Wars.

Formally, Casablanca abundantly illustrates the importance of a number of "centering" techniques that create the illusion ofrealism while at the same time disguising the complex apparatus that lies behind each shot.[43] Although Ray does Gttle todevelop a Lacanian reading of Casablanca, he relies upon the Lacanian-inflected writings of the Screen critics to develop histhesis of the formal paradigm.[44] Ray, however, is less interested in castration and the gaze than he is in adaptingpsychoanalytic thought to a theory of how "the concealment of the necessity for choice"[45] determines the sequence ofshots in classkal cinema. By pinning the viewer's consciousness to Rick' s, most of what happens takes its logic from hispoint of view. The fusion of Rick and audience begins when we first catch a glimpse of nothing more than Rick's hand as itsigns a check. Ray observes that the shot is striking because the hand comes directly out of our space, as if a (right-handed)viewer were to reach up to the screen and sign the check himself.[46] Shortly after this shot, the entire body of Rick emergesfrom the viewer's space as he walks into the frame to confront the arrogant German who tries to force his way into Rick' sinner sanctum.

Earlier, the personal magnetism of Rick seems to exert an inexorable pull on the camera. After being told that "everyone comesto Rick' s" and having seen the sign with his name above the cafe door, the viewer enters the cafe and is drawn steadily towardRick as the camera drifts always to the left in a series of tracking shots. The camera pauses first to close in slightly on Sam,allowing him to be centered against a background that loses a bit of the defnition that deepfocus cinematography usuallygrants to establishing shots in this and most other classical Hollywood films. The tracking shots eventually arrive at Rick'stable where he is engaged in a solitary game of chess. The audience is then granted its frrst good look at Bogart's face, a visagethat Casablanco cultists have called "existential."

Immediately after Rick/Bogart has received the film's first star closeup, Casablanca yields its first shot from the point of viewof a single individual at nine minutes into the film when Rick observes the German' s attempt to enter. For most of theremainder of the flm, Rick's point of view is privileged, and his face and body are centered. This is especially true when he isin the company of Victor Laszlo, who is regularly consigned to the margins of the frame throughout the sequence when Rickfirst encounters Ilsa and her husband in the cafe. All of this seems natural because the film has so carefully constructed theviewer as a secret sharer in Rick's vision. The innumerable choices that are made in the production of each shot in Casablancaare concealed by our acceptance of Rick as our surrogate. Although few would find reason to object, the film chooses todeprive Laszlo of a flashback, not to mention an "As Time Goes By" to unite him with Ilsa.

Ray points out that this concealing of the necessity for choice also governs the thematic paradigm in Casablanca. The filminvites the audience to identify with Rick rather than Laszlo even though official American wartime sentiments areconsistently voiced by Laszlo. Rick regularly insists upon unmediated self-interest ("I stick my neck out for nobody," "I'mthe only cause I'm interested in"), a position that Ferrari (Sidney Greenstreet) explicitly identifies with a discredited Americantradition: "My dear Rick, when will you realize that in this world today isolationism is no longer a practical policy?"[emphasis added]. Casablanca is typical of classical Hollywood in its willingness to confront, at least initially, its audience'smost important concerns, in this case, "the deep-seated, instinctive anxiety that America' s unencumbered autonomy couldnot survive the global commitments required by another world war."[47] Although the film never puts Rick in a position toretract his innately American reluctance to give up his independence, he ultimately does exactly what Laszlo--and the UnitedStates government--would have him do. Of course, Rick's decision to fight the Nazis is related to his feelings for Ilsa ratherthan a change of heart about being an isolationist. By means of this well- established Hollywood pattern of reconciliation,Casablanca could support the war effort without disturbing the foundations of American myth.

Ray acknowledges a debt to an essay by Charles Eckert on the 1937 gangster melodrama Marked Woman. Eckert argues thatthe corrupt, conspicuously affluent movie gangsters of 1930s Hollywood provided Depression-era audiences withideologically sanctioned objects for the hatred they felt toward the rich.[48] Although Eckert uses Marxist andLevi-Straussian methodologies to uncover the class conflict and myth-making that is submerged in Marked Woman, he is alsointerested in how Freudian concepts of the dream work can explain the process by which politically proscribed class hatred isdisplaced into familiar conventions of melodrama. We should also mention Brian Henderson's work on John Ford's TheSearchers (1956) that reveals how the film's dialectic on the assimilation of Indians is also a displacement for Americanconcerns about black integration in the months just after the "separate but equal doctrine" was struck down by the SupremeCourt in 1954.[49] Although Eckert and Henderson have both cautioned against reductive readings that ignore theoverdetermined polysemy of Hollywood films, they have both acknowledged the importance of psychoanalysis in their largersemiotic project.

Casablanca's audience must never be asked to choose between Rick and Laszlo because everything in the film has preparedthem to choose Rick, who represents the rejection of America's involvement in world politics. Instead, the flm relieves theaudience of the necessity of choice by displacing the film's political conflict into melodrama, where familiar emotionsoverwhelm ideas. To the extent that films resemble dreams, the film's latent political content--whether or not America shouldenter the war--appears in the manifest content as whether or not Rick should help Laszlo. Although Victor Laszlo is alwaysin Rick's shadow, he stands for the values of the father and the prevailing American belief in 1942 that freedom is worthfighting and dying for. By censoring the theme of American reluctance to give up its autonomy, the film spares the audiencethe agony of siding against the values of the father, condensing the Oedipal resolution to another shared experience betweenRick and the viewer.

What Makes a Cult Film?

Once a cult is established, it can often sustain itself by means of its own inertia. After becoming a camp item in the 1960s,Casablanca attained the status of a classic by an alternative system of canon- building. Usually, a work of art finds itsvalidation in the academy. Even though popular film is currently an accepted subject of university study, films likeCasablanca need not establish their importance by impressing faculty committees as masterpieces. Although it existed brieflyas a television series during the 1955-56 season,[50] Casablanca did not become a fetish object until the Rick/ Bogie posterbecame popular and Woody Allen subsequently wrote the play (and movie) Play It Again, Sam.[51] During the weeks inwhich this paper was written, allusions to the film have twice appeared in popular TV shows: a full-dress, five-minuteparody of Casablanca was the dream of Bert Viola (Curtis Armstrong) in an episode of Moonlighting; and on Miami Vice, alovable crook attempted to corrupt Detective Sonny Crockett (Don Johnson) by telling him that a suitcase full of contrabandwas their "letters of transit," but Crockett replied, "this is not the beginning of a beautiful friendship." Now that it has beencanonized, Casablanca is sure to continue as a universal signifier of romantic love, doing the right thing, and painfulsacrifice.[52] As for the qualities that made Casablanca a cult film and have made its appeal "never out of date," we can point to all thepsychologically resonant aspects of the film discussed in this paper. Probably the most crucial ingredients in the film'ssuccess are (1) the star presence of Bogie and Bergman[53]; (2) the subliminal but nostalgically potent music, both diegeticand extradiegetic; (3) the satisfyingly resolved Oedipal material; and (4) the reassuring message that the American outlaw hero(and by extension, all Americans) can be true to his instincts even in a world war. This last message may seem specific to the1943 audience, but movies have been quite successful in keeping old myths alive, and when reconfigured for the Era of Reaganand Bush, these myths can be more vital than ever. Star Wars was the first in a cycle of "disguised Westerns" that hasachieved extraordinary popularity by reviving the outlaw hero/official hero plot. Since then, Beverly Hills Cop I and II, TopGun, Rambo III, and Lethal Weapon I and II have recycled the same basic myth with enormous success. As for the audience today, Casablanca has an extra level of appeal, offering a sense of control to repeat viewers. Just as "AsTime Goes By" eased the 1943 viewer into a nostalgic imaginary, the film itself now grants the viewer benign regression to alost moment when right and wrong were clear cut and going off to war could be a deeply romantic gesture. NOTES

[1.] Don Whitemore and Philip Alan Cecchettini, Passport to Hollywood: Film Immigrants (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1976),p. 197.

[2.] Harvey R. Greenberg, The Movies on Your Mind: Film Classics on the Couch, from Fellini to Frankenstein (New York:Dutton, 1975), pp. 79-105.

[3.] Andrew Sarris, The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968 (New York: Dutton, 1968), p. 176.

[4.] Richard Schickel, "Some Nights in Casablanca," Favorite Movies: Critics' Choice, ed. Philip Nobile (New York:Macmillan, 1973), pp. 114-125. Gary Green, in " 'The Happiest of Happy Accidents'?" Smithsonian Studies in American Art(Fall 1987), pp. 3-13, argues that Casablanca is a "masterpiece" and that director Curtiz deserves most of the credit.

[5.] J. Hoberman and Jonathan Rosenbaum, Midnight Movies (New York: Harper & Row, 1983), p. 30.

[6.] Umberto Eco, "Casablanca: Cult Movies and Intertextual Collage, " Substance 47 (1985), pp. 3-12.

[7.] Eco, p. 11.

[8.] See Krin Gabbard and Glen O. Gabbard, Psychiatry and the Cinema (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987),especially the essays in Part 11.

[9.] D. M. Kaplan, "The Psychoanalysis of Art: Some Ends, Some Means, " Journal of the American PsychoanalyticAssociation 36 (1988), p. 283.

[10.] Greenberg, p. 88. Contrast Greenberg's interpretation with an ingenious but nonpsychoanalytic reading of Rick'sresponse to Renault' s interrogations about his past:

But if Rick's sardonic evasion doesn't tell us about his past, it does portend future events which only he can control. Thefilm's climax will have Rick "abscond with the church funds" by selling his saloon to Ferrari, "run off with a senator's wife"by leaving Casablanca in the company of the coquettish representative from Vichy, and "kill a man"--Major Strasser.

See Richard Corliss, Talking Pictures (Woodstock: Overlook Press, 1974), p. 110.

[11.] Laurence Learner, As Time Goes By: The Life of Ingrid Bergman (New York: Harper & Row, 1986), pp. 206 207.

[12.] Ernest Jones, Hamlet and Oedipus (New York: Anchor, 1964).

[13.] Shoshana Felman, "To Open the Question," Literature and Psychoanalysis: The Question of Pleading: Otherwise, ed.Shoshana Felman (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982), p. 7.

[14.] See, for example, Raymond Durgnat's review of Christian Metz' s The Imaginary Signifer, one of the key texts inLacanian film theory, in Film Quarter/y 36, No. 2 (1982), pp. 58-64.

[15.] Kaplan, pp. 259-294.

[16.] Bellour makes this point most directly in a conversation with Janet Bergstrom, "Alternation, Segmentation, Hyponsis:Interview with Raymond Bellour," Camera Obscura 3-4 (1979), p. 93.

[17.] Corliss, p. 111.

[18.] The most important texts by Jacques Lacan for film theorists can be found in Ecrits: A Selection, trans. Alan Sheridan(New York: Norton, 1977), and The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis, trans. Alan Sheridan, ed. Jacques-MainMiller (New York: Norton, 1978). Lacan's prose, however, is notoriously difficult. For a readable introduction to Lacan--andhis appropriation by film theorists--see Kaja Silverman, The Subject of Semiotics (New York: Oxford University Press,1983).

[19.] For this reading, we have relied most heavily on the account of American Gaffiti in Colin MacCabe, "Theory and Film:Principles of Realism and Pleasure," Screen 17, No. 3 (Autumn 1976), pp. 7-29; rpt. in MacCabe, Tracking the Signifier(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985).

[20.] Laura Mulvey, "Visual Pleasure and the Narrative Cinema," Screen 16, No. 3 (Autumn 1975), pp. 6-18; rpt. in Mulvey,Visual and Other Pleasures (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989). Just one measure of the essay's importance is itsinclusion in all three of the major anthologies of writings on film theory: Gerald Mast and Marshall Cohen, eds., Film Theoryand Criticism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985); Bill Nichols, ea., Movies and Methods, Vol. 2 (Berkeley:University of California Press, 1985); and Philip Rosen, ed., Narrative, Apparatus, Ideology: A Film Theory Reader (NewYork: Columbia University Press, 1986). Mulvey has twice rethought her argument in print: "Afterthoughts on 'VisualPleasure and the Narrative Cinema, ' Inspired by Duel in the Sun," Framework 15-17 (1981), pp. 12-15; and "Changes,"Discourse 7 (1985), pp. 11-30. Both have been reprinted in Visual and Other Pleasures.

[21.] Mulvey's account of cinematic fetishism is almost entirely consistent with Freud's paper, "Fetishism," S.E. 21, pp.52-57.

[22.] This sketch does little justice to the vast literature in feminist film theory that extends and revises Mulvey's ideas. Wehave argued that women are devalued in much of classical cinema not because men fear women's castration, but because menfear their power--the possibility that women are not castrated. See Glen O. Gabbard and Krin Gabbard, "The Female Analystin the Movies," Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association (in press). A somewhat similar position has been takenby Susan Lurie, "The Construction of the Castrated Woman in Psychoanalysis and Cinema," Discourse 4 (Winter 1981-82),pp. 52-74. For an excellent revision of Mulvey to identify the position of female viewers at the movies, see Miriam Hansen,"Pleasure, Ambivalence, Identification: Valentino and Female Spectatorship," Cinema Journal 25, No. 4 (Summer 1986), pp.6-32.

[23.] Greenberg, p. 92.

[24.] Kaja Silverman, The Acoustic Mirror: The Female Voice in Psychoanalysis and Cinema (Bloomington: IndianaUniversity Press, 1988).

[25.] See Tania Modleski, "Women and the Labyrinth," The Women Who Knew Too Much: Hitchcock and Feminist Theory(New York: Methuen, 1988), pp. 43-55. This book also develops another convincing response to Laura Mulvey's model offilm spectatorship.

[26.] Mulvey, p. 11.

[27.] Claudia Gorbman, Unheard Melodies: Narrative Film Music (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987).

[28.] The key texts here are Guy Rosolato, "La Voix: Entre corps et langage," Revue francaise de psychanalyse 38, No. I (Jan1974), pp. 75-94; and Didier Anzieu, "L'envelope sonore du soi," Nouvelle revue de psychanalyse 13 (Spring 1976), pp.161-179.

[29.] Gorbman, p. 62.

[30.] Gorbman, p. 69.

[31.] Gorbman, pp. 70-98.

[32.] Gorbman, p. 81.

[33.] Rudy Behlmer, America's Favorite Movies (New York: Ungar, 1982), pp. 172-174.

[34.] Corliss, p. 104.

[35.] Andrew Sarris, "Auteurism Turns Silver," Village Voice, 7 June 1988, p. 66.

[36.] Modleski, The Women Who Knew Too Much, and Silverman, The Acoustic Mirror.

[37.] Kingsley Canham, Hollywood Professionals (New York: A. S. Barnes, 1973).

[38.] Stephen M. Weissman, "Chaplin's The Kid," in Images in Our Souls: Cavell, Psychoanalysis, and Cinema, eds. JosephH. Smith, M.D., and William Kerrigan, M.D. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987), p. 186; Donald Spoto, TheDark Side of Genius; The Life of Alfred Hitchcock (New York: Little, Brown, 1983); Barbara Learning, Orson Welles: A Life(New York: Viking, 1986). Although she rejects nosological inquiry into the lives of artists, Gaylyn Studlar developsabundant material for a psychobiography of Josef von Sternberg in her excellent study, In the Realm of Pleasure: VonSternberg, Dietrich, and the Masochistic Aesthetic (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988).

[39.] Whitemore and Cecchettini, p. 195.

[40.] Michael Wood, America at the Movies (New York: Basic Books, 1975), pp. 24-50.

[41.] Wood, pp. 24-25.

[42.] Robert B. Ray, A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema, 1930- 1980 (Princeton: Princeton University Press,1985), p. 5.

[43.] The most important texts that Ray uses to establish the principles of his formal paradigm are by Noel Burch, especiallyTheory of Film Practice, trans. Helen R. Lane (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981).

[44.] See especially Stephen Heath, Questions of Cinema (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981); and MacCabe,Tracking the Signifier.

[45.] Ray, p. 32.

[46.] Ray, p. 54.

[47.] Ray, p. 91.

[48.] Charles Eckert, "The Anatomy of a Proletarian Film: Warner' s Marked Woman," Film Quarterly 27, No. 2 (Winter1973-74), pp. 10- 24; rpt. in Nichols, Movies and Methods, Vol. 2, pp. 408-425.

[49.] Brian Henderson, " The Searchers An American Dilemma," Film Quarterly 34, No. 2 (Winter 1980-81); rpt. in Nichols,pp. 429-449.

[50.] Starring Charles McGraw as Rick, the Warner Brothers TV series Casablanca ran for one season alternating withCheyenne and King's Row. See Alex McNeil, Total Television (New York: Penguin Books, 1980), p. 134.

[51.] Hoberman and Rosenbaum, p. 30.

[52.] Shortly before this paper went to press, the Librarian of Congress placed Casablanca on a list of twenty-five protectedAmerican films, perhaps the best place to look for a "mediated" canon of American cinema, midway between a popular canonand an academic canon.

[53.] Psychoanalysis plays an important role in the books of Richard Dyer, Stars (London: British Film Institute, 1979), andHeavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1986).

~~~~~~~~

By KRIN GABBARD and GLEN O. GABBARD

, M.D. KRIN GABBARD is an associate professor of comparativeliterature at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. His articles have appeared in Psychoanalytic Review,Comparative Literature Studies, PostScript, University of Hartford Studies in Literature, and Literature/Film Quarterly,among others. He is currently writing a book on jazz and American culture GLEN O. GABBARD, M.D., is a psychoanalystand director of the hospital at the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas. He is the co-author with Krin Gabbard ofPsychiatry and the Cinema (University of Chicago Press, 1987), and is the author of With the Eyes of the Mind (Praeger,1984). He is the editor of Medical Marriages (Analytic Press, 1988) and Sexual Exploitation in Professional Relationships(Analytic Press, 1989).

Gabbard, Glen, Play it again, Sigmund.., Vol. 18, Journal of Popular Film & Television, 04-01-1990, pp 6.

THE FIRST PART OF THIS ARTICLE

THE SECOND PART



GO BACK TO START

GO BACK TO THE LIST OF MOVIES


Make your own free website on Tripod.com