A love letter to an obsession: Casablanca, I love you.
As I'm sure it is with actual love between two people, when a piece of art comes into my life that I'm ultimately going to fall in love with, I don't recognize it right away. When I first heard Pulp's This Is Hardcore in its entirety, I was unaware that seven years later, it would become the soundtrack to my most destructive period. More important, it featured what would also come to be what I consider the best album-cover art ever created. I've spent a long time trying to recreate the feeling that seeing that album sleeve gives me, but it's impossible; there is nothing like it.
Richard and Ilsa forever.
I've had other fixations with albums, though: I spent most of 1993 through 1998 listening to Smashing Pumpins' Siamese Dream at least once a day, and T. Rex's Electric Warrior was the soundtrack to my Saturn Return (if my old roommate never hears "Mambo Sun" again, I bet he'll be happy).
But my recent fixation on Casablanca came as a surprise -- mostly because I hate movies. After I met this movie, however, I never wanted to leave its side, and since our chance introduction around New Year's Eve, I haven't. I've seen it more than two dozen times in the past six weeks. Why? I don't know.
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My relationship with Casablanca began when I was in the midst of trying to create a Montgomery Clift obsession. (I think my crush on him ultimately failed because I realized I didn't want to watch his movies more than once. Though Clift was really pretty to look at, his films are kinda boring and it was painful to watch Elizabeth Taylor almost get what she wanted from looking into his eyes, but not quite, because he was probably real, real gay.)
But among copies of Raintree County and A Place in the Sun that a friend had burned for me, there was an unexpected copy of Casablanca. Bored almost to death after watching Indiscretion of an American Wife, I put Casablanca in on a whim. After one viewing, it fit a slot in my manic brain and has yet to leave.
Was it the well-crafted love story? Probably. Was it Humphrey Bogart's subtle appeal as the man with hardly enough feelings? Definitely. Was it Ingrid Bergman's power to cry real tears and don some of the most beautiful clothes I've never seen in real life? Absolutely. But there is also something indescribably attractive about Casablanca that I can't put my finger on -- though my infatuation with my dream life where I live in Los Angeles in 1945 probably has something to do with it.
Each time I watch this film, I find another facet of it to fawn over. After reading that Dooley Wilson's vocal parts were almost dubbed over, I sat down and watched it again, just to focus on his voice (which is perfect for every song -- "Knock On Wood" is my favorite -- and I can't imagine what the film would be without it).
Then I read that Casablanca was just one of dozens of movies made that year as part of the Warner Brothers' studio system. It was nothing special, just another movie-lot fabrication. But everything about it is flawless -- from the set, to the lighting, to the neon "Rick's Café Américain" sign outside the fictitious club filled with a supporting cast of characters who all feel important to the bigger story.
I'm not a film critic, because I clearly don't know shit about movies. But if you haven't seen Casablanca, don't wait. It might not resonate with you in the same way it has for me, but it is worth at least one viewing. Or in my case, 26 viewings and counting.
Casablanca screens at Movie and a Martini night, Thursday, February 14, at 7 p.m. at the Wildlife Experience Museum, 10035 South Peoria Street in Parker. Tickets for the 21+ program are $15 to $25. For more information on the showing or to purchase tickets in advance,visit the museum's website or call 720-488-3300.