12 August 2003

Went to the sixtieth anniversary screening of Casablanca last night, which was just perfect: the best movie in the world with, as Haiwen would note, the best girl in the world.

During the discussion before the movie, the panelists repeated the old chestnut that no one believed, during the filming of Casablanca, that they were making anything special. I don't buy that. There's one shot in particular that argues otherwise: that long, lingering shot of Ingrid Berman's face as she listens for the first time to "As Time Goes By." That shot, arguably the greatest closeup in movie history, must last for almost half a minute, and there's nothing onscreen but the music and Bergman's beauty. If the director didn't know that he was making something very, very good, and that he could depend upon that song and this extraordinary woman to carry the moment, he would have cut away or livened up the scene somehow. That extended, melancholy, introspective closeup implies a supreme confidence in the materials at hand, and it's the precise moment when Casablanca passes from superior melodrama to become the best Hollywood movie ever made.

No comments: