Tag Archives: casablanca

2001 Smeslov meeting

It sounded like a great idea. ”We’re having a movie party. Not whole movies, just scenes. Bring a few DVDs over and we’ll fast-forward to your favorite scenes.”

You can learn a lot about people from what they choose. We watched everything from Steve Martin singing about pain and dentistry to Max von Sydow playing chess with death. BERGMAN BOGART

There are a lot of familiar scenes. They are almost the soundtrack to American lives: ”It doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”

Or, ”I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody. Instead of a bum, which is what I am.”

But two scenes had the profoundest effect on me. Totally opposite in effect and both brilliant. And seeing them together made an important point about movies, art and life. brando back seat

In The Third Man (1949), Orson Welles has been selling tainted penicillin on the black market in postwar Vienna. As a fugitive, he meets his American friend Joseph Cotten in an amusement park. As they ride the huge Ferris wheel above the city, Cotten asks disgustedly, ”Have you ever seen any of your victims?” third man welles

”Victims? You’re being melodramatic,” Welles replies. They look down at the antlike people below them on the ground. ”Tell me, would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you 20,000 Pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money? Or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spend? Free of income tax.”

When they descend to earth, Welles rationalizes, with a con man’s glint in his eyes: ”After all, it’s not that awful. You know what the fellow says: ‘In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed. But they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, 500 years of democracy and peace and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.’ ”

It is a wonderful scene. Visually, it is stunning, with the city turned into a stark black-and-white toy below them. Verbally, it is stark, pithy writing.

But no one speaks that persuasively in real life. Writers do that; they have the time to. All those witty retorts that come to you as you descend the stairs are used by the writer as if they occurred during the conversation.

But in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), there is an odd intrusion of real life, clabbering in its banality. 2001 council room

Government bureaucrat Dr. Heywood Floyd visits the moon to speak to other bureaucrats. He is introduced: ”I know you’ll all want to join with me in welcoming our distinguished friend and colleague from the National Council of Astronautics, Dr. Heywood Floyd. Now, Dr. Floyd has come up specially to Clavius to be with us today, and before the briefing, I know he would like to have a few words with you. Dr Floyd?”

The words are flat and empty.

”Thank you, Dr. Halvorsen. Hi, everybody. Nice to be back with you. Well . . . first of all, I bring a personal message from Dr. Howell. . .” And he continues with this palaver for some minutes, ending with, ”The purpose of my visit here is to gather additional facts and opinions on the situation and to prepare a report to council recommending when and how the news should eventually be announced.”

John Kerry could have said those words. There are a few forced laughs, a lot of awkward silences and polite applause at the end of the speech, as if Floyd had said something worth hearing.

It is a scene that most people snooze through, just as the bureaucrats would in real life. But it and all the ”intense inane” of the first three-quarters of the film set up the splendor of the final psychedelic trip with its light show and surrealism.

It took guts on the part of Kubrick to play up that banality, to insert real life into an art form normally spruced up for its audience with witty rejoinders and double entendres.

And great art to be so artless.

"The Road To Utopia" Film Still

Bing Crosby: If you kill me, how are you going get the bird? And if I know you can’t afford to kill me, how are you going to scare me into giving it to you?

Bob Hope: Well, sir, there are other means of persuasion besides killing and threatening to kill.

Crosby: Yes, that’s … That’s true. But, there’re none of them any good unless the threat of death is behind them. You see what I mean? If you start something, I’ll make it a matter of your having to kill me or call it off.

Hope: That’s an attitude, sir, that calls for the most delicate judgment on both sides. Because, as you know, sir, in the heat of action men are likely to forget where their best interests lie and let their emotions carry them away.

Crosby: Then the trick from my angle is to make my play strong enough to tie you up, but not make you mad enough to bump me off against your better judgment.

Hope: By gad, sir, you are a character.

Crosby: Buh, buh, buh, boooo.

Read those lines and in your head, hear them in the familiar voices of Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, and instead of a detective story, you are on the road in a comedy. “Road to Malta”? Dorothy Lamour as Brigid O’Shaughnessy?

This is a new game you can play, entirely in your head and using your auditory imagination. My brother explained it to me last week, saying he sometimes has trouble going to sleep at night, and instead of counting sheep, he recasts classic films in his mind. It’s a neat idea, and needn’t serve solely as a soporific for the insomniac — any more than the Goldberg Variations.

There are two contending variants of this game. The first, like above, is to cast wildly inappropriate actors. Imagine these famous lines spoken by Tony Randall:

“You don’t understand! I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I could’ve been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am.”

Perhaps he was talking to Oscar Madison when he speaks those lines.

“Okay, you know you don’t have act with me, Steve. You don’t have to say anything, and you don’t have to do anything. Not with me. Oh, maybe just whistle. You remember how to whistle, don’t you? Just put your lips together … and blow.”

I am imagining that spoken by Lily Tomlin’s bag lady character.

gielgudIt can go the other way round, too. In Slingblade, the main character begins: “I reckon what you guys want to know is what I’m a-doing in here. I reckon the reason I’m in here is ’cause I’ve killed somebody. But I reckon what you guys are wantin’ to know is how come I killed somebody, so I reckon I’ll start at the front and tell you.”

Now imagine that said, not by Billy Bob Thornton, but in the round, dulcet, veddy British tones of Sir John Gielgud.

The second variant isn’t about finding the absurd, but considering what could have been real casting choices. Imagine, say, George Raft saying “You dirty rat,” or James Cagney saying, “You’re going out a youngster, but you’ve got to come back a star!”jack

Or imagine Jack Nicholson saying, “I know what you’re thinking. Did he fire six shots or only five? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I’ve kinda lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya punk?”

Nicholson has such a distinctive voice, it’s possible to imagine quite easily the sound of him saying, “A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chi-an-ti.” No, it wouldn’t be better than Anthony Hopkins, but you can hear it in Nicholson’s voice, can’t you.

You can recast whole movies in your head. Imagine Casablanca, like an the earlier versions of The Maltese Falcon, with Ricardo Cortez as Rick, Bette Davis as Ilsa, and the cast filled out with Pat O’Brien as Victor Laszlo (almost anyone would be less wooden than Paul Henreid), Eric Blore as Captain Renault, Sig Ruman as Major Strasser and Arnold Stang as Ugarte. I really don’t think we want to see Mantan Moreland as Sam. blore

The varieties are endless. Drift off to sleep one night considering Charlie Sheen saying, “I know everything hasn’t been quite right with me … but I can assure you now … very confidently … that it’s going to be all right again. I feel much better now. I really do. Look, Dave … I can see you’re really upset about this … I honestly think you should sit down calmly … take a stress pill and think things over … Dave … stop. Stop, will you? Stop, Dave. Will you stop, Dave? Stop, Dave. I’m afraid. I’m afraid, Dave ……  Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going.”

Or imagine Leslie Nielsen in Airplane! saying, “Sometime when the team is up against it, and the breaks are beating the boys, tell ’em to go out there with all they got and win just one for the Gipper. I don’t know where I’ll be then, Rock, he said, but I’ll know about it and I’ll be happy.”

Oh wait, he’s already done it. And he didn’t smell too good.