It embarrasses me to say this, but my film knowledge is deeply entrenched in contemporary films. I have made an effort to work my way back to the films that gave birth to modern filmmaking, but I’m hesitant to do so. Obviously, I don’t have disdain for old school filmmaking. Demonstrating this are various film classics that litter my list of favorite films. With that being said, it certainly takes an extra mental effort from myself to watch the likes of All Quiet on the Western Front. What hinders me from exploring “the essentials” is a white noise of sorts in the audio of older films. Yes, that may sound weird, but there’s an inoculating static fuzz undermining dialogue, sound effects and silence. What’s that Orson Welles? Rosebud was a sled? Sorry, I was too busy drifting off to even notice or care. My issue has nothing to do with storytelling or style. It lies solely on the auditory shortcomings of older films. But compounding the issue is the fact that older films can only be reached from the comfort of our own homes. While in my cave of comfort, I can sprawl out and fade away. Now, if you can get me in a theater to watch a classic film, then I can’t possibly fall asleep. Despite the lights being off, I become engaged in what’s happening on the screen. Helping matters are seats that aren’t prone to fits of comfort.
Considering a theater’s need to satisfy the mainstream, older films are left tucked under a crawl space, likely never projected again. Only the invested and niche friendly theaters will dust it off and play it sporadically. Otherwise, the film lives on through the use of players and recollection. Thus, my chances of ever seeing a timeless film in a theater are nonexistent. That is until a film reaches an age of great significance. Such an example would be Turner Classic Movies (TCM), with Fathom Events, showing Casablanca in theaters for one night only. That night was last night, as Casablanca played on various screens across America. Why last night? TCM was celebrating Casablanca’s theatrical release 70 years ago. Fortunately, I had the privilege to partake in this celebration, and I enjoyed it immensely. Yet, my enjoyment in the film and its tremendous presence isn’t what left me walking away satisfied. What made me humbled was the fact that an enormous amount of people came out to see the film. Mind you, much of the crowd consisted of baby boomers and generation x’ers, but mixed in was a handful of teenagers and early twenty types. Here, for this one film released 70 years ago, sits a collection of people who vary drastically. They aren’t connected to one another outside of this moment of discovery and reflection.
Undoubtedly, a few of the attendees were seeing the film for the first time, while others were reliving a film that had touched them in a way that a fleeting life couldn’t disrupt. Everyone in attendance seemingly enjoyed the experience that played out in front of them. For me, it just demonstrated the strength of a great film. Not only can it stand the test of time, but it can arouse a variety of people in a multitude of ways. Now, I had never seen Casablanca before last night. Clearly such a notion is a travesty, but Casablanca has penetrated popular culture to the point that I already knew much of its famous dialogue. Despite seeing a few clips here and there, I inherently said the fantastic quips well before they slipped off Bogey’s lips. The film is so powerful and pervasive that it burrowed in my mind long before I ever saw it, and from that, I instantaneously had a connection to it. My connection with Casablanca is a similar connection that I have, and I’m sure most people have, with “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen. The lyrics, the sound and the vibe of the song permeate throughout the course of time to the point that, even if we haven’t indulged in the ways of Queen as a whole, we can sing every lyric without hesitation. It’s as if we’ve had the song, or film in the case of Casablanca, wired into our DNA upon birth.
Experiencing Casablanca in a theater, for the first time no less, cemented the film’s already perceived greatness in my mind. After being around and heralded for 70 years, the film will surely exist on a plane of greatness for another 70; lasting long after we are graciously donated back to the Earth. Whether they’re in black and white or only decipherable through subtitles, great films extend infinitely on the timeline of life. Sure, some people will have to work hard to get a glance at a classic like Casablanca, but it will continuously live on through us, no matter where its reels reside. Maybe it’s the romantic in me, but we can take solace in the fact that something we love will infect people years later. Not only does a passion of ours live on forever, but a piece of us transcends time along with it.