the view from row q - summer classics kickoff

last night was the night i have been waiting for since last september - the kickoff of the paramount theatre's summer classics series!

the joint was packed for a great evening of classic film hosted by paramount film programmer jesse trussell with special guest peter bogdanovich. the traditional season opener, casablanca (1942), was paired with bogdanovich's own selection for the evening, bogart and bacall's first effort together, to have and have not (1944). prior to the screening, bogdanovich gave a little background on the production of casablanca, just to set the tone for the evening, and came back before the second feature to do an extended q & a with the audience. he held forth on matters ranging from michael curtiz' ruthlessness to the benefits of the golden age studio system versus what we have now to a lesson jimmy stewart taught him about the magic of the movies and how cinema provides the gift of little suspended moments of time that last entire lifetimes. he explained how casablanca was a picture blessed by one fortunate accident after another, made flying by the seat of everyone's pants, filming even as the ending wasn't written. when someone from the audience asked how something like that would get made today, it provided bogdanovich an opportunity to drop my favorite quote of the evening. the studio system was a different animal, he explained, and "what we have now is chaos. and a lot of shitty pictures." amen, pal. things then segued into an interesting discussion of how films aren't written for adults anymore and how what were the B pictures of the golden age have become the A pictures of today. add to this mix a number of his trademark impersonations of hollywood royalty and his pledge to finish orson welles' the other side of the wind just so wes anderson can't touch it and you have the makings of a damn fine evening.

and we haven't even gotten to the films yet.

i am now convinced that the law of diminishing returns simply does not apply to casablanca. i have seen this film so many times now that i have lost count and yet it never loses a fraction of its power to entertain and inspire. it has to be one of the greatest examples of cinematic alchemy in the past century. to have and have not, while not considered the cinematic milestone that casablanca is, has the benefit of incendiary chemistry between bogart and bacall, in addition to sharing a number of familiar faces and themes with it - far-flung and exotic locale, oppressive regime providing the foil for romantic revolutionaries, apolitical bogart having his hand forced by cupid's fickle arrow. both are a grand testament to the craftsmanship of old hollywood. one of the great things about seeing these films a number of times is, through the comfort of familiarity, you can take time to examine elements you might not have paid as much attention to the first (or tenth) time around and last night i found myself doing just that. and you know what i found? i love these guys:

dooley wilson and hoagy carmichael are the unsung heroes of these films. try to imagine these movies without the music. it's impossible. wilson is especially crucial. "as time goes by" is more than just a musical number. it is integral, the melodic representation of the film's complicated emotional core, and wilson cares for bogart's character just as much, if not more, than bergman's, in his own way. when you mull over all that these characters have been through together over the years, offscreen, you are left with no doubt that there are times that rick would have been just as lost without sam as without ilsa. without sam, rick might still be standing on that train platform like a sap to this day. carmichael isn't given as much to do as wilson, but he still evinces a similar easy charm and earned weariness. these characters have seen it all in their respective paths to the other side of the world and yet they remain the salt of the earth, low-key guys that you can always count on when the chips are down. there may be no other character archetype i have a reverence for more than that one. and to think, wilson almost lost his role in casablanca to ella fitzgerald. that would have robbed us of this jam, among other fine moments, and the cinematic world would be less for it.

the summer fun has just started. click the link at the top of the article to see the rest of the schedule and take advantage of these films the way they were meant to be seen - on the big screen. casablanca shows twice more this weekend in a double feature with sabrina (1954). i highly recommend it.

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