March 02, 2015

#4 – Destiny’s Dice

In this ten-part series I study the screenplay of ‘Casablanca’ by breaking it down to its several aspects. Click here and read from down upward for the entire series.


“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”
Story Covered in Part 4: Laszlo has a secretive chat with Berger who informs him about Ugarte’s arrest and assures him of helping him in every way. He invites him for an underground meeting the next night. Ilsa, momentarily alone, strikes a conversation with Sam, asking about Rick, and he evades her questions. Finally, she persuades him to play “As Time Goes By” that causes Rick to storm out to them. And he sees her! They have an awkward conversation in the presence of Laszlo and Renault, before Laszlo calls it a day. Ilsa leaves with him, lying to Laszlo that she does not know Rick very well. Now alone, Rick drinks at the café, waiting for Ilsa to come back. He is miserable and Sam fails to convince him to avoid her.

Step Outline:
  • Pg 40-42: Laszlo’s secretive conversation with Berger
  • Pg 43-44: Ilsa talks to Sam. Rick comes out and freezes on seeing Ilsa.
  • Pg 45-48: Ilsa and Rick have an awkward conversation in the presence of Laszlo and Renault.
  • Pg 49-51: Rick drinks and Sam tries to dissuade him.
Structure: The play-like conversational nature of the script continues. But the Inciting Incident of the Central Plot, on page 44, is a very dramatic moment, built up very well, very intelligently. And then before much could be revealed, Ilsa leaves with Laszlo. Destiny has played a cruel move on Rick and he is miserable. Now we know what this film is actually going to be about. The set-up ends here. The writer has used 35 per cent of the film to bring the Inciting Incident. And immediately after that, around the end of 40 per cent, Act I ends. This is very unusual structure.

The Character arc:
  • Rick: All that we knew of him changes in a moment with Ilsa’s return. Not only is he bitter and self-destructive, but also very vulnerable and obstinate when it comes to love. I also love how he makes veiled attacks on Ilsa and Laszlo. To Laszlo he says “We all try. You succeed.” This definitely alludes to his relationship with Ilsa, under the garb of a statement on the political struggle.
  • Ilsa: It is obvious that it was she who spoiled whatever relation Rick and she had in the past, but she does not come across as a heartless woman. We badly want to know about their past.
  • Sam: He has developed into an important character. He and Rick came to Casablanca together and he is the only person apart from the two lovers who knows everything about them. He is also very protective of Rick and harbors bitterness for Ilsa. Otherwise, there was no need for him to mention to her that Rick has “a girl up at the Blue Parrot.” Also, we love the way he talks: “Ain’t you planning on going to bed in the near future?”
  • Laszlo: Not much change, but his sense of humor continues to impress us: “In a concentration camp, one is apt to lose a little weight.”
Sub-plots: The information that Ugarte has been arrested has caused unexpected problem for Laszlo. He will now have to rely on others for his escape. Berger invites him for their underground meeting the next night.

Tools Employed:
  • Make sure the audience relates with your protagonist: Until now, we were admiring Rick. We were charmed by him. But now, suddenly, we relate with him. He is no more a dashing debonair we praise from a distance. He is like one of us – vulnerable, weak, stubborn, and has suffered heartbreak. And like real life, he is ruing destiny’s cruel move on him.
  • Use character motivation over chance encounter: Ilsa makes Sam play her favourite song after much reluctance. Rick comes out when he hears it, livid. And then they meet. A lesser writer would make them meet accidentally, creating a weak melodramatic moment. The way it has been done here is dramatic, almost unforgettable, because character motivations have been used to reach this point.
  • Reverse the expectation of the audience for small pay-offs: It has been forced on us that Rick never drinks with customers. But here, he does not refuse Laszlo’s offer. He even pays for the evening. This shift of character has been verbalized by Renault to smoothen it further. And all this gives us pleasure as audience.
  • Foreshadow: Rick believes that she will come back to him this night. This wonderfully raises expectations in us. So when she comes back (in the next part) it does not appear forced, manipulative writing because of this brief foreshadowing.
  • Delay the actual exposition: We have been teased by several tit-bits of information, but have not been exposed to the main back-story of the central plot. We are now dying to find out what had happened between them in the past.
  • Spoken Lines: I especially loved this line by Rick, who is now drunk and miserable – “Sam, if it’s December 1941 in Casablanca, what time is it in New York?” “Uh, my watch stopped” replies Sam. Rick adds – “I bet they’re asleep in New York. I’ll bet they’re asleep all over America.” Remember, America did not officially enter the war before December 1941!
  • Another beautiful instance of good dialogue is when, in front of Laszlo and Renault, Rick talks with Ilsa about the last day they met – “I remember every detail. The German wore gray, you wore blue.” And what is Ilsa’s reply to this wonderful mix of personal and political? “Yes. I put that dress away. When the Germans march out, I’ll wear it again.”
Conventions Broken:  As mentioned above, the structure of the film so far has been very unusual, with a much delayed set-up.

Themes: The use of the song “As Time Goes By” is very apt, adding themes of nostalgia and old romances. We have spent only one day in this city but know that the back-stories of the characters are dense. This song further enhances that feeling of witnessing a rich and layered story.

Standout scene: When Rick and Ilsa meet – the way that moment has been built up, as mentioned above, and how it does not give us too much after it is over. This moment is one of the best crafted moments in the history of romance on film.

What is the audience expecting: We want to know the back-story of Rick and Ilsa, especially because Sam is very protective of Rick. We also wonder if she will come back tonight to meet Rick in private.

February 17, 2015

#3: The Return

In this ten-part series I study the screenplay of ‘Casablanca’ by breaking it down to its several aspects. Click here and read from down upward for the entire series.

“Victor, I… I feel somehow we shouldn’t stay here.”

Story Covered in Part 3: Once Major Strasser arrives, Renault orchestrates the arrest of Ugarte. Rick cannot and does not save him. He then makes sure that normalcy resumes in the Café for the remaining patrons. Renault introduces Rick to Strasser who questions him about his past and his opinions. Rick smartly evades them all. Strasser explains why they are dying to arrest Laszlo. LASZLO arrives with ILSA, looking for Ugarte. It appears she knows Sam, the pianist. BERGER, a Norwegian approaches him but leaves once Renault and Strasser come to talk to him. They summon Laszlo to the police station next morning. Ilsa seems to be curious about Rick when Renault mentions him.

Step Outline:
  • Pg 27-30: Ugarte’s arrest
  • Pg 31-33: Rick’s conversation with Renault and Strasser
  • Pg 34-39: LASZLO and ILSA arrive and their interaction with Strasser and Renault.
Structure: Apart from the arrest of Ugarte, this entire segment plays out like a play, especially because we have been at Rick’s since pg 8. We wait until page 34 when Ilsa enters the film and we know soon that her past must be connected with Rick’s. The mystery, because the characters seem to know more than we do, is now the primary force holding our attention. More elaboration on Rick and Laszlo follows. But we need something really dramatic to happen soon as thirty per cent of the film is over and the setting-up is not finished yet.

The Character arc:
  • Rick: He is practical enough to not try to save Ugarte. He smartly evades Strasser’s questions which reveal to us that the Germans have been following him and his political neutrality may not be exactly true. Rick, however, insists that his business is “running a saloon”. He repeats two claims which will be proved wrong by the end: “I stick my neck out for nobody” and “My interest in whether Victor Laszlo stays or goes is purely a sporting one.”
  • Victor Laszlo: Strasser reveals and we understand that he is more powerful and difficult to capture than we had imagined. He also seems to be much respected among the resistance fighters as a Norwegian recognizes him instantly and secretly offers his service. Laszlo definitely is brave and has a strong presence of mind – his character seems to be in sync with his reputation.
  • Ilsa: As soon as this very beautiful lady enters, her exchange of glance with Sam creates intrigue and we assume she shares her past with Rick. We are now more interested in her than in Laszlo. She is intuitive because she quickly feels they should not be staying here. She appears to be loyal to and concerned for Laszlo. She also very gracefully handles the uninhibited flirting by Renault.
Sub-plots:
  • Ugarte is arrested. And this will affect Laszlo’s sub-plot.
  • Laszlo enters the film and is summoned by Strasser. So his sub-plot is kick-started. Also, the brief interaction with the Norwegian has seeded the secret meeting that Laszlo will be conducting the next night.
Tools Employed:
  • Create well-etched believable, relatable characters: The orchestration of characters is really inviting, and each one of them is crafted very well.
  • Use of conflict and rising tension: We realize that Ugarte’s arrest was only to create conflict for Laszlo and Ilsa and these are the people we, with Rick, are more interested in. So as the threat shifts to these two characters, our involvement grows.
  • Play with the expectation of the audience for small pay-offs: Ilsa could have spotted Rick as soon as she entered. But she spots Sam. This exchange creates expectations, and suspense. When they finally meet, it will give us a pay-off that would be non-existent if this expectation was not built.
  • Use visual and cinematic elements to keep long play-like scenes from getting boring: The INSERT of the ring that Berger shows to Laszlo is an image of cinema – cutting extreme close to something of immense value. Same goes with the exchange of glance between Ilsa and Sam. A silent moment and it conveys so much than a page of dialogue. In a play, such moments cannot be created so effortlessly. The arrest of Ugarte is also a much-needed action in this otherwise play-like staging.
  • Foreshadowing: When Rick leaves after the chat with Strasser, Renault remarks: “You see, Major, you have nothing to worry about Rick.” Strasser’s reply is “Perhaps.” This does two types of foreshadowing: one, Rick will becomes the cause of biggest worry in the Third Act; and two, Renault’s alliance with Rick is not totally out-of-character. He definitely has been favorable to him.
  • Use of conflicted dialogue: It has been so since the beginning. But especially through Rick’s and Laszlo’s conversation with the officers, the conflict of the film is expressed brilliantly through conflicted dialogue.
Conventions Broken:
  • Set-up the film quickly: We have reached page 39, but the Inciting Incident of the main plot is not here yet. In this part I feel, the delay starts showing up. But in this story, they could not have done it any other way. Hence, mystery and dialogue, and strong sense of foreboding are being used to keep us involved.
  • Avoid exposition through dialogue: It remains a major achievement of this script.
Themes:
  • Renault’s mention that “Rick is completely neutral about everything” almost officially seals his representation of the USA. But it is followed by, “And that takes in the field of the women, too” ironically forebodes the conflict of the personal and the political, which will become the main conflict of the film. Ilsa spots Sam as soon as she enters. And a little later, her conversation with Renault on Rick is interrupted by Strasser, the German. Both these instances further add to this particular theme.
  • Renault, while talking to Ilsa, says – “Rick is… He’s the kind of man that, well, if I were a woman and I were not around, I should be in love with Rick.” We may not go that far as to call this a hint at Renault being bisexual, this definitely shows that he as an unusual friendship with Rick. This “unusual friendship” is one of the major sub-plots of the film that will get resolved only in the last page, after the resolution of the main plot.
Standout scene: The conversation between Rick and Strasser, in the presence of Renault has great dialogue and smart exposition. The standout moment for me is when Rick reads about himself in Strasser’s book and wonders – “Are my eyes really brown?” What a masterful line to convey that the Germans know more about him than Rick himself. This one line makes the antagonist really strong.

What is the audience expecting: We know there is something between Rick and Ilsa. We want them to meet soon so that the political drama gets some strong personal touch, and becomes more involving.

February 06, 2015

#2: The Hero in his Cynical Shell

In this ten-part series I study the screenplay of ‘Casablanca’ by breaking it down to its several aspects. Click here and read from down upward for the entire series.

“My dear Rick, when will you realize that in this world today isolationism is no longer a practical policy?”

Story Covered in Part 2: UGARTE, a shady but smooth-talking smuggler comes to Rick. He discloses that he has managed to acquire a couple of letters of transit that he will be selling tonight for a huge price before leaving the city forever. He requests Rick to keep the letters safe with him for a while. Rick accepts that, but figures out that these letters are the documents retrieved from the murdered German couriers, which makes Ugarte their murderer. Rick then refuses FERRARI, the owner of the Blue Parrot, a competing night spot, who wants to buy this café or some of its staff and then makes YVONNE, a French girl he has been sleeping with but has grown out of lately, leave the café because she has had a lot to drink. Captain Renault, who seems to have known Rick forever, informs him that they will be arresting a murderer here tonight. And also, that Victor Laszlo, the famous resistance leader will be coming to the café tonight with a lady, trying to buy his exit visa. Rick bets that Laszlo will be able to successfully escape from Renault’s hand, the way he has been managing until now.

Step Outline:
  • Pg 13-15: Conversation between Rick and UGARTE who gives him the letters to hide. Rick hides those in the piano.
  • Pg 16-19: Rick refuses Ferrari’s offer. He makes the drunk and sulking YVONNE go home.
  • Pg 20-26: Renault informs Rick about the arrest he is going to make, about Strasser who is about to visit the café tonight and also about Victor Laszlo.
Structure: The story had entered Rick’s on page 8 and is still there. Plot-wise, two things have happened: Ugarte has given the letters to Rick to hide and Renault informs Rick about the imminent arrest and that Laszlo is about to come here tonight – so the news that started the film is driving these pages which been used to reveal the characters – mainly of Rick. Also, after his late entry, we have stayed with him throughout. There is also a song in this section, that helps in building mood.

The Character arc: The following characters are being or have been set-up until now:
  • Rick: All these pages have been used for his character revelation. We start admiring him very soon. But then, there are unanswered questions. Why and when did he come to Casablanca? Why doesn’t he return to America? What is his back-story? Why did he fight wars earlier when he is so neutral today? And finally, the irony: Renault too believes that under his cynical shell, Rick is at heart a sentimentalist.
  • Captain Renault: An unapologetic philanderer. Very corrupt. And is funny. He likes to do things in style and claims to be the master of his fate in Casablanca. But he is only trying to impress the Germans.
  • Ugarte: Very shrewd, this guy, a real opportunist, a “cut-rate” parasite. Everyone despises him. “I have many friends in Casablanca” must be a lie. And hence Rick is the only one he can trust.
  • Victor Laszlo: A famous Resistance leader who has managed to escape from the Nazis. He is rich, or at least has a lot of money to afford exit visas. And he is serious about the lady who is travelling with him. He will not leave her behind and escape alone. The beauty of this segment is that we know so much about him and he is yet to enter the film.
Sub-plots:
  • The friendship between Rick and Renault is introduced here. Although we never know that this will get so significant, the last sub-plot to close the film.
  • Laszlo is mentioned and hence his sub-plot begins, especially because it is connected with Ugarte.
  • Ugarte is here and is about to get arrested.
  • Ferrari’s interest in Rick’s Café. He will earn it by the end.
  • Rick and Yvonne have had a fling but now he does not care about her. She is sore, despite all the attention from Sacha.
Tools Employed:
  • Create a likeable three-dimensional protagonist: Rick has a great dry sense of humor. He talks sharply and deliciously. He appears to be fearless and has strong sense of values but projects himself to be selfish and indifferent to politics and feelings. He is also smart, calm and practical. His staff is loyal to him. A shrewd guy like Ugarte trusts him – this shows that he is non-judgmental. But he is majorly flawed – treats women badly.
  • Solid back-stories: Of the main plot, through Rick’s character. But also of the sub-plot of Ugarte. He and Laszlo were supposed to meet on this night for the letters of transit. This entire scheme of things is not very clear in the first reading. But it is very clear in the head of the writer.
  • Always break long sitting-down conversational scenes to short visually rich ones: The more than seven-pages long conversation between Rick and Renault is broken when EMIL, the croupier, comes to Rick for cash. The conversation is thus covered over three locations, each visually and aurally distinct from one another.
  • Ironical Foreshadowing: Rick makes a statement – “Whatever gave you the impression that I might be interested in helping Laszlo escape?” This is exactly what he will do in the end.
  • Spoken Lines: Even a character like Ugarte who has one conversational scene in the film is made memorable by the dialogues used for his character revelation. We also get detailed insights like that of Sacha’s interest in Yvonne, through crisp dialogue. With a short line like “What, again?” it is expresses that arrests happen at this bar more often than not.
Conventions Broken:
  • Set-up the film quickly: We have reached page 26, but the Inciting Incident of the main plot is not here yet.
  • Avoid expository dialogue: Interesting characters and delicious lines have made sure that we are eager to take in every bit of information. This brilliant exposition through dialogue is one of the biggest achievements of this script.
Themes:
  • Ferrari mentions Rick’s isolationism. Rick also asserts that he sticks his neck out for nobody. This has been his character’s primary trait after the heartbreak eighteen months ago. But it also is a comment on America’s neutral political stand in the ongoing war.
  • The revolving beacon light from the airport adds to the image system of this city as a prison.
  • The plane to Lisbon is shown again as a symbol of hope and freedom.
  • The hollow assertion by Renault that he is the master of his fate, only to be interrupted by the entry of the German Major, highlights the corrupt hollowness of Vichy.
  • Another mention of Tonelli who is trying to assert his importance is a repeat of the political stand on Italy.
Standout scene: The long conversation between Rick and Renault is a brilliant expository scene, shedding light on the characters and the situation. Smart writing ensures that it is not a boring sitting-down scene.

What is the audience expecting: The arrest of Ugarte is imminent. And we are waiting for Laszlo. But we are very curious about Rick, to know more about him, and see what he does.

January 28, 2015

Oscars 2015: The Regulars


We are all aware of Meryl Streep's record 19th nomination at the Oscars this time. Clint Eastwood's nomination as the producer of 'American Sniper' is his eleventh in different categories. But are you aware of several multiple-times nominees who have worked behind the camera and have become legends in their own right? This post will introduce you to eight such Oscar regulars, all with more than seven nominations until now in their careers.


Eight Nominations:
  • Alexander Desplat (Composer): With eight nominations in nine years, this music composer is definitely one of the regulars at the awards, but hasn't won any. This time he is nominated for two films: The Imitation Game, and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Probability-wise he has good chances, but he has tough contender in first-time nominee Johann Johannsson who has scored for 'The Theory of Everything'.
  • Gregg Landaker (Sound Mixer): He won his first Oscar in 1981 for 'Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back'. The very next year he won for 'Raiders of the Lost Ark'. Doesn't he sound like a true legend? In 1995, he won again for 'Speed'. This year, he is nominated for 'Interstellar' and we must say he's got a very good chance of winning his fourth trophy!

Nine Nominations:
  • Hanz Zimmer (Composer): More well known than others in this list, he was nominated for the first time in 1989, for 'Rain Man'. He converted his second to a win with 'The Lion King' in 1995. Since then he has earned seven more nominations but no more win. Will 'Interstellar' end his wait of twenty years?
  • Diane Warren (Songwriter): A Grammy-winner, for the song "Because you loved me" from the movie 'Up Close & Personal' (1996), she was nominated consecutively for four years between 1997-2000. And then again in 2002. After thirteen years, this time she is nominated for the song "Grateful" from 'Beyond the Lights' and would be hoping to finally win her first Oscar.
  • Joe Letteri (VFX Artist): He has won four times already! For 'The Lord of the Rings - 2 & 3', 'King Kong' and 'Avatar' and gets nominated almost every year. This time he will be hoping for his fifth Oscar for 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes'. I wonder if Oscar would still be exciting for him after all these years! 
  • Milena Canonero (Costume Designer): Her first nomination and win was for 'Barry Lyndon' in 1976. She was thirty then. Her filmography includes 'A Clockwork Orange', 'The Shining', 'Chariots of Fire', 'Out of Africa', and 'The Godfather III'. Talk about legends! Nominated after eight years for 'The Grand Budapest Hotel', she might just win her fourth Oscar.

Eleven Nominations:
  • Colleen Atwood (Costume Designer): She worked on 'Edward Scissorhands', 'The Silence of the Lambs', and 'Philadelphia' before earning her first nomination in 1995 for 'Little Women'. since then, she manages to get nominated almost every alternate year and has won thrice for 'Chicago', Memoirs of a Geisha' and 'Alice in Wonderland'. This year, she is nominated for 'Into the Woods'.

Twelve Nominations:
  • Roger Deakins (Cinematographer): Twelfth nomination, and still waiting for a win! The 65-year old legend has shot almost all Coen brothers' films. And there is more - 'The Shawshank Redemption', Martin Scorsese's 'Kundun', 'A Beautiful Mind', 'The Reader', 'Revolutionary Road' and 'Skyfall'. Will he finally win his first Oscar for Angelina Jolie's 'Unbroken'?

January 26, 2015

#1: A Bottleneck Called Casablanca

In this ten-part series I study the screenplay of ‘Casablanca’ by breaking it down to its several aspects. Click here and read from down upward for the entire series.


“I have already heard about this café, and also about Mr. Rick himself.”

Story Covered in Part 1: December 1941. The Second World War has forced thousands of Europeans to try to escape to the Americas. In the hope to find their exit through Lisbon, many are waiting, some endlessly, in the Moroccan city of Casablanca, still a part of unoccupied France. There are people from different countries, of varied age-groups, and of varied morality and intent. On the first day of our story, the local police get the news of the murder of two German couriers carrying important documents on the train to Casablanca. As a reaction to this, they start rounding up refugees, suspects or otherwise. CAPTAIN RENAULT, the French Police Prefect, informs the just-arrived German officer, MAJOR STRASSER, that they know who the murderer is and will be arresting him tonight at Rick’s Café. Rick’s is an expensive and popular nightclub where everyone goes – from the German soldiers to the French policemen and to the refugees dealing with black-marketers, to find means to survive and, if luck strikes, escape. The owner of this club is an American, RICK, aloof and nonchalant. And he hates Germans.

Step Outline:
  • Pg 1: A Narrator’s VO introduces the setting, followed by the first view of the city.
  • Pg 2-5: The police get to know about the murder of the German couriers and immediately get into action, arresting suspects of all kinds, even firing at them if need be. A EUROPEAN GUY smooth-talks an elderly Englishman, who is watching the pandemonium, and picks his pocket. The young Bulgarian couple, JAN and ANNINA BRANDEL, are among the refugees who hope to leave the city soon, as they spot an airplane in the sky. The plane swoops down a sign atop the building at the edge of the airport. That building is “Rick’s Café Americain”.
  • Pg 6-7: MAJOR STRASSER, the German Officer, alights from the plane and is welcomed by CAPTAIN RENAULT, the French Police Prefect. He assures the Major that they already know who the murder is and they will arrest him tonight at Rick’s. The Major has heard about this café, and its owner.
  • Pg 8-12: It is night. And Rick’s is overcrowded with people of all kind. Through their brief and secretive conversations we get to know that some have been waiting in this city endlessly. Others are trying to sell their belongings cheaply in order to survive. There are conspirators. And refugees illegally buying their visas from black-marketers. Even the staff is varied. The African-American SAM plays the piano, SACHA is the Russian bartender, CARL is a waiter from Germany, and ABDUL is the guard. RICK, the American owner, and our protagonist, never drinks with customers. He drinks alone, and does not allow Germans into the secret gambling room of his. As Rick throws a German out, who threatens him back, a nervous, thin man UGARTE enters.
Structure: The setting-up is very elaborate, and reading the first few pages is unsettling, with so many characters, much more than those I’ve mentioned in the Step Outline above. But taking time to do this is essential – we must know how it is in Casablanca. Also, watching these short scenes on the screen is not tiring at all, but cinematic. The protagonist enters very late, on pg 11, but on pg 8, the antagonist has mentioned him. Also, his café has been introduced even earlier.

The Character arc: We have just seen Rick. And we are aware that he is going to be a strong cinematic character.

Sub-plots:
  • The murder of the couriers has started the search of the murderer.
  • The Bulgarian couple is introduced as desperate refugees who aspire to leave urgently.
Tools Employed:
  • Opening Voice-over: Very briefly and very effectively it introduces the city and the title of the film.
  • Action kicks in quickly: With the news of the murders on the train and the subsequent arrests
  • Visual storytelling: Introducing Casablanca and Rick’s is definitely visual, especially with people from different ethnicity and cultures. At the beginning of pg 6, the first look at the café sign when the plane is landing is masterful, because not only it is a great introduction to the Café and its location, it is also a smart transition to the next scene of Strasser alighting from the plane.
  • Orchestration of characters: All with speaking parts are unique and colorful.
  • The spoken lines are already very charming, witty, and entertaining.
Conventions Broken:
  • The Protagonist should enter the film very early: Rick enters very late. But the pages before this have built him up, and his café. So although, he becomes visible on pg 11, he has “entered” the film much before that.
  • The Inciting Incident should be early so that the main plot gets kicked in as soon as the film begins: The writer is relying only on sub-plots to hold our interest.
Themes:
  • The Image of the airplane on pg 5 is a symbol of hope and freedom. This plane will be playing a very important role in the climax.
  • Casablanca is like a prison. Refugees look wistfully at the plane, and later at Rick’s, secretly plan their escape or worry about their endless wait.
  • Rick’s Café is like USA itself, with representatives from all over the world, having a good time, finding hope, making money, and its owner – a snobbish capitalist.
  • Similarly, Renault represents Vichy, the puppet government of unoccupied France.
  • Major Strasser, the Nazi, has just reached Casablanca, implying the German expansion to new territories.
  • Also, Captain Tonelli, the Italian has been used on page 7 as an ass-licker to Major Strasser – clearly a political statement on Italy’s sucking up to Germany.
Standout scene: The scene leading to Rick’s entrance in which Carl informs some guests how it is not easy to impress Rick and he never drinks with customers. And then we see him, sitting alone, drinking, calm and composed, and stylish.

What is the audience expecting now: We are expecting the arrest of the murderer at the Café and are curious to know who he is. And we know Rick is going to be our hero. How, we do not know at all.

January 25, 2015

Studying the Finest Screenplay Ever Written

Ever since I watched the character of Robert McKee (played by Brian Cox) in the Spike Jonze film ‘Adaptation’ (2002) claim that Casablanca is "the finest screenplay ever written", I wanted to read the screenplay of this 1942 classic. I finally managed to do that in the third week of January. And it has inspired me to indulge in a detailed study of the script. I am very sure this is going to be an immensely fruitful exercise for me. If you have not watched the movie, I strongly recommend you to do so. And if you have, I hope this series will be enjoyable for you. For making the best use of this, you should read the screenplay by clicking here.

The method I have used to study this script is an adaptation of what Scott Myers suggests on his wonderful blog. I am thankful to him for this. And then I have modified it to suit my approach. I have broken the 126-page script into ten parts, each roughly 11 to 14 pages in duration. So my study of the script will be shared on this blog in ten different parts. I must also be thankful to Robert McKee whose observations on the film, in his book ‘Story’, have given me tremendous insight into it.

While discussing the events of every part, all major plot points will be marked in bold and all characters who are appearing for the first time in the film will be mentioned in CAPITALS. For the sake of this series, I am not taking ‘scene’ in its technical, literal sense. There are long sequences in one scene that I have broken down to different scenes in the Step Outline. On the other hand, there are short scenes that actually form one major scene – so I have clubbed them together.

A brief note on the historical backdrop of the film: The film is set over three days in Casablanca, Morocco, during the Second World War, December 1941 to be precise. The Third Reich (Led by the Nazi Germany, and supported by Italy and Japan) have occupied several parts of Europe, including the forced surrender of France eighteen months ago (setting of the back-story of the romantic pair of Rick and Ilsa). The unoccupied France, of which Morocco is a colony, is under the rule of Vichy, the French puppet government controlled by the Nazis. Several European refugees and Americans want to run away to the US through Lisbon in Portugal. But it is tough to reach Lisbon directly through Europe. Hence several of them reach Oran, which is the port city of France-occupied Algeria on the Mediterranean Sea and then travel to Casablanca and wait to find exit visas to Lisbon which is across the Atlantic from Casablanca, and not very far. Today, it takes 80 minutes to fly between these two cities. So, this film, set in Casablanca, brings to us characters from different parts of the world, of different allegiances and political affiliations.

I'm looking forward to your reaction to this series of posts!

January 19, 2015

Oscars 2015: Doubling the Cannon

Three days ago, I wrote a blog post on the top ten movies you must watch in order to make sense of the Academy Award ceremony on the 22nd of February. That list of ten movies is, of course, not representative of all awards and nominations. So here I follow up with this short post on ten more movies that you should watch after the first ten.
  • Gone Girl (Nominated for Best Actress) David Fincher definitely deserves much more than how the Academy has recongnized his filmography. And he is such an exciting film-maker that you can expect him to be back with a solid vengeance. In my opinion, 'Gone Girl' definitely deserved Best Picture and Screenplay nominations. But not it's down to Rosamund Pike to represent this movie. She has won multiple awards for her performance, but the fight for the Oscar is tough. Let us see what happens!
  • Guardians of the Galaxy (Nominated for VFX and Makeup & Hairstyling) At the box office, this film is unmatched by all other 19 films I have mentioned under this series. It might give a fight to 'Interstellar' for the VFX trophy.
  • Ida (Nominated for Best Foreign-language film and Cinematography) Despite its great performance at festivals and indie box-office, 'Ida' might most likely lose the Foreign-language trophy to 'Leviathan'. Watch this film anyway. Because it will most like not win the cinematography prize. And you will have better perspective about whoever wins it once you have watched this one because its cinematography is stunning! Read this post I wrote about its compositions a few weeks ago.
  • Inherent Vice (Nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Costume Design) The biggest reason to watch this film is its writer-director, Paul Thomas Anderson, who has earned his sixth nomination with this film. However, it seems he'll have to wait for his first win.
  • Into the Woods (Nominated for Best Supporting Actress, Production Design and Costume Design) Meryl Streep has been nominated for a record 19th time, more than any other actor or actress. However, it can be safely assumed that she won't have her fourth win this time. The film is directed by 'Chicago' director Rob Marshall.
  • Leviathan (Nominated for Best Foreign-language film) This Russian film had won the Screenplay award at Cannes. After the Foreign-language win at Golden Globes, its chances for the Oscar are really high and the only real competition seems to be in 'Ida'. This is the fourth film by director Andrey Zvyagintsev, who has debuted with the brilliant 'The Return' in 2003.
  • Selma (Nominated for Best Picture and Original Song) Despite being nominated for Best Picture, 'Selma' has not earned a single major nomination. This has happened for the first time in decades. However, it's very likely that it will bag the Original Song award.
  • Still Alice (Nominated for Best Actress) Julianne Moore definitely has a great chance of taking home the award in her fifth nomination, third for Best Actress. Also, she has been nominated after 12 years. So it must feel good.
  • Unbroken (Nominated for Best Cinematography, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing) Angelina Jolie's second film as a director, on a screenplay by the Coen Brothers! But perhaps the biggest reason to watch it is for its legendary Cinematographer, Roger Deakins, who has shot several films by the Coens, apart from 'The Shawshank Redemption', 'Kundun', 'The Reader', 'Skyfall' and 'Prisoners'. This is his 12th nomination without a win. I feel like rooting for him just for this reason alone.
  • Wild (Nominated for Best Actress and Supporting Actress) Will Reese Witherspoon throw up a surprise and grab her second Oscar? Chances are much less for Laura Dern whose nomination, first in 23 years, has surprised many. I want to watch this film for its director, Jean-Marc Vallee, whose 'Dallas Buyers Club' had pleased me a lot last year.