Monday, April 30, 2012

For the Love of Dodo: Obama's Political Allies & The Pirates! Band Of Misfits!

The Pirate Captain has to get an enormous sum of money so he can win the Pirate of the Year award; this is the whole plot of the film. Without doubt, The Pirates! Band Of Misfits presents us with President Obama's tenure as Commander In Chief: not only as the President been trying to get money out of Congress for all his plans to boost the American economy since he took office in 2008, but he's now full-sail into his fund raisers for his re-election campaign because, as the logic of Washington and The Pirates! Band Of Misfits goes, he who has the most money is worthy to be president.
In the original trailer presented above, there is the scene where the Pirate Captain lands on the Leper boat; in the film, it's changed to a "plague boat" (a possible reference to the 2008 Clive Cussler novel Plague Ship and an attempt to make the human race sterile). 
This is really only the second film I have been able to detect really supporting the presidential re-election (not that there aren't others, I just haven't seen them); the other two I have seen are The Vow with Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum (please see The Vow & Obamacare) and The Three Muskateers which was really about Obama's relationship with the liberal media (please see Apocalypse 2012: Obama & the Three Musketeers). As a Republican, I generally assume--and I think this is fair--that Hollywood is liberal and on the side of President Obama; I really have yet to see that in film and, what I have seen, may be better if it hadn't been made!
The Pirate Captain (that's his name) and Polly; all the crew believes that Polly is a parrot who is just big-boned, until Charles Darwin identifies Polly as an extinct dodo bird.
The Pirate Captain enters into a contest to become Pirate of the Year, despite his dismal record. Realizing that everyone else has a better chance than he, he decides not to run; his crew encourages him and he embarks on a series of attempts to gain gold by robbing various ships that can't be robbed (such as the Leper boat, a ghost ship, a ship with children on it for a field trip, translating, as those who can't vote in the Presidential election because they are politically disenfranchised). He happens to hold up HMS Beagle, the scientific boat with Charles Darwin on board, and is about to kill Darwin when he tells the Pirate Captain something.
Ham Nite aboard the ship which is the "best thing about being a pirate," the Pirate Captain tells his crew. Why have a ham night? Well, as best as I can figure, since President Obama isn't a Muslim, as some believe he really is, this demonstrates that he's not since Muslims don't eat ham... it's not a particularly good film.
Darwin, the atheist and definer of human beings as animals, tells the Pirate Captain that Polly, his pet, is not a parrot but an extinct dodo bird. What does the dodo bird have to do with President Obama? The environment is really his "love" and his ticket to winning the presidency. The problem is, the Pirate Captain sells the dodo for a ship of gold, is abandoned by his crew, doesn't get the Pirate of the Year award and is left without any friends. So it's a moral lesson to the president with love not to abandon the environment as his main platform.
The Pirate Captain confidently explaining to "Chuck," i.e., Charles Darwin in green coat, that he is perfectly capable of presenting Polly to the London scientific community so he can claim the "untold riches" that awaits the scientific discovery. Obama has tried to sell the idea that Republicans want dirty water, dirty air and more oil drilling, so the bond and union with the scientific community to preserve the environment is a platform Obama believes he owns; this comes out in the caricature of Queen Victoria in the film.
The Pirate Captain's main competitors aren't really for the Pirate of the Year, it's Queen Victoria who desperately wants the dodo Polly and buys Polly for a ship load of gold so Pirate Captain can win the contest. It's discovered, however, that Queen Victoria belongs to a wretched group of international leaders who dine exquisitely on rare and extinct animals just to eat them, so the crew has to band together to save Polly. Within  this scheme of interpretation, Queen Victoria's hatred of preserving the environment through the preservation of extinct/nearly extinct animals might refer to President Obama constantly "crucifying" the oil industry (via his Secretary of Energy wanting higher gas prices) and the vilification of the Republicans as being anti-environment in general.
This was the best image I could locate of the Queen Victoria from the film, but she's definitely worse than any pirate in the film. Why would this be an apt image for the presidential election? Republicans tend to like the British, and Obama tends--at least by his actions--to spit on the British every chance he has. He sent back a bust of Winston Churchill that has been in the White House for decades, gave the official state gift to the visiting prime minister as a collection of Obama's favorite DVDs that wouldn't even play in England and then recently gave the prime minister... a grill. The Pirates! Band Of Misfits, tells the audience in the person of Queen Victoria that the British deserve to be treated as such and anyone who likes the British is just as bad as she is. It's better, by far, the film posits, to be a good natured pirate that's something of an idiot, than to be a real blood-thirsty maniac like Queen Victoria is characterized as being.
Yet, there is an even more important characterization regarding Queen Victoria: Victorian morality. The Republicans, always moralizing, are likened to Victorian morality and the idea of oppressing one's desires but, more importantly, Republicans are hypocrites as, in the film, Queen Victoria says she'll put Polly in a petting zoo and instead plans to eat her. Victoria's rage and her attempt at wiping out the pirates is basically like the Republicans trying to wipe out Democrats from political office in November and, the film puts forth, simply because someone as bad as Victoria wants to destroy the Democrats, must mean that there is quite a bit that is good about them hence, the logic goes, don't vote for her, vote for the Pirate Captain.
The Pirate Captain's crew, or, the constituents of President Obama likely to vote for him. The second pirate from the left, with the large, orange beard is called "the Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate" because it's really a woman dressed as a man. She gives the Pirate Captain several longing glances throughout the film, and is seen without her beard once but, the question has to be asked, is this what the men in the Democrat party think of the women in the Democrat party? That they are really dressing up like men? Or do women in the Democrat party have to dress like men in order to "get in?" For the party that is supposedly the "friend of women," this is really a point that should be discussed in party ranks... but there is also Albino Pirate, and the Pirate with a Scarf, and the Pirate Who Likes Kittens and Sunsets, meaning, that the "band of misfits" by society's standards are those that rally behind Obama. IF I WERE an Obama supporter, which I am not, I would not want to be viewed in such a light, so I feel sorry for those who are being treated as such. Then again, maybe they like that... this isn't the first time "misfits" have been used to describe the politically dis-enfranchised: in 1964, another stop-motion animated feature like The Pirates! Band Of Misfits, used the term for the Island of Misfit Toys, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer because of the political upheaval in society at the time (please see Misfits & Nitwits: Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer for more).
There is a second political platform President Obama's supporters--the one making the film, anyway--believe he can stand on: sodomy. According to The Pirates! Band Of Misfits, the story is about the Pirate Captain winning the 59th Annual Pirate Of the Year award; the first image of the film is the monkey holding up the card that the story takes place in 1837; 59 years ago is 1778 when (future president) George Washington, as Commander In Chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, dishonorably discharged Lieut. Frederick Gotthold Enslin for attempted sodomy with a soldier. For the supporters of Obama who made this film, they are siting President Obama's free entry of gays into the military and the openness of gays serving publicly (even as he takes away their medical benefits) as a reason why he should be Commander In Chief again.
The Pirate Captain with his No. 2 happily admiring the Wanted Posters Queen Victoria has put on his head for rescuing the dodo from her ferocious appetite.
A point of consideration for the film is that Queen Victoria, to get the dodo, pardons the Pirate Captain of all his piracy crimes, and when that happens, he's no longer eligible to win the Pirate of the Year award. By the end of the film, the Pirate Captain has so infuriated and outraged Queen Victoria, that 100,000 gold doubloons are offered for his capture, meaning, that to President Obama's backers who made this film, as long as he is the enemy of the Republicans (Queen Victoria) Obama will have the support of the pirates (the Democrats).
The Pirate Captain and Charles Darwin.
Lastly is the alliance with Charles Darwin.
It is a matter of diametrical oppositions that Darwin's initial "discoveries" and theories about evolution undermined faith and morality in Victorian England. The makers of the film seem to want to do that again. If America will abandon the ugly, hypocritical Victorian values, The Pirates! Band Of Misfits reasons, then we can embrace Darwinism, which means that we don't have to worry about things like religion or morality, especially sexual morality, meaning, the government owes it to us to provide birth control and abortions because we are animals that have to be provided for.
In conclusion, some backers of the Obama administration have made this film to provide advice to the president about his bid for re-election and how he should go about it. If you are a Democrat, you may like the film, you may not, but these are the ideas being presented for your candidate. If you are Republican, the film offers us insight into the thoughts of some factions of the Democratic party and what they are counting on to be Obama's strongest points in the election. The film suggests that all politicians are pirates, but a "good pirate" is better than a dodo eating monarch and animalistic sexuality is better than rigid morality (why don't you scroll back up to the top and watch the trailer again, you might see it very differently now).
The Pirate Captain bedecked in his pink pirate's coat because he's won the Pirate of the Year award.

Latest Trailers

I love Tom Hardy. I love Jessica Chastain. Gary Oldman? He can do no wrong. Guy Pearce just had an impressive showing in Lockout; here's Lawless, due out August 31.
"This is a war they're waging," and the disintegration of Franklin is probably like all the other Civil War references in films these days. Quentin Tarantion's latest is a Western, two years before the Civil War; with an all-star cast (Jamie Foxx, Lenoardo DiCaprio, Christopher Waltz [you remember, the Nazi from Inglorious Bastards that killed everyone?], Samuel L. Jackson, Kevin Costner, Kurt Rusell, Don Johnson--the list continues--Sacha Baron-Cohan, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Keith Carradine, etc., etc., etc.,) Django Unchained is set for release this December (no trailer yet).
Who would be conducting illegal activities that thinks they are higher than the law and can get away with it? I'll let you answer that one. It's probably not by accident that John Carter was from Virginia, the film Lawless takes place in Virginia and Jennifer Connelly is named Virginia in the upcoming trailer due May 18:
Virginia was the premiere state in the early history of this country, the greatest politicians came from the wealthy state and the continual invocation may be a reference to that early history of the country. House At the End Of the Street, starring Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games) and Elizabeth Shue (Adventures In Babysitting) is due out in September:
It's very interesting, a double murder; the child killing the mother and the father, would of course symbolically mean a generation of Americans killing the Founding Fathers and Mother Church. That will be an interesting film.
Good news! With over 70 reviews, The Avengers opening this week is FRESH!
Women with different talents, Whitney Houston's last film Sparkle opens August 17:
Opening September 28 is Looper:
In and of itself, Looper might not be that impressive (except that it is, on a political level, because what we do now is going to effect us killing ourselves in the future). But Safety Not Guaranteed, due out in June, is the opposite, going back in time to right regrets; what regrets would you right?
A way of looking at the "coming of age" genre is as a "time travel film into the future," because children are the future, so when there is a film about kids wanting to kill themselves... that's pretty serious, in too many ways:
David Croenberg.
I just don't know that I can watch another film by him, but here Cosmopolis, the story of a 28 year-old billionaire who gets in his stretch limo to drive across Manhattan for a haircut and all the class war protests he faces in the day:
So many great films coming out, and this is only a handful!

What I Saw This Weekend

Friday was my birthday, so my family has graciously lavished celebrations upon me; I did get some much needed sleep over the weekend and am feeling much better now.
For my birthday, my dad and sister took me to see The Raven and, despite being as radical of a cross-section of American movie-going viewers as we are (dad likes only action, the less dialogue the better; sister likes rom-coms, the more romance the better; I like foreign films, the more abstract, the better) all three of us loved it! I went back and saw it a second time, having missed a couple of items. Before sis and I got to the theater, dad said he heard people leaving who were complaining about how bad it was; when I went back the second time, the usher told me how much she liked it, and while I loved it he first time, I liked it even better the second time!
I also saw The Pirates! Band Of Misfits and see it as a pro-Obama film, supporting his re-election campaign. I also saw the highly-acclaimed (and deserving of every bit of praise) The Raid: Redemption which was truly an incredible film! It's possible that it illustrates for us the intense conflicts taking place in the Philippines between Islam and Christianity and the stakes for the people there, materially and spiritually. Much later today, I will have up my review of The Raven, and tomorrow I will be able to get up the reviews for both The Pirates! Band of Misfits and The Raid.
Readers have most generously been leaving a plethora of comments, and I deeply appreciate it and will be answering all of them asap!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Everything You Need To Know About Edgar Allan Poe Before You See The Raven (film)

Edgar Allan Poe.
While many--if not all--would claim such writers as Mark Twain or Ernest Hemingway, Emerson or Mailer, or any other to be America's greatest writer, without hesitation, I would grant the distinction of greatest American author to Edgar Allan Poe. I want you to know my bias up front; I would award him this distinction based solely on his literary merits, yet even more so in his favor is how he raised the standards of American literature through his critical essays and reviews of the time (for which, when considering his contemporary reputation, he was just as well known as for his literary endeavors). While his many scathing words at contemporaries earned him many enemies, Poe successfully made the general American reading audience (a constantly growing demographic to be sure) a more demanding reading audience and a more informed reading audience, teaching them the critical skills necessary to distinguish the good writing from the bad.
Edgar Allan Poe, a 1848 daguerreotype. What was Poe like? Accounts vary widely, mostly because of the acquaintances giving the accounts many years after Poe's death. One characteristic it seems all agree upon is his neatness of dress, even when his funds were lowest, he was always tidy and dressed as well as possible. Accounts vary widely regarding Poe's relationship with alcohol: while he has the repute of being a drunkard even today, there are only a few sporadic bits of evidence linking him with alcohol and alcoholism. It has been suggested in American literary circles that Poe's physical condition required only a small amount of alcohol to effect the symptoms of drunkenness which would require a great deal more in other men. How The Raven deals with Poe taking of drink will be interesting, especially if Poe actually gets drunk in the film. He was about 5'8 in height, some claimed he was bow-legged but not all and he had gray eyes, dark wavy hair. We was considered to be of excellent manners and always saw himself as a Southern gentleman even though he was born in Boston. Poe was very aristocratic in his bearing and that kind of superiority comes through in the clip preview of The Raven when he meets the inspector for the first time and wants to leave.
In preparation for The Raven, being released today, let's do a very brief biographical sketch then move onto the works we should know about before we see the film. Born in Boston, both of Poe's parents were actors, a fact that plagued him in later years because of his "mean birth" (lower-class); Poe had an older brother and a younger sister. Orphaned by the age of two, Poe was taken in by John Allan of Richmond who never formally adopted Poe. The relationship with Allan was a turbulent one and, whereas Poe appears to have tried to look upon Allan as a father-figure, Allan (by his letters) preferred to remind Poe that he was naught more than a charity case to the Virginia gentleman.
Virginia Clemm Poe, the 13 year-old cousin Poe married. Women to Poe were always "ideal," angels, never sexualized objects of desire, but a goal. Incest was also a sometime theme of Poe's. It appears that he and aunt/mother-in-law lied about Virginia's age so they could be wed.
Poe, as can be imagined, excelled in anything that interested him including sports of the day. He fell in love with Sarah Elmira Royster and was perhaps engaged to her, but once Poe left for the university, Sarah's father did not give her any of Poe's letters so she married someone else; it's important because, after both of them were widowed in later life, they became involved again just before his death (in the film The Raven, this is probably the woman "Emily" to whom Poe, played by John Cusack, is engaged). After being in the University of Virginia for only one year (amazing that such a great writer had such a limited education!) he went on to try and secure a path for himself in the army, then left to attend West Point; it seems that Mr. Allan's refusal to pay even basic expenses for Poe's stay there meant that he had to contrive his own court martial to be free again; this he did.
The cottage in Bronx, New York where Poe spent the final years of his life. This is the house wherein his young wife Virginia died in 1847, two years before Poe's own death.
Poe spent time trying to make a living full-time by writing, moving about to cities where there were growing numbers of magazines. He had a reputation for his writing, but during his life, in the United States, it was really his literary criticism that made him a well-known figure. Poe was always better known in Europe, especially France. Why? America was in a turbulent period during Poe's life, there was a great expansion going on; whereas other writers (not necessarily important ones, but those Poe competed with for publication) were writing about the adventures and exploration of America, Poe wrote about the adventures and exploration of the mind, a topic of far greater interest to well-settled Europeans.
One of many illustrations for Poe's poem The Raven.
When Poe married his 13 year-old first cousin Virginia Clemm, she brought him to a stable point in his life of being free of alcohol and producing many great works. They still struggled, but this was probably the happiest time of Poe's life--if he ever had such a happy time--and after her death from tuberculosis, Poe became increasingly unstable. He found, shortly before his death, his lost childhood sweetheart Sarah, herself recently widowed, and Poe was presumably still attached to her when he died mysteriously, which The Raven is supposed to be exploring.
Illustration by French impressionist Édouard Manet for the Stéphane Mallarmé translation of The Raven, 1875.
On October 3, 1849, Poe was found on the streets of Baltimore, delirious and in great distress; he died in a hospital, so incoherent, he could give no account for his condition, the clothes he was wearing (which were clearly not his own) or his suddenly deteriorating health. After repeatedly calling out the name "Reynolds!" the night before, Poe died at 5 am on Sunday, October 7. All medical records and death certificate information has been lost and is still a mystery to this day. One literary explanation for his death comes from author Matthew Pearl, and I am happy to recommend his novel about the last days of Poe's life, The Poe Shadow, as a entertaining, well researched, novel.
Gustav Dore's illustration for The Raven.
What stories and poems will The Raven be invoking that we should be familiar with before we see the film? The Murders In the Rue Morgue, which opens the film, with the murders of a mother and her daughter. Poe is also the inventor of what we call today the "modern detective," or at least, the values and expectations by which we measure a good detective; in other words, Sherlock Holmes would not exist were it not for Edgar Allan Poe. In The Murders In the Rue Morgue, it is Poe's deducing champion C. Auguste Dupin who solves the crime of the murders with a bit of hair, hence, Poe gave birth to the literary detective. In the film, it will be interesting to see how Detective Emmet Fields (Luke Evans) measures up to Poe's standards and which of them does more to solve the crime
John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe and Luke Evans as Emmet Fields. Of course, I have not seen the film yet, but in this shot, the light on the table is in-between them, a little more towards Poe; is that how this scene will play out, that Poe is "shedding more light" on the mystery than Fields? Sources of light, windows, mirrors and reflections will play the role of valuable additional commentary in the film, and aid us in getting closer to the characters.
The Pit and the Pendulum, about someone being torn in two, is in the film, as well as The Tell-Tale Heart; what these two stories hold in common is that the murderer narrates the story, so the reader is being forced to identify with someone committing a crime. Similarly, is Poe's Italian story, The Cask Of Amontillado, where the murderer--the main character--is set upon deadly revenge and buries his enemy alive.
Which brings us to a theme: being buried alive.
Dore's illustration for the end of The Raven.
Americans in the Victorian period became frenzied about the possibility of being buried alive, so much so that some took the precautions of having emergency devices buried with them in case they should revive and need to alert someone to their condition (doctors were actually mis-diagnosing hundreds of people for dead, rather like Dr. Watson (Jude Law) with Lord Blackwood in Sherlock Holmes). Poe was happy to capitalize on this for his stories and wrote both The Fall Of the House Of Usher and The Premature Burial. From the trailers, we know Emily in The Raven is buried alive, so while discerning what the film is really about, we should be considering what "childhood sweetheart" has America been reunited with and is being buried? For example, the idea of the "American Dream" being buried alive in debt?
The facsimile of Poe's original manuscript page for The Murders in the Rue Morgue.
We know there is also reference to The Masque Of the Red Death because the villain rides into the masquerade ball with a skeleton mask on; lines from Poe's poem A Dream Within A Dream and Annabel Lee have lines quoted from them (from another review I read) and, of course, there will be reference to that fantastic poem, The Raven.
The Tell-Tale Heart by Harry Clarke.
There are so many potential sources for the film, that it's tempting to jump in before seeing it, but these are aspects of Poe we should keep an eye on: doubles, Poe was fond of using pen names for himself, does the villain do that as well? Are people in Poe's life playing more than one role to him? Poe was a champion of the idea of "Art for art's sake," so I'm going to be looking for evidence of that; what am I looking for? I don't know, but I'll be looking! Another theme is disease, not only the fatal kind in The Masque Of the Red Death, but the nervous kind of diseases like in The Tell-Tale Heart.
Emily buried alive in The Raven.
Why is this film important?
Whether you think Edgar Allan Poe is a great writer or not isn't the point; historical films are never ever never never about history, they are always about the here and the now, and they are meant to be mirrors, catalysts for our own times so we can see ourselves in what Poe diagnosed. Just as Poe is called to search out clues upon the bodies of the murdered, so we are called to search out for clues in the body of the text, the film, for what it's trying to tell us today. Have fun!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Pina: Dance & Philosophy

When we love something, and are passionate about it, we want to help others to love it as we do and when we succeed in doing that, we have transcended a barrier that locks us and others within ourselves. In Pina, the Oscar-nominated documentary about the modern dance artist Pina Bausch, is her interpretation of Igor Stravinsky's 1913 ballet The Rite of Spring that helped me to love it as she does (and I seriously never liked it, but until I saw the film, I just didn't have someone who could make it accessible to me, but she did).
"Dance, dance, otherwise we are lost," supposedly the last words Pina spoke. What do they mean? Throughout the film, you get the wonderful privilege of engaging with the dancers, and their memories of Pina. She was always telling them to go deeper within themselves, and that's what it means. To dance is to give the world your answer for the complexity of existence, the complexity of love, the complexity of life and death, fear and pain, hope and wonder. But before you can give that answer, you have to learn how to ask the questions, realize that there are questions and each of us must answer them. But Pina tells us it's not enough to ask the questions, we must find the answers, then we have to find a way in which to articulate the answers so that we understand them, and we can help someone else to understand them, too. To dance is to not "get lost" in the possibility that there is no answer, there is, Pina knew, and she danced that answer for us, by showing us (not just telling) how intimate moments of existence really are, especially when our intimate moments collide against another's intimate moment. For Pina, to dance meant to always be searching, asking, answering, living, and each of her pieces reveals her mastery to us.
When I came out of the theater after having seen it, the usher taking the 3D glasses asked how I liked it and I said I loved it; I asked him how he liked it, and he replied, "Not so much," and it IS abstract, it's not going to be for everyone, but I found it so enjoyable that I stopped taking notes (which is probably what Pina would have wanted) and just felt the dances.
In Byzantine icon art, it was typical to have a whole line of of people, each only slightly different than the person beside them; it gave the idea of coherence and harmony, while avoiding abstract patterns that lost the viewer's attention. Pina, in the scene of the dance of the seasons which not only opens the film, but runs continuously throughout, provides us with that same aesthetic: each dancer does the same movement with their hands, but each does it slightly different, making a vibrant line of each person bringing their own personality, their own philosophy, to the motions and to the meaning. This particular shot also invokes The Seventh Seal by Ingmar Bergman.   
I always try to make sure that readers know that I know that I am not making a definite statement about what something means, there is only the frame of reference in which each of us exists, and we can share out perspectives about life and art, but none of us have a total viewpoint but each viewpoint should help others to see their own viewpoint better, because in seeing our own viewpoint, we discover who we are, and the better we know ourselves, the better we can come to know others. Without knowing the name of the dance sequence in the clip below, I thought it was about depression, and how we "lean on each other," and the noble role some people take in "upholding" others:
Knowing the sequence is called Trust gives it an entirely different flavor; or does it? That's for you to decide. But, if we are going to "dance," as Pina exhorts us to do, there is more than one way to dance, but there is only one source from which every form of dance comes: within. It's impossible to make the inner journeys necessary without someone else, without the love and steadfastness of those who can prevent us from getting lost within. It's also true, however, that we can't join ourselves with another until we have found ourselves first.
There is only one person in the Trust performance above: the man in black--black symbolizes death--is the part of the self that must die in order for the dignity of the new self to come into full being (the woman in the gold dress symbolizes self-worth, dignity, what we have when we attain wisdom at various stages). The woman in the gold dress is like the baby taking the first steps, while the inner-part about to die, about to resign complete control of the full being (the man in black), helps the new-found dignity to gain strength and presence so as to rule the self completely. (As always, this is just my interpretation, but I hope it will help you in finding your own).
Wonderful location. The glass, of course, means "reflection," as in meditation, but the shadows upon the floor are bars, like a prison. The separation of the natural--the world outside--and the artificial, the construction of the building, can be found throughout the film, in all the sequences. Everything is carefully chosen and considered, nothing is done lightly.
The locations are really important, for example, in Trust, the abandoned building has large, square holes cut out, including in the ceiling; but is it abandoned? Instead, has it been cleaned out, emptied of all that is worthless, that is clutter, that is unnecessary? And that is why it can have the holes, or, should we say, the windows, to reflect and observe, and that, the rush of wisdom and experience is what has to be trusted, because it makes you so small, so insignificant, but also dignified (the gold dress of the dancer) and that's why it's been done, the journey, taken and you your self have been completely taken. If we do decide that there are not two people in this dance sequence but only one, one that has realized there is more inside than previously imagined, than we come to trust the journey we are on, and why we are on it.
That is art.
Isn't this how a relationship works? The ups and the downs, the highs and the lows, the slow pacing and the sudden rush. The sudden exit. The love song in the background, in the background of our hearts and minds that thinks, "This is how it goes, this is how a relationship works and this song tells me how I can know if it's real," yes and no, because the song (or film or whatever art form you like) does share experience, but no in that each of us will experience intimacy differently, and for some, the real romance is being alone, with your inmost self.
Unsure of what this sequence is titled, I still loved it. The man begins by carrying the woman on his back, then he puts her down and she carries him. In the background, the woman in the red dress carrying the tree on her back symbolizes to me that, when we carry someone from love (the red dress) we receive life because of it (the tree). The drudgery of the daily problems (the foreground couples muted clothing) is hard and tedious work, but in the background is what is really happening and why we should do it.
It's not that the traffic in the Love sequence is extra-topical, but an appropriation Pina has made (something existing outside what she could control--the dance and dancers--but she has brought it in to include it within her own art) and that's because the cars and noise can be our racing thoughts, the stop lights of fear, the green lights of hope and the yellow lights of caution, our race towards our destiny and future, the intersections and collisions, all of it, always.
A perfect example of how our fragility is also our strength. The woman is fragility--a theme discussed in the film--and the man symbolizes strength. To be fragile is to always be in a state of growth and pain. It's never fun, and we never want it, but when we have been smashed up, that allows us to grow into something better and stronger than before; those too strong to be smashed up usually just die within.
One of the dancers interviewed remembered Pina telling her that, "I have to get crazier," (not meaning in terms of the types of dances they did, but a willingness to relinquish mental control) and that descent into madness Pina advocated could be called a willingness to go completely within, devout yourself entirely to the cause of finding your inmost self. Here is The Rite Of Spring clip from the film; it's perhaps the most abstract of all the works included, but in its mystical way, it's also the most beautiful:
Actually, it's probably not the most abstract of all of them, maybe that goes to the Cafe Muller (full clip below). But this is the thing about dance: if it's not abstract, it's only motions; if it's abstract, then it's motions and philosophy; and what is it that defines "abstract?" In the beginning of the film, a woman comes out and talks about the seasons, giving little hand gestures for the dominant, natural occurrence at the proper time of the year (such as freezing for winter). With this most simple of dances, Pina instructs us on what the language of dance is, why it is a language and how we can learn to listen to ourselves when we watch others. It's not simple, but nothing in life is.
Pictured just above is what might be the strangest of the dances: veal ballet shoes. The dancer takes two veal patties and puts one in each of her ballet shoes, then dances in this industrial setting; during the whole performance, she is on her toes as pictured (I know there is a technical term for it but I don't know the term). The veal could be said to be the dancer's own body that she/he turns into chopped meat in a sacrifice to dance and the industrial setting is the way the dancer has turned the body into a product, a manufactured product even, because of the torment they put themselves through; how do we, the question arises, put veal in our ballet shoes?
The elements are very important in Pina's works, especially earth and water. In this sequence at a swimming pool, the green dress can mean rebirth and hope as a result of cleanliness from a spiritual washing.
One reason to see Pina, if you are on the fence, is this will be a film influencing other film makers in the upcoming years. In some way or another, those in Hollywood who see this will have their own art influenced by Pina's art, that's just how it works. Another reason to see it if you are interested is that it has a 94% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes (94% of critics liked it and 81% of viewers liked it).
Pina Bausch.
In conclusion, the Academy felt Pina was worthy of an Oscar by the standards of film making and I find the dances preserved and explored therein to be of the highest standard of art. Art should never ever be snobbish and we should not let others dominate our tastes and what we ourselves like, so if this doesn't look interesting to you, don't hesitate to not watch it, don't guilt yourself into doing something you don't want to do because art is always for us, the audience, the viewer, the consumer (the person who will ingest it and digest it and make it a part of themselves) and if we are not going to consume art, we should find the art we do want to consume. If you do decide to watch it, I hope you will enjoy it and that the world of dance will be opened to you as it has been for me! (While Pina contains only selections of Cafe Muller, the entire clip is here and Pina herself does dance in this clip).

Comments

I am nearly done with the post on Pina; there has suddenly been a storm of comments left on various posts and I deeply thank you for all of them, but it will take a bit of time to address them all, please be patient; in the meantime, another blogger disagreeing with my interpretation of The Hunger Games has posted his own understanding of the film, entitled Capitalism, Communism and The Hunger Games (by J.T. O'Connell). You might infinitely prefer his version to mine, and I wanted to make it available to you!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Few New Trailers

"There's only one man who can authorize a strike like that, and I voted for him," so says the Rock in G.I. Joe Retaliation (June 29) in this newest international trailer (here is another version I can't find on YouTube it's worth watching):
Here is Tony Stark doing a "headcount" (with a glass in his hand, of course) for the upcoming The Avengers, opening next weekend, May 4:
And, with an introduction from Captain America himself, here is another clip of Iron Man vs. Thor:
This is good: this is some of the information that I have been looking for, from Snow White & the Huntsman (June 1 release), the "Bound" trailer:
And from Brave, (June 22); there is more here than appears:
I just love new films; I have to admit, it does kinda suck when I have gone to the theater and I have all ready seen all the trailers because I've posted them here,... but I get over it pretty quick.

Up Next,...

The Sick Child, by Edvard Munch.
Yes, like Joaquin Phoenix, I'm still here.
I've had some health problems from chronic insomnia, and I do apologize, beyond my control. I saw Pina, the Oscar-nominated documentary about the dancer Pina Bausch, and it was amazing. I had high expectations of it, and it blew me away! That is my next post and since I have been so tardy (again, I apologize) I will be diving right into the Edgar Allan Poe for the big opening this weekend! Here is a clip of Emily being buried alive. When writing his stories in real-life, Poe capitalized on the Victorian fear of being buried alive; the fear had become so widespread that people requested having an emergency alert mechanism placed in the coffin with them, should they revive, they could alert someone to their condition (this, of course, is really an inner-fear of being emotionally and psychologically buried alive, expressed in the neurosis of the physical burial):
What other time have we seen a blond buried alive, trying desperately to get out of her coffin? Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill 2. I don't see a direct connection now, but that doesn't mean we won't. You might also enjoy this featurette with the actors interviews discussing the film:
We have seen the Civil War being invoked throughout many films--even Lockout placed an over-sized bust of Abraham Lincoln in the President's office-- and while the events of The Raven take place well ahead of the Civil War, the man being potentially cut in two by the pendulum may reference that idea of the "divided country" depending on who he is and his role in the narrative. Great stuff, but, speaking of the Civil War...
I just couldn't wait until the June 22 release of Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter so I got the book for less than $9.00 including shipping, hardback.  Maybe there is something good about insomnia...

Monday, April 23, 2012

Casablanca: Dark Passage To Freedom

"With the coming of the second world war," these opening lines said everything: by the time Michael Curtiz's 1942 drama Casablanca came out in theaters, America had been at war for well over a year, but the world had been at war for several years, and just knowing of the devastation being wrought in Europe and the Pacific was all ready taking its toll on people, as Rick Blaine's dossier attests (Humphrey Bogart in an Oscar winning performance). Like all great narratives, the power of Casablanca rests on two important attributes: location and diametrical oppositions.
Without giving too much away, Casablanca--which means "white house"--is in the desert and we must keep that in mind. Secondly, the dominant characteristics of the major and minor characters, as we shall see, are inverted, from one character to another. Amidst all of this is the ruin of war: the Nazi boast of taking over the world and people's desperate hope they could be stopped. Yet there is still another context to invoke: cinema history. What happens in Casablanca would haunt film makers for years, even a decade, because of Rick (what he had become and why and what he was doing about it) and because of what Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) did, why and how. Casablanca isn't just a love story, it's the story of cinematic revolution and how Hollywood finally came of age to be the sophisticated art form America--and the world--needed it to be and that's why the American Film Institute has placed only one film before it in terms of merit and importance (Citizen Kane).
We know the location of Casablanca is important to the film because the opening titles take place over a map of Africa, then, to make sure we got the point, we are taken on a visual tour of the journey of the refugee trying to get Casablanca and to either North of South America, freedom.
But let's talk about Casablanca itself first, then move onto the story. Casablanca has one of the largest artificial ports in the world, the reason why refugees want to get there; in the film, it's divisions within the society--centered at Rick's Cafe Americain--which pulls back the shadows and sheds light on the larger, more dynamic conflicts: who leaves and who stays in Casablanca, who has hope of leaving and who feeds upon that hope. Casablanca is between the desert and the ocean of salt water, neither capable of sustaining life, and that's where everyone in Casablanca is, too, and the only way to live is to escape.
Opening shot of Casablanca with a distinct line between the city and desert. As the police round up "twice the usual number of suspects," even though they know Ugarte (Peter Lorre) committed the murders, it reminds us of an important fact, one those of us who have seen the 1966 film The Battle Of Algiers, Morocco is under French rule, not native rule, so there is the threat of the Nazi rule on top of the French rule.
When the narrative proper begins, our attention is taken from the total death and destruction of World War II to the murders of two un-named Nazi officers and a couple of pieces of paper. A trait I highly prize in Casablanca is when and how information is conveyed to the audience. It would have been, for example, quite easy for the screen writers to convey all of the importance about the letters of transit when the Nazi officer in the telegraph office receives the wire about the two murders, yet they choose to let the information trickle down to us through various sources, just as information about Rick will trickle down to us. It's probably from the film made the year before that Casablanca stole this writing concept: this is the same trait we see giving Citizen Kane it's push, the reporter researching "Rosebud" has to interview several people, each providing a different bit of information on Kane but no one having the whole story.
Please note, if you will, the zebra-patterned tie the man wears; the zebra pattern symbolizes the animal passions, the appetites. We can deduce, then, because of this tie, that because of the way he and his wife are living in Casablanca, they have, just like a herd of grazing zebra, attracted the attention of a predator, the pick-pocket who is happy to claim victory, "the vulture" himself. The man and woman being robbed is just like the audience, for we have been robbed in not understanding everything that is going to happen in the film, because even as we think we are being given information--as the pickpocket tells the two about the letters of transit--something is going to be taken or kept from us.
When the man with the three-week expired papers runs and is shot down, he dies before a wall mural of the French commander; he's fighting for the French Resistance movement, but he's gunned-down like a criminal anyway. These are the contradictions within the film that make the ending necessary. For example, Renault (Claude Rains) hates the Nazis, but he is willing to follow their orders, even though their orders are criminal, in order to get Rick not to let Victor (Paul Henreid) and Ilsa onto the plane; if Rick followed their orders, he would be gunned down just like this anonymous man, fighting for the French government and world freedom, so, in this sense, we can say we--like Victor Laszlo--all ready know a great deal about Rick Blaine before we meet him.
If we ask ourselves, what, like the dapper couple watching the arrests, is being stolen from us, we don't have long to wonder: the Nazis arrive in Unoccupied France as if they all ready own the place. Don't you think this is odd? Nazis would just walk into an area supposedly at war with them and demand custody over an escaped "convict," Victor and whoever got those letters of transit. Along with the round-up of people the police know have nothing to do with the deaths of the two Nazi officers, we all ready start to get a clear picture of the dark shadows in which "justice" is conducted.
There's really no great mystery about Rick's Cafe: as Renault said, "Everybody comes to Rick's," and the montage of people we see--and despair--lets us know exactly what kind of world Rick has created for himself in Casablanca. Rick's is no "white house," because of the stains of shady deals, dead dreams and the long shadows cast by vultures, Rick's "feeds" and gives "drink" to whatever people bring with them to the Cafe: for one man, it's despair, for another, it's hope (at a price of $15,000 Francs). The first we see of Rick is his hand authorizing a signature for a $1,000 Franc check. He simply writes, "O.K. Rick," and that's all the authority he needs to approve the transaction. Yet there is something else we can glean from this piece of paper: it's December 2.
In less than a week, it would be the one year anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the reason--officially--why America entered World War II. The reason this first act of Rick's we see him making is so important is because it establishes him as an authority figure, someone who holds "jurisdiction" over Rick's the way Renault holds it over Casablanca and, obviously, Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt) holds it over Renault. Renault, letting the audience know that everyone goes to Rick's (even Rick's major rival, Ferrari played by Sidney Greenstreet, goes to Rick's) demonstrates that attraction that someone like Renault and Ugarte (Peter Lorre) have for him: Rick has power and authority because people respect him.
Another great dimension to this shot--the sign of a great director--is Rick playing chess against himself; he's playing the black pieces, but it's white's move. Is this a powerful symbol for the way Rick himself is torn within, two sides fighting each other but it's time for the white piece to "make a move" and keep the black side from winning? The events of the rest of the story answer the question for us. Please note, also, the sophisticated shadowing over Rick's face: his shoulders are partly shadowed, darkened, and parts of his face is as well. This particular attention to the lighting is a key feature picked up by film noir film makers because of its ability to communicate with the audience. So, what does it communicate? No one ever knows which side Rick is going to be on, and we can see that in the light and darkness of the shadows on his shoulders, the conflict of serving himself or a greater cause (and from Renault, we know he usually goes with the underdog).  The shadows across his face might reflect how he thinks, that he's not immune from thinking for himself (taking the letters and running off with Ilsa himself and leaving Victor) but there is, as we know, more and stronger light overtaking the shadows. Lastly, please note the chessboard itself, how it is mostly dark, like his hands. This might refer to the secrecy that Rick will employ towards the end in making it look like he will take the letters for himself (why he sells Rick's and takes care of all the employees), but maybe also to keep that knowledge from himself of what he knows in his heart he will really do.
One could say it's a case of there being too many cooks in the kitchen: with the French, German and Italian forces there, it seems the people of Casablanca turn to the American in his Cafe Americain for impartial justice, which we shall see in action with Ugarte. As Rick sits back and watches his doorman allow or deny passage to various clients into the gambling room, Rick doesn't allow the head of the Deutsch Bank to enter because he's most likely a Nazi. This is an interesting set-up: we have a back room with illegal gambling going on, and yet the "criminal," Rick, is kicking out one of the richest and most important men in Germany because, by being a Nazi (or at least a sympathizer, otherwise he would be in jail) that is a worst crime than illegal gambling (more on this below).
Ugarte, played by Peter Lorre. He lights a cigarette and orders a drink, then immediately orders a second drink before he has even started the first... a man of appetites. Since everyone knows Ugarte has the letters, he must have quite a reputation, and we have a bit of light thrown on the situation for us when Ugarte tells Rick that he helps the refugees who can't afford Renault's price. This seems to establish some unsavory business competition between the two, and perhaps a reason for Renault really wanting to get Ugarte out of the picture. By the way, "Ugarte" is Spanish for "river water," and suggests the way he helps ferry refugees across the ocean.
What is the exchange between Rick and Ugarte? If I may, and this is just an opinion, but I think the great discrepancy between Rick's and Ugarte's masculinity is revelatory of how Rick feels when he's in the presence of Victor. Rick calls Ugarte a cut-rate parasite, and that might be how Rick feels (since he was paid to run guns and fight with the Loyalists in Spain) compared to the sacrificial and dangerous work Victor has done from his own heart and beliefs. This is important becomes it comes down to a question of masculinity and whether Rick gives up Ilsa to Victor because Victor is really the alpha male and, since Victor's the better man, Rick knows Ilsa belongs with her for that reason. Just a possibility.
When Ilsa calls for Sam to come over to her, he brings the piano (and therefore, the letters) with him and the physical connection between Ilsa, the piano and the letters is constant throughout the film.
First of all, why does Rick take the papers, then, why does he hide them under Sam's piano music? Rick tells Ugarte he heard a rumor that it was the two murdered Nazis who were carrying those letters of transit, so Rick knows they are tainted. Just as Ugarte tells Rick that it's perhaps because Rick despises him so much that he trusts Rick with the papers, and maybe it's because Rick is so mean to Ugarte and Ugarte still comes around that Rick is willing to hold the papers. But once he has the papers, he seems to want to get rid of them, hence, a part of the reason for hiding them under Sam's piano music, but also because Sam's piano is a link with Ilsa. I know, I know, she hasn't even shown up yet, and Rick has no way of knowing that she will in the next few minutes, yet this is art, and in art, things happen in a way they don't in real life.
Why does Ferrari offer to buy the Cafe from Rick? Rick, being a better person than Ferrari, has made a better Cafe than Ferrari's Blue Parrot, and men of appetites like Ferrari always want what better men than themselves have built precisely because they are better men. The scene, however, also demonstrates that Rick doesn't consider human life to be cheap: when he allows the law to take Ugarte away, it's because it's an act of justice. Not "buying or selling human beings" is a way of saying that Rick wouldn't shot someone just to shot them.
When Rick goes over to the bar and Sascha tells him about the Nazi check, Rick tears it up; why? It's okay to let the underdogs in a war pay him for his services, and the Nazis might be able to force him to serve them in his Cafe, but he can make the defiant act of not taking their money and licking their boots. Just as he's doing this, we meet his girlfriend, Yvonne. So we see, again, that Rick wants nothing to do with the Nazis nor does he want anything to do with women. Now we have been thoroughly educated on what type of man Rick is in almost every situation, so the conflict can begin.
Sascha giving Yvonne a drink from "boss' private stock" is also Sascha taking a sip from the boss' private stock, Yvonne herself. Yvonne is meant to be the opposite of Ilsa and we know that instinctively, yet it's more difficult to pinpoint their exact opposites. Whereas Ilsa left Rick, Yvonne wants Rick to come to her. Yvonne throws herself at men but men throw themselves at Ilsa. By the way Yvonne drinks, we know--like everyone else in Casablanca--that she's a woman of the appetites but Ilsa loves with her heart, not with her needs the way Yvonne wants Rick's love to fill her needs. Whereas Ilsa rebels over the Nazi takeover, Yvonne rebels at Rick not paying attention to her. When Rick puts Yvonne in the cab and tells Sascha to take her home but come right back, Sascha doesn't come back. We might say it's a case of inciting Yvonne to revolt against him again, that if Rick wants Sascha to come back, Yvonne will keep Sascha with her, and possibly change her interest from Rick to him.
When Renault talks to Rick, he tells Rick that he shouldn't be throwing women away, they may be scarce someday, and Renault treating women like commodities is exactly what Renault does to everyone: they either advance him or hinder his advancement. Renault is an interesting character against Rick: whereas Rick seems very cynical (at least on the outside until we see him in his flashback to Paris with Ilsa) Renault seems to be romantic, even sentimental, however, we will see that the exact opposite is true when we get down inside both men. Rick will be the romantic, Renault will be the cynic. At the end of the film, when they have decided to become friends, it's a good thing for Rick because he won't hide in his shell again like he did at the Cafe, and Renault will turn more honest.
When the plane flies overhead, and Renault asks Rick if he would like to be on it, Rick plays dumb and asks what is in Lisbon. Careful scrutiny of Rick's face as the plane flies over them reveals the pain and wish to be on that plane and go. Why doesn't Rick go home? Stealing the church funds, a senator's wife and killing a man are the three possible reasons Renault lists for Rick not returning home and Rick says it's a combination of all three. Since the film provides only generalities, it's an invitation to take a more symbolic approach to Rick's life prior to residing in Casablanca. It could be that Rick had to leave America--like so many men--because of the bombing of Pearl Harbor,when men raced to enlist and fight for the Allied forces. Renault's reference to church funds probably refers to a lack of faith in God; the senator's wife refers to America (a senator is supposed to be married to the country he serves) and the death of the man is Rick himself (please think of Moses killing the Egyptian before being exiled). The bombing of Pearl Harbor was the worst thing that had happened on American soil (and wouldn't be rivaled in terms of trauma until 9/11). PERHAPS Rick not being able to go back to America resonated with audiences because the men over seas couldn't go back, either, because they were committed to a cause to win the war, but a war they didn't start, and that is the possible the magic ingredient in the film.
After putting Yvonne into the cab, Rick lights a cigarette and the search light glares over his face; just like the search light, the audience is searching for something in Rick that we can like and identify with, and this next conversation will provide it for us. When Rick says he came to Casablanca for his health, for the waters, and Renault reminds him they are in the desert, Rick isn't talking about H2O, he's talking about his health, but he's talking about the waters of forgetfulness, that is, the waters to help him forget the loss of Ilsa. The next instance demonstrates the depth of Rick's pain.
It's important that we never see Renault out of his uniform.
Emil comes up to Rick and says someone just won $20,000 Francs; Rick is hardly phased by it. This is important because this concept is repeated in Out Of the Past when Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas) doesn't care that Kathy stole $40,000 from him, he just wants her back. The scene intentionally sets up for us one, that Rick is good to his employees, two, that it takes something really really really serious to upset him and three, that Rick is probably stacking the odds against the illegal gamblers and that's why Rick tells Emil, "Mistakes happen." (For more on Out Of the Past, please see Build My Gallows High: Out Of the Past).
The cinematography of this sequence is really important because Rick and Renault have moved from the darkness of the exterior of the Cafe (symbolizing their own exteriors, or social masks) to the interior of the Cafe where there is light and Renault talks about the arrest of Ugarte. Interestingly, Emil, standing right behind them and listening into the conversation, looks towards the gambling room when Renault starts to speak, as if Emil knows who the murderer is (Renault earlier had said everyone did) and thinks of warning him himself. Emil obviously doesn't do this, but just as Emil is thinking about it in the background, Rick must have been thinking about it in the background as well.
As Renault and Rick walk through the Cafe, they see the Frenchman and Italian conversing; their conversation in a foreign language is no different than the film itself for the viewer. The dialogue of the film is going on in a language we think we know, but what they are really saying is as foreign to us as the conversation of the Italian and Frenchman.
Renault and Rick go up the stairs (yes, a higher plane of consciousness) and into Rick's office, an inner, intimate space and Rick is opening up "the vault" where he keeps his valuables. When Renault starts talking about why he permits Rick's to stay open, Rick mentions allowing Renault to win at roulette. Again, this is an indictment of corruption on Rick's part, cheating at illegal gambling. After Renault mentions Victor Laszlo's name, and Rick is very impressed, Rick goes over to his terrace and opens a the shutter, a sign that he's taking in what Renault is telling him and reflecting upon it. The bet Rick makes with Renault isn't really a bet, but an act of hope, and that's why it's so important that Rick makes it, plus, it rather substantiates my theory about why Rick lost the $20,000 and it being tied to Ilsa, Rick wants to make it back by a gamble on Victor.
Renault's talking about an important arrest amusing Rick's customers isn't Renault's real motivation for doing it there; Renault wants to impress Rick. Why? Given the high estimation of Rick by everyone, Renault not only wants to know that Rick is "on his side," (not likely to happen) but Renault also wants someone that he can genuinely (as much as that's possible for Renault) be friends with. But then they are going up the stairs and the conversation turns to Victor. The rest of the conversation will be discussed below.
Even though Ugarte is captured, he doesn't tell Renault that Rick has the valuable letters of transit, which is really a noble thing on Ugarte's part, because it could have meant a lighter sentence, but Ugarte probably knew they would kill him anyway, which means that he made a gift out of the letters to Rick.
The time comes to arrest Ugarte. Should Rick have warned him? Is this a case of Rick "not sticking his neck out for nobody?" Rick tells Ugarte that he can't hide, he's surrounded, yet Rick will hide Laszlo later in the film. What Rick is talking about is Ugarte hiding from the hand of justice because Ugarte committed those murders (or had someone do it) and for that Ugarte has to pay the price instead of receiving the price for the letters; Ugarte didn't show the Nazi couriers any mercy, none will be shown to him. Is Rick wanting to keep the letters for himself? Remember just a moment before when Rick walked past Sam playing the piano? He patted Sam on the arm but didn't even so much as glance towards the letters' hiding place to insure they were still there and safe. No, Rick would have behaved the same way, regardless of the letters.
After arresting Ugarte, Rick is questioned by Major Strasser. Rick tries to be diplomatic, but still smug, and what's important is Renault's involvement, as if he's covering for Rick and trying to make him completely neutral. Strasser provides us with interesting information that we will not get to know completely, but the big question in this scene is, why does Rick say, "Are my eyes really brown?" Is he being smug? No, humble. Brown is the color of dirt, and while it can refer to someone "dirty," it can also be taken as someone who considers themselves "low as the dirt," i.e., humble. When does Rick do this? At the end with Ilsa: "Two people's problems don't amount to a hill of beans," in a world where everything is falling apart, and Rick's eyes being brown symbolizes that he sees the world through humility.
When Ilsa and Victor walk through the door and towards their table, the same moment Sam's and Ilsa's eyes meet is the same moment she passes the letters of transit on Sam's piano. This is an important moment that has everything to do with how the film ends.
When Berger comes and approaches Victor, he lifts up the top of his ring to reveal the Cross of Lorraine, their symbol. The unique design was carried by the French into the Crusades and is probably the reason it was resurrected for this scene, the Crusade for freedom. What we discover is, while Victor and Ilsa are married, no one knows it, so there is no "ring" between Victor and Ilsa, but there is a ring between him and the cause for freedom.
Renault might be employing the philosophy, "You attract more flies with honey than with vinegar," in his graciousness with Victor and Ilsa. Talking about being in love with Rick himself, is that to insinuate homosexuality? No, the exact opposite. As the prefect of police, Renault means that Rick Blaine is everything a man should be, or at least, everything a man thinks he should be to a woman. When Strasser arrives, Victor returns the compliments by invoking Renault's authority over him in rebellion of any perceived authority by Strasser. This simple recognition not only slaps Strasser in the face, but ingratiates him with Renault.
Regrettably, I don't know what she's singing, but it is obviously a love song, coming on at just the moment when Ilsa is both worried for Victor and (inevitably) thinking about Rick and how they were in Paris. Like the Italian and Frenchmen earlier speaking in a different language, the song means to let us know that things are being said that we won't understand or catch, we will push them to the margins and forget about them.
As Victor goes off to meet with his true love, the resistance movement (embodied by Berger), Ilsa goes searching for Rick and Sam in her mind. Sam, in the shadows behind the woman singing, looks around, knowing that's Miss Lund, and Ilsa clearly sees him. The two have very different memories of each other. Sam is remembering all the bad things that happened because, you might say, he had to nurse Rick back from death of heart break over losing Ilsa as Ilsa was nursing Victor back from death of the concentration camp.
Sam takes a sheet of music and Ilsa, wanting to remember good things (because that was a happy time for her) asks Sam to play As Time Goes By so she can remember the love she and Rick shared. Sam knows not to play it because to Rick, it's a memory of what he lost. Is Ilsa being selfish? No, because Rick did the worst thing he possibly could have done: he buried her alive within him, and all night long in the cafe, we have been seeing the results of it. Unless Rick un-buries her and sets her free, he will never be free himself. This is the power of art, that all their memories could so easily be unleashed by the mere humming of words, a few notes and listening.
This may be Ingrid Bergman's greatest moment in film, the camera just sitting on her as the words and music unleashes the memories of her own pain and sacrifice It's a tribute to director Curtiz that he had the courage to leave the camera stationary on her for so long, because that's usually avoided in film, but this is the only real moment that we, the audience, has with Ilsa, and
When Rick steps out of his office and hears the familiar notes that threaten to open the "vault" and steal all his savings, he storms over to Sam and using a harsh tone, says, "I thought I told you never to play--" and with the direction of their eyes, the law that had been laid down is now undermined.
Rick giving Sam the evil eye as he looks up and sees Ilsa. Please note, Sam's stack of music is towards Ilsa, the letters of transit underneath the sheets still.
This scene is perhaps the most brutal thing that can happen to a man and he still lives. Renault, without realizing what he's saying, tells Ilsa, "Rick's becoming quite human, I suppose we have you to thank for that," but Renault has hit upon the key: the inhuman, cynical emotions Rick has shown all night long is attributed to the sudden loss of Ilsa from his life, from his future. Now we can understand why Rick doesn't drink with the customers: they are his customers, not his friends, and one goes out to drink and have a good time with your friends, but Rick doesn't have any friends, until Ilsa, his love, reappears. Why does Rick take the check? He's been paying for this meeting for more than a year now, and Rick knows it, and Ilsa knows it.
When Ilsa and Victor are going outside, Victor asks what sort of man Rick is and Ilsa replies that she doesn't know. I don't think she's lying to protect either one of them, with Rick, she might have been in love with him, but that doesn't mean she really knew what kind of man he is the way she knows Victor. In Paris they said "No questions," and while the Nazis know what Rick was doing in Paris, Ilsa probably didn't.
Well, as Rick said he had come to Casablanca for the waters, for his health, we can see that the waters of forgetfulness weren't strong enough and whiskey is needed instead. Rick says, "They grab Ugarte and then she walks in. That's the way it goes. One in, one out." This is the only moment that we see Rick show remorse for the lost Ugarte, but as of yet, Rick still hasn't remembered the letters of transit. The problem with Rick's line of thinking, "One in, one out," and Rick knows it, is that Ilsa isn't "in" because she's on her way out, and that's the main reason he's getting drunk, to prepare himself to lose her again.
Note, please, the piano and where Ilsa stands, the same point in relation to where Rick hid the letters of transit from Ugarte under the sheet music atop Sam's piano.
We find out that there is a "price on his head," and that Rick has a record, but we don't know for what; does it matter? It tells us, in Rick's own words, that he's on "their roll of honor," which means he does fight for the underdog as Renault suggested. Why doesn't Ilsa just tell Rick what has happened? For two reasons, at least: one, she doesn't want Rick to stay or do something that would get him captured; two, it's positive they were having a sexual relationship which of course would be adultery for Ilsa, although she genuinely believed her husband to be dead. I don't think it was so much to protect herself as to save Rick the embarrassment of explaining to him that she thought she was a widow but isn't.
A bit of a continuity issue: it's raining in this part of the scene, but in the next shot, when Rick and Sam get on the train, it's dry, even his coat is dry.... Or is it a continuity issue? Curtiz is a superior director, and that obvious of a transition must have been done intentionally to show how, when he's reading the letter, Rick is "all washed up," but he's such a hardened man that by the time he turns around and boards the train, he's dried out his tears (throwing the paper away like he perceives she has done to him). This "dryness" may be the reason why he decided to stay in the dry desert of Casablanca. Then again, the narrator at the start gave us the route of refugees, and them ending up in Casablanca. Perhaps he thought to stay there in hopes of them meeting again?
This piece of paper mirrors the letters of transit the action sequence is all about, because this letter from Ilsa kills both her to have to write it and Rick to have to read it, and the letter sends them in opposite directions from each other. Just as no one can even question the letters of transit, so Rick isn't allowed to question why Ilsa isn't going with him.
"Richard, I cannot go with you or ever see you again. You must not ask why. Just believe that I love you. Go, my darling, and God bless you. Ilsa."
When the flashback ends and Rick is back at the Cafe, his hand knocks over the glass just as Ilsa's did in Paris when he kissed her for the last time. The arms symbolize strength, and Ilsa's arm going limp when she knew she would have to leave Rick is the same as Rick's arm going limp now knowing another man has her and he's going to lose her again; the strength is all gone.
Women wear scarves around their head to keep their hair from blowing in the wind. Ilsa has put this one on knowing she's going to see Rick and the "wind" of her emotions will be blowing, and so she has to keep her thoughts straight, but she didn't count on him being drunk.
As Ilsa walks in, Rick is probably feeling both joy to see her, for her to come means she still loves him, but pain because he doesn't have her. Let's note her clothes. The white she wears contrasts with the "white" of Casablanca. Everyone in Casablanca is the white of death, the white of a decomposing corpse because they are dead in despair, corruption or some other sin. Ilsa is alive with hope, the white of innocence that still believes in Victor's work. Rick's white dinner jacket puts him in the category of those who are dead and we can say this with confidence because Renault commented just hours before how human Rick was starting to act. Why is he so rude to her? When someone has hurt us, hurting them back to an equal (or even greater degree) is the only chance we have of both communicating what they have done to us and trying to relieve our own pain (which never works).
A scar always means that a person has a "scar" on their soul, some experience has scarred them and causes them act or not to act in certain ways. Victor's time in the concentration camp validates that, but what about Rick's scar, the scar Ilsa left upon him that no one sees?
Victor has an interesting conversation with Strasser and Renault; when Strasser tempts Victor with supplying the names of the underground leaders, Renault chimes in about "having the honor of serving the Third Reich," and we know that's facetious because just seconds before Renault had bragged about marching on Berlin in 1918. Renault seems again to protect Victor when he lets Victor in on Ugarte's death and them trying to decide between "suicide or escape," to let Victor know no one can be trusted, including Renault. But the big point of this conversation is Strasser telling Victor that Victor is irreplaceable to the underground movement; why? Adolf Hitler was irreplaceable to the Third Reich; whereas someone would have risen up to take Victor's place out of necessity, no one could have continued leading the Reich with Hitler's demise.
When Rick meets Ilsa in the marketplace, going over the lace, the lace symbolizes the "cover" that Rick is trying to put on himself for how he had treated Ilsa the night before (blaming it on the bourbon and trying to not be destructive and weak-kneed there). As Ilsa holds the lace, it covers her hands, her strength: she's being gentle with Rick in a way he wasn't with her.
The previous day, Ilsa wore all white, and now, the stripes underneath are starting to show "underneath" the skin and the darkness lurking there. The gloves on her hand show for us how she's still "hiding" something from Rick. Rick putting both his thumbs in his pants like that is a sexual gesture and, coupled with his invitation for Ilsa to come up and see him some night, is meant to remind her of the intimate moments they have shared and how he's hoping they can have them again.
Why does Rick help out Jan and Anninia? To save his own life. This is the reason why God permits bad things to happen to good people, and why none of us can be above accepting charity, because charity is love, the deepest kind, and by helping out these two young kids fulfilling their dreams, by doing what he can do, Rick saves himself from the cancer eating away at him. He doesn't do it to get back at Renault for anything, only to save both of them from the pain and anguish his life without Ilsa had become. Spreading love thusly, helps out not only those in need, but prevented Renault from committing that sin AND brought happiness to Carl and Sascha. Yea, that was a great thing and each of us in our own ways, every day, are called to do the same.
The situation she brings to him is the exact opposite of what will happen to Ilsa, she will be the one, like Anninia, to be confronted with sleeping with Rick to get the letters of transit for her and Victor, and seeing what kind of man Renault is for doing this to a married woman makes Rick realize that he doesn't want to be that way and it shows his respect for marriage.
The scene where Rick and Victor talk in Rick's office is an interesting one, and previously I cited it as the only flaw in the film, and I was wrong to do so. There is a lot of information we don't know about Rick and yet the writers chose to have Victor repeat something we all ready do know; why? This moment of redundancy, making Victor look like a "Johnny come late," is meant to help us not like him, to show a human side to him; Victor could have busted quite a bit on us, all the things Rick did in Paris and even before, but this moment of insufficiency, so to speak, prepares us for the heroism of the next scene. 
Just after this scene, Major Strasser has a great idea: he confronts Ilsa with the danger Victor is in and gets her to worrying about him, knowing that her emotions in the equation may influence Victor.
Why is this scene so important? We have heard about Victor the great, and now we have seen Victor the great, step up and know exactly what to do when no one else did and no one else had the courage. The scene also demonstrates the power of art to express what we feel, believe, know. This scene wouldn't be as powerful without As Time Goes By playing in the background of Ilsa's and Rick's affair, but because of the superb crafting and pacing of the story, the songs work well with each in the film and for the audience.
From the dark stripes to the paisley design, the swirls of the shirt lets us know that is exactly what Ilsa's thoughts and emotions are doing inside her.
Rick had a good strategy, too. "Ask your wife," because no one knew they were married. So why does Rick want Victor to know these things, to know that Rick knows? Revenge. Rick is in pain and he wants to make them both suffer, but to be in pain is human, and just as Victor not being able to tell us anything new about Rick kinda made Victor look bad, so Rick taking shots at Victor makes Rick look bad. But it's really not how we act when we are down, it's to the heights that we are able to raise up, and if we didn't see a fragile, hurt side in Rick, we wouldn't be able to believe the sacrifice he makes at the end.
Ilsa trying to get the letters from Rick has a great deal of truth, that is, the part about her love for him. Without intending to, she tells us something very important when she and Victor are at Ferrari's trying to get the visas, and she mentions Victor having stayed with her while she was sick for two weeks at Marseilles. Marseilles would have been the first stop outside of Paris and not being able to bear being away from Rick, she fell deathly ill (at least ill enough that even with the Nazis coming for them she couldn't be moved).
We can skip some of this because the whole show has been building up to it, but one little moment is when we get to the airport and a man is talking about the weather conditions: "Visibility one and one half miles. Light ground fog. Depth of fog approximately 500. Ceiling unlimited." The problems with fog and visibility reflects how, once Rick gets everyone to the airport, he can't foresee what will happen because of the fog's depth, but because the ceiling is unlimited, so is Rick and his heroism in this moment.
We know that Rick had a perfectly good plan for escaping with Ilsa, so why does he help Victor to go with her? Free will. When Rick left Paris without Ilsa, he didn't have any choice in the matter, now, Ilsa leaving without him, he does. Free will, it has been said by the saints, is God's great gift to us, because even though we often use it to abuse ourselves, when we use it to do the right thing, we gain glory by it, for ourselves and for God. The film has set up an important precedent for Americans during World War II; what was it?
What exactly does Ilsa symbolize? The reason America was founded, the reason why the resistance fought on in Europe against the Nazis: freedom and love and hope. It wasn't in Paris (the French Revolution) where they fell in love, it was at Plymouth Rock, it was in Jamestown, in Bunker Hill, Concord, one European refugee at a time, and being in the European war helped Americans to remember who they were and why they were fighting, even if Pearl Harbor wasn't the way to enter the war. Victor tells Rick, "Welcome back to the fight," and it's meaning, "Welcome to the second World War," because that's what we stand for and great art like Casablanca can remind us of that.
America didn't have a choice about getting into World War II; Casablanca is meant as a catharsis that, if there had been a choice, we would have entered, sooner or later, and that catharsis is the free will of the country. Remember, these events take place between December 2-5, just days before the anniversary of Pearl Harbor when Americans would be remembering how we lost our soldiers and got into the war. Rick tells Ilsa, "I have a job, too. And where I'm going, you can't follow. What I've got to do you can't be a part of," which is what Christ told his disciples before the Passion. Remember, in that first letter Ilsa gave to Rick, she said, "God bless you"; in the letters Rick gives to Ilsa, she says again, God bless you.
The influences of Rick Blaine on future film noir characters could be said to stem from the inner battle between good and evil, the chess game with one's self. In films such as Out Of the Past, the hero doesn't make it to being a hero, the way Rick does (and Rick's actions are so heroic, it even inspires Renault to become a hero, too). In Out Of the Past, he's so tainted that he just can't clean himself to bring off the conversion required to live (in artistic terms) but Rick was definitely a possibility for that in Casablanca because of all the corruption being bred in his Cafe; as the war dragged on, film makers knew you couldn't be around corruption and sin without it becoming a part of you, and when that happened, you were dead.
Remember that Casablanca is in the desert? As Renault and Rick walk off into the fog, their feet splash through water, meaning, they have both escaped the metaphorical desert of death.
Because of Rick's inner battle, Curtiz's use of light and shadow contributed significantly to the character development of the film, and film noir directors would remember the lessons he taught them and utilize them every chance they could get. But there's another important aspect: the women. We still see the Ilsas in film noir, but mostly it's the Yvonnes, and they are, as Renault put it, "a second front all their own." It's the dark woman that rule the film noir, because if the hero is bad, the heroine is even worse.