Music's Role in "Casablanca"
Music’s Role in Casablanca
The ever-popular film Casablanca presents its viewers with fantastic supporting music to its film, to help make every scene as realistic as possible, and help turn an average film into one of the greatest love stories of all time. Throughout the film, music is carefully designed to enhance the effects of each scene, and helping to add realism. Director Michael Curtiz can be considered a genius for his superb use of film score, which can be used for many different functions. By reviewing two different scenes at different parts of the film, we can see how film score had many similarities and differences but with one common goal.
Casablanca takes its viewers on a love rollercoaster between a couple reuniting after a long period apart. In the first section of the film we meet two love distraught characters: Rick and Ilsa. While sitting in Rick’s café on different occasions, both ask the club piano player to play “As Time Goes By.” This was the couples’ song when they were together in Paris. “As Time Goes By,” being played by a piano, begins to play in the restaurant, and instantly sets a gloomy setting for the scene. The song instantly sparks flashbacks. This slow song can almost put us into the seat of the characters, because we instantly feel the dismal setting just listening to it, and our emotions our instantly sucked in. The song being played is heard by both the viewers, and the characters in the movie, and therefore is considered to be diegenic sound.
With the setting remaining in Rick’s café, the viewers witness the scene when Rick and IIsa meet up again for the first time since Paris. As soon as their eyes make contact, we instantly hear a distraught love tune. This tune tells us this couple has had an intimate relationship in the past, but reuniting was a
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little uneasy for them, sparking old memories. Because the tune inserted into the film is very slow and sad, we know it is meant to lead the viewers down a path of sorrow. Without the music we would see Rick and IIsa just staring into each other’s eyes with no emotions, and it would be very difficult to make an assumption on the emotions running between the couple. This tune helps bring the scene to life, and enhance our emotional perception of the situation.
When the couple is reminiscing their past, their thoughts are accompanied by a cheerful tone. Rick remembers them cuddling in a car back in Paris. We can instantly recognize this was a happy memory for him because the background music portrayed was cheerful and romantic. The joyful music supports the smiles from the couple during the flashback, and helps bring life into the scene. Because this music lets the viewers know the couple is heartbroken, it helps foreshadow that they will soon be reunited as a couple again. The cheerful melody accompanying these flashbacks will help set the scene for the couple in the present.
Another way music can effectively enhance the scene, is when it is momentarily paused. Such is the case when Rick and IIsa are together, and he asks her what happened to the other man in her life. The cheerful flashback tone cuts out for a brief moment when Ilsa claims, “He’s dead.” This brief silence strategically placed there is actually very helpful to the situation. This silence conveys a strong message. It makes the viewers realize that her words are extremely important, and there is much more emphasis on what she is saying. Instantly after the silence the melody continues to be jumpy and joyful again. From this, we can infer that Ilsa is happy her old man is gone from her life, so that she can now be with Rick.
This ten minute clip can be compared with another one at the end of the film. This is when Rick sends Ilsa away with Victor on the flight and moves on with his life. This could be the clip that helps Casablanca be the great love story that it is. The viewers get to see Rick and Ilsa’s last moments together before she departs. Ilsa does not want to leave, but behind Rick’s better judgment he sends her anyways. When Rick tells the man to make the plane tickets out to a Mr. and Mrs. Laszlo, instantly a very uneasy, heartbreaking-type tune begins to play. This tune tells us the couple’s time together is over. Ilsa begs to stay with Rick, but he refuses and tells her she must get on the plane. Throughout their conversation the tune slowly turns into a very sad love tune. Without even watching the scene, the music being portrayed could bring a gloomy feeling to your body and tears to your eyes, simply because it is such a depressing tune. Without the use of this, it would be like an ordinary breakup scene that is viewed in thousands of movies daily. Rick tells Ilsa, “We will always have Paris,” and the music seems to become even more extreme. It cuts out while Rick converses with Victor Laszlo, but resumes as Rick watched the couple walk away, and out of his life. The music perfectly fits as we see tears streaming from Ilsa’s eyes. This melody helps us predict that this could be the end of Rick and Ilsa, forever this time. There was no music that suggested they would ever reunite again.
As Victor and Ilsa begin departing, Major Strasser intends to stop the flight carrying Victor Laszlo. Rick warns him to put down the phone but Major Strasser refuses. Rick threatens to shoot, but Major Strasser ignores him, and the music quickly becomes very tense. The background sound is very low, but its quick, dark melody tells the viewers that tension is quickly growing. Rick then proceeds to shoot and kill Major Strasser, and as soon as he fires the gun, the music becomes extreme. With the help of drums and some other instruments, the beat is very fast paced and haunting. From this sound we know that the tension has just climaxed. Soon after the shooting Rick is conversing with a man
named Renault when the police showed up. Rick and Renault make eye contact with each other because Rick thinks Renault will sell him out. At this point the tense music begins. This fast paced music quickly drags in our attention because we are wanting to know what is going to happen to Rick. Renault then motions to the police and says, “Round up the usual suspects,” freeing Rick of his wrongdoing. The music instantly calms down as a smile flashes across Rick’s face, and we know all the tension has quickly been released. This inserted music makes it so we aren’t watching two men stare at each other in silence. From the tense music we know something major is about to happen.
At the conclusion of the movie, we are left with Rick walking away with Renault. The music becomes extremely joyous, as Rick says, “Renny, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” The music fits perfectly for this scene, we can make many inferences from the ending music. This jolly, jumpy tune justifies Rick’s new friendship he has just made. It can also be inferred that this is the ending music to a superb film, and for some reason Rick is walking away a happy man, even though he watched the love of his life leave him forever.
After reviewing the two clips, we notice that there were many similarities and differences in the background music that was used. Both clips rely heavily on a form of a romantic-type melody. The first clip uses a distressed type of music through many flashbacks to create sad memories. The song ‘As Time Goes By’ leads the emotion throughout clip #1, and the heartbreak romance song get the viewer involved throughout. Clip #2 also consists of a great deal of romantic tune. The romance is meant to help guide us through the scene when Rick and Ilsa part their separate ways. Throughout, this background music lets us know the scene is extremely gloomy, and the romantic fling between the couple is over. Romance is very commonly portrayed through background music, because it’s a concept that most everybody can relate to, and the easiest way to tap into viewers’ emotions.
Although romance makes the two clips very alike, there also is a strong difference between them. Clip #1 takes place in Rick’s Café, and “As time goes by” is mostly what we hear. Because this is also heard by the characters in the movie, this clip is composed of mostly diegenic sound. But meanwhile in clip #2 emotions are conveyed mostly through instrumental ways, meaning the viewers are the only ones that hear it. This is the most common type of background music.
We can easily see how big of an impact film music had on the film Casablanca. This romantic film demonstrated extraordinary use of film music to tap into the viewers emotions, and get them connected to each scene. Casablanca takes it to the next level, and is considered to be one of the greatest films of all time. Other directors have tried to reproduce Casablanca, but no one has had any success, simply because the director created a masterpiece of film music. And if the year this film was made (1942) is taken into effect, knowing how little technology they had compared to today, the film is even more impressive. For any movie lovers Casablanca will always be toward the top of their list, simply from the profound use of background music demonstrated throughout.