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Music in Casablanca Analysis

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 1951 words Published: 5th Jun 2017

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Casablanca is one of the classic love stories in American movie history. There are many ingredients are combined to make the successful film. One of main contributions that is the music of Casablanca and it should not be underrated. Max Steiner, one of the great Hollywood composers, drew upon the leitmotif and achieved many subtle effects of mood-painting and psychological commentary in his score. In this essay, one of scenes of Casablanca that will be discussed is about the conversation of Rick and Ilsa in Rick’s bar after the Paris flashback from Ilsa’s entry. Timothy E. Scheurer mentioned in The Music of Casablanca that Max molded the theme to the situation, changing keys, augmenting the melody, altering its rhythms, and modifying its harmonic structure at points to emphasize its dramatic qualities. In his hands, it became a symbol of fulfilment, a melody expressing the happiness that comes with love.

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The music, As Time Goes By, originally wrote by Herman Hupfield, which has reorganized in the scene by Max. People may inevitably think of it when they remember the film. He transformed As Times Goes By to a number of contrasting variations. Audience may focus more on the actions or conversations of the characters and they may be attracted from others effect from the film. Also, they may say there was music but they did not notice about it and in fact that Max composed cues in numerous indication of instrumentation. They are given a certain feeling or emotion of the scene from what the producers are trying to express it such as music.

The scene is about at the end of recalling Rick’s memories in Paris; he is sitting at a café table in the foreground and knocking over his glass of bourbon. Next, camera pans to the right and repositions him on the left and suddenly, the door is opened in the far distance in the middle of the screen. There is no music before Ilsa comes in which may indicate that both Rick and viewers are waiting for someone. The silence enhances the sinking feeling. In here, Max may attempt to give a break to audiences and leads them to get ready for this scene from the other. Until the door is opened, the music is begun and is played the ‘Casablanca chord 2’; ‘the sinking chromatic scale’ (Marks, M. p. 167, 177), which give a sinking feeling to audience at the first point after the Paris flashback. It seems there are something will happen and it happens, Ilsa comes to see Rick and Rick seems waiting for so long. Martin Marks said that ‘the chord in the first measure is marked for woodwinds, vibraphone, harp, piano, celesta, and horns; above the chord Steiner has written that it should be orchestrated like Reel 5, Part 4 (the mentioned scene in this essay).’ In other words, the whole music in this scene is played by these instruments or maybe more than these such as strings. However, the music is subdued which gives the effect on audiences is subliminal. Also, audiences when watch the whole scene, they can reach the counterpoint to the dialogues with the music. Max has even re-used the ‘Casablanca chord 2’ in Reel 9, Part 2, which the scene is Ilsa’s second return to Rick. The manipulation of the music is similar to Reel 4, Part 7, which the scene Ilsa first see Rick. In order to maintain the unity of the whole story, Max fragmented the music and put it into different scene to bring out different motion.

Back to the scene, Ilsa appears wearing a white coat and scarf and she comes to Rick as he expected but she heightens his resentful feeling by telling him that she would not have came if she had known he was in Casablanca. Then, Ilsa tries to speak to him but he is sarcastic and refuses to listen to her explanations. With tears in her eyes, Ilsa attempts to explain her past history. ‘It’s about a girl who had just come to Paris from her home in Oslo. At the house of some friends she met a man about whom she’d heard her whole life, a very great and courageous man. He opened up for her a whole beautiful world full of knowledge and thoughts and ideals. Everything she knew or even became was because of him. And she looked up to him and worshipped him which a feeling she suppose was love.’ Audiences may learn or guess that Ilsa’s admiration for Victor Laszlo is the source of her love for him. Ilsa is forced to face the fact that she has other loyalties and attachments that she should not abandon. Her life seems to lack independent action and it makes her separation from Rick appear more tragic than Rick’s separation from her. For Rick, he hopes Ilsa is telling him the man who is Rick himself but ironically, he is forced to recognize the nature of the divided loyalties that Ilsa has to face and she choose to be with Laszlo. Obviously, Ilsa cares for Victor and is torn between the two men. She thought that she would never see him again. Audiences may appreciate the position in which Ilsa finds herself.

Rick denigrates Ilsa to the level of a promiscuous. Ilsa thought that Rick would listen to her but he did not. The music is played with some heavy bass instruments, meanwhile, he continuous with his bitter dialogue, ‘Tell me, who was it you left me for? Was it Laszlo or were there others in between? Or aren’t you the kind that tells?’ After that, Ilsa is with a tear running down her cheek and leaves Rick without further word. The sinking chord is playing again when Ilsa leaves Rick. Audiences are given a sympathy feeling for Ilsa that she should not be treated in this way because of her loyalty. On the other hand, they understand why Rick is being so cynical that he could not hold his love.

When their conversation started, Max made the music in slow tempo and maintained in a quite high pitch. Marks showed that the Rick’s bitter dialogue is with the variation 6 of As Times Goes By, Doom. Then, it is Ilsa’s turn to speak and tell her story and the instruments such as string and harp are stood out to present its feminine, which accompanies by what Ilsa is wearing (Virgin Mary wrap and mothers-like wearing) and the photographic effect on her which gives a blurring effect and spotlights are on her made her eyes are sparkling to made her so feminine. It seems Ilsa is still beautiful and attractive to Rick. When Ilsa is telling about her story, the background music also contains Laszlo ‘Marseille’ and it may indicate that Ilsa’s life has already been with Victor and she cannot abandon Victor. It is hard for audiences to hear the music because Max has subdued it and audiences may recognize it unconsciously.

As Times Goes By and Marseille is blended together may indicate a tale of two men vying for the same woman’s love in a love triangle. At the end of this scene, the music is again orchestrated as same as the beginning of it. It shows a clear entrance and exit of the scene with well organized music that audiences would know when the other scene is begun.

To aspect of religious, the subconscious of Ilsa’s identity is shown to audiences and Rick as an angel of motherhood as a transfiguration. When Rick speaks again, music is played in low pitch and audience may hear the bass to perceive the identity of masculine, heroism. Audiences may learn that why Rick becomes a cynical man who is assumed a powerful man in Casablanca. When he is reminiscing the time in Paris, in which he was a more optimistic, more romantic and less cynical man. The flashback scene is an important cue to show why Rick is being so mean to Ilsa in this scene. The music is reinforced Rick’s emotion inner his heart when he see Ilsa again. And now, audience know that Rick is drunk at this time, not thinking clearly and they know nothing about what Ilsa experienced. Audiences may tend to stay impartial until more of the story is revealed. The flashback has brought us to a point where we know enough about Rick to at least understand his motivations and viewers are better able to pass a judgment on him. In this scene, it seems that it is the time to show the truth why their relationship is unfulfilled. The music enhanced their feelings, sadness, anger and regretfulness to audiences.

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Scheurer said in The Music of Casablanca that ‘we never hear the song played all the way through in one sitting in the film. As Rich and Ilsa’s love is fated to be never completely fulfilled, so the song presents itself to the viewers is fragments and is never complete.’ At the end of the scene, Max manipulated the music deliberately to be fragmentary at the beginning when Ilsa comes in and at the end when Ilsa ultimately left Rick again. The music is also used to be a connective to the past in which that sense of fulfilment was at hand but hand slipped away again.

For its song’s history, As Times Goes By is first published in 1931. It was perfectly applied to the film because of its evocation of the past. The melody in minor harmonic can deliver a message of a sense of bittersweet and nostalgia longing. Furthermore, in 1943, based on trends in popular music and theatre, during this time, the song with some nostalgia is certainly received warmly by movie audience. The song is worked musically and lyrically which speak of love eternal. Rick and Ilsa’s romance had made their own in the post with the song.

Graphic score is also drawn in order to analysis its music effects the mood of the narrative. The whole sequence lasts for about 3 minutes. I have heard several times of the music with and without watching it. It gives a big difference. When I heard the music with watching it, I would focus more on what Rick and Ilsa are talking about. The volume of music is turned down when the conversations is started. The conversation is clearly to be heard the explanation of their relationship between Rick and Ilsa. However, sometimes, there are some strings and harps are played in high pitch. The most recognizable sound is played at the beginning and at the end of the sequence. When I hear the music without watching, it seems more music is coming out, for example, As Time Goes By is played by string and Marseille also can be heard. Music is constructed to convey the character’s emotion perfectly.

To conclude, according to Scheurer, ‘It is to Steiner’s credit that, despite having so much of the score dictated by diegetic music (“As Time Goes By” and “The Marseillaise” especially), he was able to craft a score that has his indelible stamp. He took the source music and wove it into the leitmotif structure very effectively, and in the process, he transformed the songs. They seem larger, greater, and better pieces of music than we might think they are. This happens, no doubt, because the themes work in conjunction with other superb filmic elements (acting, directing, lighting, etc.).’ I agree with its statement that although music is an important element in producing a film, but it is not least to construct or make up a theme with other vital elements such as star power of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergnan, colourful characters, remarkable acting performances, effective direction, skilled cinematographary and a good score. However, Max Steiner approached to catch as many cinematic details as he can; not only in this discussed scene, but also to keep the music moving forward in the whole film. As Martin Marks said, Max ‘shows a keen understanding of the narrative’s overall and music’s ability to enhance it.’


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