Mise-en-scene: Casablanca (1942)
The scene selected is the concluding shot, “the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” The
names of the artists involved are as follows. The director of the film is Michael Curtiz. The
production designer is Carl Jules Weyl. The art director is also Carl Jules Weyl.
Director Curtiz was responsible for the aspect of creativity in the film. Developing the
vision for Casablanca, the sequencing of the shots, tone and swagger of each of the characters,
the principle theme (friendship in place of propaganda), the aspect of the camera, and finalizing
lighting and coordinating (Rosenzweig, 1982).
The production designer, Weyl, worked on the visual imagery and the aesthetic feel of
the screenplay. To bring an eclectic combination of contributions together, he works closely with
costume designers, hair and appearance personnel, special effects and location managers. In the
end, computer designing, set designing, illustrations all befall the production designer.
The art director works as a right hand man of the production designer. In Casablanca,
Weyl managed both roles. In this capacity, Weyl had had to administer the overall art
department. Task distribution, budgeting, scheduling and quality checks are all his concern.
The lighting used in Casablanca is specially important because it helps Director Curtiz in
quickly delineating the good from the evil in the mixed city and context of Casablanca, used by
Europeans to escape Nazi persecution. The effect of shadows is unique in that they are symbolic
of the gloom that fascist oppression could bring across the Atlantic, given the times. In the scene
specially we see lighting being used as a fatalistic tool. Until the plane has vanished, it is dark
and unlit, symbolic of the suspense and lack of certainty over whether Ilsa and Victor would be
able to escape. Even once it has disappeared in the clouds, the lighting merely conveys gloom,
emanating from the difficulty of the times and the uncertainty of war. The most well lit character
is that of Renault as he drives the narrative and emerges the underpinning “hero” in the scene.
Setting and Timer Period
The setting is that of the city of Casablanca, in the early 40’s. The second world war is in
full swing. Casablanca finds itself on the front lines of this war – less militarily, more culturally.
The local, laid back ethnic culture native to Casablanca is sharply in contrast with the dynamics
and suspense that the war has brought to the city. Espionage, deceit, and fast changing loyalties
enable the movement of the plot.
Costuming and Characters
On the outside, costuming may merely be symbolic of the nationality or loyalty of the
subject. However, flair is added in how characters carry these costumes, specially in Casablanca.
General Strasser is the steadfast war general, dressed impeccably in German overalls. The tilted
hat on Renault hints oddly at the quirkiness of his character and his unpredictability. Whereas,
Bogart (Rick) in a trench coat and fedora looks more determined than ever in enabling Ilsa
Costuming in itself is always complemented in how it is carried by the particular
character. Just as we saw both Strasser and Renault in military attires, but carrying and acting in
a wildly different mannerisms. Costumes are innately very powerful in conveying meaning.
They can be used to symbolize facts (time, occasion, loyalty etc.), yield conclusions (torn, wet)
etc and can save precious narration time when utilized well.
Hairstyle and Makeup
Hairstyle and makeup can be representative of the time period they hail from. This helps
situate the scene historically. Hairstyle also reveals the nationality of the characters; in
Casablanca, we see Ilsa predominantly using French hairstyles of the era, depicting her
nationality. We can easily identify and segregate active duty military men in scenes from their
hair styles and their gruff makeup. This is in contrast to a more gentlemanly image and use of
lighter tones on civilian characters (Rick for example).
In general, hairstyle and makeup reveal important aspects of a character, including the
socio-economic status, the light in which they are portrayed, their designs and very importantly,
their motives. The well rounded and seasoned (“manly”) image that Clark Gable conveys, for
example, in Gone With the Wind, is sharply contrasted with the “boyish” image that is crafted
for the warmongering young men in one of the movie’s most famous scenes.
Opinion on Mise-en-scene
The mise-en-scene in the ending scene of Casablanca is almost very well crafted, in my
opinion. All elements from composition, the set (using a cardboard plane and midgets walking
around it, that project it like an actual plane), props, actors, costumes and lighting go together
well. The scene beautifully captures the essence of the film, the main character’s (Rick) struggles
between love and virtue. The scene is at once dynamic and yet, very very slow and while the
viewer’s attention is focussed on Rick, it is Renault who drives the scene with his surprising
come about. The editing and special effects though could have been a bit more convincing as fog
is used intensively to hide the cardboard plane’s poor construction (Lebo, 1992). But all is well,
because the vision of the film is conveyed perfectly; Rick emerges victorious in virtues and
noble in love!
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