Directors and Camera Work: Communicating Intangible Emotional States in Visual Images
The famous scene in which Rick's
emotional desolation at the Paris train station is communicated by the camera's close-up upon the
rain-dissolved writing on Ilsa's letter has an ancient lineage. The words' impermanence
suggests the instability of the will which wrote it with an image that may have
occurred to Curtiz or Arthur Edeson, the Director of Photography, because of
their European educations' acquaintance with the classics. As early as the time
of Julius Caesar, the Roman poet, Catullus, wrote this:
NVLLI se dicit mulier mea nubere malle
quam mihi, non si se Iuppiter ipse petat.
dicit: sed mulier cupido quod dicit amanti,
in uento et rapida scribere oportet aqua.
My girl tells me there's nobody
She would rather wed
Than me, though Jupiter himself
So she says, but that which women
say to those who desire them
should be written
on the wind or on fast moving water.
Curtiz and Edeson may be making a direct artistic "allusion" to Catullus' poem, but artists also can transform such motifs that they inherit from previous artists. See Edmund Spenser's later sonnet, which also alludes to Catullus' lyric, but which uses the image to argue that greatest art can withstand the dissolving force of nature and time. In this beach scene, he is arguing with Elizabeth Boyle, the woman he later married--his intentionally archaic spelling is deliberate and entirely legal in Elizabethan English:
One day I wrote her name upon the strand,
But came the waves and washed it away;
Agayne I wrote it with a second hand,
But came the tyde, and made my paynes his pray.
"Vayne man," said she, "that doest in vaine assay,
A mortall thing so to immortalize,
For I my selve shall lyke to this decay,
And eek my name bee wyped out lykewize."
"Not so," quod I, "let baser things devize,
To dy in dust, but you shall live by fame;
My verse your vertues rare shall eternize,
And in the heavens wryte your glorious name.
Where whenas death shall all the world subdew,
Our love shall live, and later life renew."