Sample Note on Vonalt's "visual style" chapter in Telott's The Cult Film Experience (1991)

Vonalt, Larry.  “Looking Both Ways in Casablanca.”  In The Cult Film Experience, ed. J. P. Telotte.  Austin: U Texas P, 1991.  Web.  N.p.

            Vonalt analyzes Casablanca’s “visual style,” its repeated ways of showing us certain kinds of things like drinks or kisses or threats.  Because he treats it as a “cult film,” one that has popularity long after its release but only for avid fans who study it for new purposes, he thinks Casablanca can let audiences “entertain contradictions or radical views with no difficulty.”  Those contradictions produce what he calls a “doubled visual style” whose most obvious example is Rick’s café, a bright and popular nightclub that also contains criminals trying to make money and their victims trying to escape the Nazis, or crimes of their own.  He also sees “doubled visual style” in the paired dresses and hats worn by Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa Lund, and even her own double, Annina Brandel (played by Joy Page).  He points out that Ilsa’s white suite when she is first introduced and Annina’s dark suit when she appeals to Rick about Louis, are visually opposites, but they are both very precisely tailored in the highest fashion of the 1940s.  He also mentions, but does not extensively discuss, the similar uniforms worn by Major Heinrich Strasser and Captain Louis Renault.  The analysis of the café’s double nature could be developed into a paper about the movie’s strange morality—using evil to do good and using good motives to do evil?  The analysis of the film’s costumes could help us track characters associated with each other, and with values (wearing white / wearing black) and changes in characters’ associations (changing from white to black, or from white to some ambiguous grey/white/black pattern).  Vonalt’s sources also might be useful, especially Anne Hollander on clothing analysis and Roland Marchand on 1920-40 advertising images.