Week 8 Discussion Guide: Sunday-Monday Film Viewing
Before you watch Casablanca, familiarize yourself with the era in which it was made and in which its audience first saw it. Read the online Encyclopedia description of the European situation in 1941-2 and be prepared to discuss what you know about how things stood in December 1942, as well as the typical American public attitude toward World War II in the winter of 1942-3. The film contains untranslated German and French speech, song, and print, most of which I have translated for you here. What does it mean to audiences when film makers present more than one language in a film, and especially, what did it mean to American audiences in 1943 to listen to those French and German voices coming from an American movie screen? What was Curtiz' objective? Note that Casablanca won three Academy Awards in 1943 (Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay), so it appears audiences were not in the least put off by the languages used in the script.]
Also before you watch the film the first time, consult this list of major and minor characters, and annotate them with their most important scenes, physical attributes, personality traits, etc. What mysteries to they present to us and which mysteries are solved, large and small? What repeating thematic issues does the film present to us, and how do they work to create its central mystery, to be resolved in the final scenes? If you can re-watch short, specific scenes, you will be able to start understanding how the film created its illusions and mysteries, and explaining that might be one way to begin a paper for this segment of the course.
As in the case of Hawthorne's stories, though, in addition to a traditional film-studies or literary interpretation of the film, writers are free to adopt the analytical tools of a number of other disciplines to help us understand the film better: political science; history; psychology; art; theater; economics; anthropology and sociology all come to mind.