Sunday, Nov. 8, 2009

Recalling Casablanca

Movies and Memory

By David Luhrssen
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Most of us have a particular, favorite film that calls up experiences, emotions, memories. Perhaps that movie has somehow become a reference to the whole of your life? That's what Casablanca is for French anthropologist Marc Auge. An adolescent in 1947 when Casablanca was belatedly released in France, Auge relates the film not only to the time he first encountered it but to his childhood wartime experience—his uncle was an officer in Casablanca who fought against the U.S. invasion of North Africa only to switch sides, like Claude Rains' police prefect, and become Free French.

In his essay Casablanca: Movies and Memory (published by the University of Minnesota Press), Auge jump cuts between the present and various times in his past, between Casablanca and its many, often unexpected cross references to his life. Maybe many of us could write our own book on the intersection of a single movie with our personal narrative?

Auge is not the most informed guide to film history and sometimes is clearly wrong. "No theatrical play, no novel has ever been inspired by a film," he writes, obviously unaware of what's been running on Broadway in the last couple decades. But he is not without insights, including his observation that film adaptations of literature tend to supplant the imagery from those stories in our minds, and the way video and DVD diminishes movies by "creating an excessive familiarity, of running the riks of repetition and saturation.”

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