Casablanca is propaganda

Should Casablanca be considered one of the greatest propaganda films as much as one as of the greatest romances?

This is the question that will be offered, along with award-winning Lillypilly Wines and canap├ęs, to those attending a screening of the film as part of the Leeton Art Deco Festival on Friday 1 April from 7pm at The Roxy Theatre.

A critical success on its release, Casablanca continues to entertain audiences and appear in lists devoted to the greatest films and deservedly so. The Warner Brothers Studio talent of the day includes Humphrey Bogart in his first romantic lead and five-time Academy Award winner Michael Curtiz directing a film that captures the hallmarks of Hollywood studio film-making.

Casablanca is known to film buffs for its midget actors in the airport set and Bogart's improvised lines, including the oft-misquoted "Play it!" The film should also be known as propaganda and it has been argued that it played a role in US President Roosevelt's decision to end America's relationship with the Vichy government of Nazi-occupied France in 1943.

The original script had been written as a play by Murray Burnett in 1938 after he saw Nazis discriminating against a black piano player in Vienna. Warner Brothers producer Hal Wallis had been convinced to pay a record $20,000 in January 1942 for the unproduced play titled Everybody Comes to Rick's and the film had been rushed into production after Allied forces (but not yet the US) had occupied North Africa in November 1942.

Scriptwriter Howard Koch identified Casablanca as part of a trend of films with social themes in his memoir:
"Since Warners was leading this trend, it was natural that many of its writers were politically conscious. To one degree or another they were involved in the struggle against fascism, in whatever form it appeared, and in working for a more democratic society, economically and racially. Today the label applied to us would be left-wing, but all labels are suspect; the word we used at the time to define our political activities and organisations was progressive, regardless of differing party affiliations or lack of them."

The progressive politics of scriptwriter Koch would see him 'blacklisted' as a result of criticism by the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1951. His role in the development of Casablanca saw the setting shifted from Lisbon.

If you ignore the romantic developments, Casablanca's plot sees Rick, whose “American” cafe is effectively an embassy for those fleeing occupation, become politicised against the Nazis. Near the beginning of the film Rick ignores the arrest of those actively resisting the Nazis in his bar, yet by the end he actively assists a Resistance leader modeled on Charles de Gaulle to reach the United States.

Academic Richard Klein has written that US President Roosevelt screened the recently released Casablanca for guests on the eve of 1943. Ten days later he became the first US President to travel by air while in office when he flew to Casablanca for a historic meeting with Winston Churchill. In August of 1943, the US shifted support from the Vichy-led government of Nazi-occupied France to the French National Committee of Liberation chaired by Charles de Gaulle.

Whether Casablanca influenced Roosevelt in his negotiations is an unresolved question but this can be seen as a key theme in the politics of the film. With the perspective offered to contemporary viewers by subsequent decades, it's interesting to see the US joining the fight against Nazism in 1943 as the start of a campaign that continues to this day as the US media continues to produce propaganda focusing on bringing freedom to oppressed people throughout the world.

Leeton Art Deco

Here are some pics from a photoshoot tonight for the Leeton Art Deco Festival.


A free screening of the film Metropolis will be held in Chelmsford Place on Saturday 2 April as part of the Leeton Art Deco Festival. "If you haven't seen this classic, then this is a great opportunity to see a film that is the 1920s equivalent of Avatar," said organiser Jason Richardson.

Released in 1927, Metropolis has had an influence on science fiction films like Star Wars and Bladerunner. In 2001 the film was included in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register and in 2010 Empire Magazine ranked it at number 12 in a list of The 100 Best Films of World Cinema.

The film bankrupted the UFA studio with a budget of over five million Reichsmark, estimated to be worth over $200,000,000 today. "Metropolis was possibly the first cult film," explains Mr Richardson, "as it had an underwhelming response at the box office on its release and took many years to find an audience but is now screened widely

"Metropolis and Avatar share in common is their criticism of contemporary politics. Where Avatar can be viewed as a comment on the US-led invasion of Iraq, Metropolis can be seen as criticising on the rise of the Nazi party in Weimar Germany, as well as promoting unionism and the achievements in establishing modern working conditions.

"It's a Romeo and Juliet-type story that's complicated when the Juliet-character, a community leader, is replaced with a robot manipulated by the Romeo-character's capitalist father," said Mr Richardson.

The silent movies were never silent, cinemas of the 1920s and '30s would have an organist or maybe even a full orchestra to accompany screenings. For the Leeton Art Deco Festival screening, Metropolis will feature a soundtrack drawing on the work of Duke Ellington.

Duke Ellington is one of the foremost figures in American jazz music, with a career that began in 1923 and ended with his death in 1974. "He is arguably the greatest composer of the twentieth century and the Art Deco period was known for big bands, like the orchestra Ellington led," said Mr Richardson.

It's sure to be a great night. "Bring chairs or a blanket to sit on, pack a meal or fill your Thermos and see a film that continues to resonate with audiences nearly 75 years after its release."

Metropolis is rated PG and will start around 7.30pm on Saturday 2 April, projected onto the main water tower in Chelmsford Place as part of the Leeton Art Deco Festival.

Dancing lesson with James Brown

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