The movie Casablanca is one of my favorites of all time. I know I'm not in the minority there. I know it's not some underrated hidden gem. It's a masterpiece of a movie that has magic within it. It's a movie that was built on the set through tumultuous rewrites, painstaking direction, and pure luck, and it turned out fantastic.
Of course, Casablanca made headlines last week when it was used by Taika Waititi to talk about the impermanence of fame within Hollywood and in history.
“People are so obsessed with likes or leaving behind a legacy, being remembered,” he said to the Hollywood Reporter. “Here’s the thing: No one’s going to remember us. What’s the name of the director of Casablanca? Arguably one of the greatest films of all time. No one knows his name. How the fuck do I expect to be remembered? So who cares? Let’s just live, make some movies. They’ll be obsolete and irrelevant in 15 or 20 years. And so will I, and then I’ll die, and someone else can do it. This whole idea of chasing, chasing, chasing this life. It’s like, do we have to actually work this hard? Maybe not.”
'Casablanca'Credit: Warner Bros. PicturesLook, like many Michael Curtiz fans, I was up in arms over this quote, but then I took a step back and reassessed. I was helped along by this week's Sight and Sound newsletter, in which the editor wrote this on Waititi's quote, "Let’s take a look at Waititi’s idea of fame. He gave this interview around the same time that he and his wife, the singer Rita Ora, appeared at the Met Gala, and were photographed together for the cover of Vogue Australia, with the strapline 'The new power couple.' Not to mention, he is working on the new Star Wars script."
This changed my perspective. Waititi wasn't dogging Curtiz because I think he was analyzing fame culture in cinema, but more so under the guise of being a celebrity and not being a director, and certainly not being an artist.
The fact is, Waititi has an artist's touch and care, but I would say some of his recent directorial efforts inside major studios might have neutered his expression due to corporate involvement and missions that overreach him.
That's cool! Everyone should work and be paid for it - there's no selling out in my opinion; there are only multiple paths.
But if you choose that path you should probably be more careful with how you address art.
Casablanca is a studio movie that was made at a time when artistic expression and the inner message of the movie were allowed to shine. Chances were allowed to be taken. The movie was about a war a lot of America didn't want to be involved in and dealt with Nazi war crimes without any veneer on their cruelty.
It was art with a mission, and it succeeded in changing hearts, minds, and Hollywood.
Casablanca stands the test of time for those reasons.
'Casablanca'Credit: Warner Bros. PicturesIf you want to be an active member of Hollywood you should probably know who directed it, but I think that maybe matters the least.
I think Waititi is most misguided when he believes that anything matters aside from the art. It's not about how famous you get in Hollywood. It has never been for the best filmmakers.
Isn't what we're striving for in this business for people to remember the art we made? Isn't the real coup that we still talk about how important and moving and romantic Casablanca is? How that movie will live forever in our minds, long after the people who made it have passed?
Look at the Sphinx. I have no idea who designed it or carved it, but I have to marvel at the Sphinx.
I'll live the rest of my life admiring Casablanca and hoping to make anything worthy of being talked about long after my name fades from the lips of the living. Will you?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments.