Lighting Due to the nature of colorless visual works, it can be said that the importance of lighting and shadows are amplified many times over in the case of Casablanca. Since the audience does not receive the luxury and sensation of numerous hues, an alternative is thus required on the part of the filmmakers. And with that, an analysis of filmic lighting comes into play. Immediately following the opening credits, the screen is engulfed by a planet Earth nearly as black as charcoal.
Paired with the music in this initial image, the light or lack thereof helps to establish the mood of the entire film. It can be said that this portrayal foreshadows the coming chaos and solemnity of later scenes such as when Ilsa abruptly abandons Rick upon receiving news of her husband being alive, or in more general terms, the majority of the encounters between Ilsa and Rick as they do not even end up together at the very end. As for a specific analysis tied to the nature of black and white films, the scene in which Sam gives Ilsa’s letter to Rick is one that cannot easily be forgotten.
With the rain that day, the ink on the paper was already smudged by the time Rick read the message. Despite the obvious indication that the writing and smudges were both in and of ink, the nature of colorless shots allows for the imaginations of the audience to take them away. The color of blood in a black and white film is so dark that it might as well be the color of tar or ink. Thus, smudges of blood on the paper could indicate the physical pain on both sides for the separation. Perhaps the best example of emotional appeal to an audience on the part of Casablanca is the singing of the patriotic French anthem Marseillaise as the mother of film critic J. Hoberman witnessed people standing up during that scene to sing along in a public theater. Thus, this sort of patriotic involvement on the part of this film really goes a long way in appeal to audiences.
However, with specific ties to lighting, there is appreciation to include. During a later visit to Rick’s bar, Ilsa’s husband, Victor Laszlo spontaneously gets the band to start playing a French anthem by the name of Marseillaise. What is interesting to note here though is not anything that Laszlo did, but how he was physically portrayed during the song. Although he wasn’t in the center of the frame, he was nonetheless the first one the audience would notice because of the lighting shining on him. Moreover, this light was not anything like a single spotlight as it did not shine from above, but it lit up Laszlo’s entire figure and only his figure to make him stand out amongst the singing crowd as a major character.
The theme of isolation pops up again in this context, but unlike most instances, this time it is with a positive connotation. As a dynamic character, Ilsa Petrovich is one for which the filmic technique of lighting plays a great role. Most of the shots were taken from her left side with a catch of the light, so that her eyes could look like they were shining. For example, following the instance where she first enters the bar, Ilsa practically begs Sam, the pianist and one of Rick’s closest friends, to play a song she and Rick used to love: As Time Goes By’. As she pleads with him after he refuses the initial request, one can make out small but vividly apparent balls of light in her eyes.
If one thinks about shining’ eyes perhaps one may think of emotions such as excitement or sincerity, and there is nothing incorrect in that connection. However, for this specific instance and others similar to it throughout the film, Ilsa’s eyes could be seen as shining’ with tears – just not actual tears. It is possible that the filmmakers intended to subtly incorporate this idea to exhibit the filmic theme of lost love. Ilsa lost a loved one through her action of leaving Rick behind in Paris.
Despite her desire and eventual decision to reunite with her husband, or in other words her first love, she indeed loved Rick at one point in time, and there is pain associated with the loss of any loved one regardless of whether the love is that of the past or present. The gown that Ilsa wears in a shot within Rick’s flashback can be noted in close comparison to the portrayal of her eyes: shiny with the correct use of lighting in the scene. Interestingly enough, since this is an instance found in a flashback from when Rick and Ilsa were still together, it could in no way directly result from the point where she deserted him, but it could be of no doubt an occasion of foreshadowing the feelings resulting from lost love the both of them were about to experience.
In contrast to the light with which Ilsa was portrayed, spots of shade and darkness added in connections to several other characters, major and minor, were indicative of isolation, another theme inherent in Casablanca. The clearest example of this is perhaps the instance in which Rick sits down with a drink after closing hours, without the ability to stop thinking about his encounter with Ilsa after such a long time. Shortly after this shot, flashbacks follow suit.
There is a hazy transition to and from the flashback that emphasizes the mindset with which Rick recalls his past with Ilsa: drunkenness paired with a sense of longing. More importantly, the flashback as a whole is the primary component in the overall plot that aids the audience in understanding the entire backstory of why Rick reacted the way he did at the sight of Ilsa in his bar.
Moreover, the theme of betrayal is illustrated quite vividly in those memories initially of bliss but then of pain, unexpected and raw. The wide variety of different lighting equipment, shadows and shades used in the film were all of a classic nature in consideration of black and white films. Moreover, the way of applying the background surroundings as a frame of the various scenes made the film seem more professional, which leads the analysis to the next topic of discussion: framing.
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