Monday, November 07, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Casablanca (1942) at the Egyptian Theatre

I've had some special moviegoing experiences this year, but tonight's was beyond wonderful: A 35mm nitrate screening of CASABLANCA (1942) at the Egyptian Theatre.

Last summer it was announced that TCM, the Film Foundation, and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association would be funding a nitrate projection booth at the Egyptian, enabling screenings of beautiful but highly flammable prints.

Tonight the booth had its first tryout with an invitation-only screening of the last surviving nitrate print of CASABLANCA (1942). The packed audience at the Egyptian included director Christopher Nolan, Scott McGee of TCM, Alan K. Rode of the Film Noir Foundation, and several members of the L.A. classic film blogging and Twitter community.

Traffic was unusually bad as I made my way to the Egyptian tonight, and during the drive I wondered if it would be worth it. The answer is a resounding "Yes." Yes, yes, yes!

Unlike some in the audience, I actually once saw nitrate prints on a regular basis, when they were still being shown in L.A. revival theaters in the '70s. I've recounted how in recent years I realized that my memories of the black and white prints sparkling and shimmering was at least partly because I'd been watching nitrate prints.

Those thoughts were borne out by tonight's screening, which was simply a thrilling experience for a classic film fan. That gleaming, glistening print was alive in a way that the most beautiful digital prints simply will never be. I understand now more than ever why the look of those films I saw as a teenager stands out so strongly in my mind's eye.

The print also carries a sense of history with it; the Museum of Modern Art says of this 1942 print that it's "a luminous vision of the black-and-white feature and truly the closest material to the original that was shot when Bogart and Bergman walked on the set."

I've seen the movie many times, of course, as I suspect most in the audience had; my experiences seeing it included a screening at the Fine Arts in the '70s. However, it had a been a while since the last time I saw it, and certainly the film has never meant more to me than it did tonight.

It's one of those movies where the viewer mentally recites the dialogue along with the cast, but being able to do so is the opposite of boring; it thrills and warms the heart. So many brilliant lines, perfectly delivered; I think my favorite must come at the end: "If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.” The way Bogart says it, the cadences, it's like music.

And speaking of music, you'd have to be dead not to have goosebumps during "La Marseillaise." It was all I could do not to stand up myself.

Another random thought: With so much greatness in CASABLANCA, I think Orry-Kelly's costume designs for Ingrid Bergman don't get enough praise. Perfection.

CASABLANCA was directed by Michael Curtiz and filmed by Arthur Edeson. It runs 102 minutes.

There are many prints available of CASABLANCA, including a 70th Anniversary Blu-ray, but it's going to be a while before I can watch it again, as I don't think any other viewing will be able to compare to tonight's screening.

The audience was promised that CASABLANCA would be the first of "many, many" nitrate screenings at the Egyptian Theatre. Can't wait.


Blogger DKoren said...

Wow. Wow and wow. What an amazing viewing that sounds like. So glad you could make that and share it with us!

7:27 AM  
Blogger KC said...

This sounds beyond amazing! I love the way you describe viewing nitrate film. I can just picture it. Someday!

9:34 AM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

Indeed there are few things more beautiful than nitrate. I really miss it--I count myself fortunate that I saw many nitrate prints of so many wonderful movies when I was younger. They would still come to theaters--and UCLA had a great collection of both Paramount and Fox (though they now tend to show preservation prints they've made and hide the nitrate). Really, I did see some of my favorite movies that way. The nitrate of the preview version of MY DARLING CLEMENTINE was perhaps the highlight (well, also HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY and the original Technicolor MARGIE and the Paramounts of Josef von Sternberg--well, guess I could go on and on!). Oh, yes, silent tinted BROKEN BLOSSOMS with a full orchestra and Lillian Gish present--what a wonderful experience that was.

I'm glad you got to that CASABLANCA screening, Laura. I've seen that in a nitrate too (at LACMA), but it's a long time ago now. I don't know what happened to that print--it's probably not the one you saw.

12:47 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I wish you all could have been at the screening! Deb, hopefully there will be nitrate screenings at the Egyptian you can attend in the future, and KC, I'm really hoping there will be nitrate at the TCM Classic Film Festival! I'm sure it would be a big draw, and something new for the festival as well.

Blake, I wonder how many nitrate films we both attended during the big L.A. revival house days? I loved your reminisces of some of your nitrate experiences. The original Technicolor MARGIE, oh my!

Best wishes,

6:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am so grateful to you for your wonderful description of this evening. So many of us can't share such an experience but you bring it to life.i loved how you said you wanted to stand up for La Marseillaise. It is so stirring!

12:00 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Vienna, it's such a privilege to be able to share experiences like this screening here with readers like you. I would love all my readers to be able to attend such a screening and am so glad you felt you experienced a bit of it vicariously! Thanks for letting me know. :)

Best wishes,

12:20 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

I'm about to dive into a rabbit hole to learn more about nitrate screenings. Not sure how often they happen in St. Louis, but it's worth a look.

8:09 PM  
Blogger Lee R said...

I wonder, is it possible to transfer the nitrate version of Casablanca to sell commercially on DVD? Or is this nitrate experience only possible in a theater seen live?

7:06 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Dan, that's great! I hope you have opportunities in St. Louis! Or perhaps if you come to the TCM Fest you can see some there, if they happen?

Lee, I'm not a technical expert but my belief is that the nitrate experience has to be "live" to be fully appreciated -- it's all about the properties of the actual celluloid as it's projected.

Best wishes,

12:59 AM  
Blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Such a great post. Wish I could have seen this.

6:10 PM  

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