Purpose of the Assignment: Building Skills for the Formal Paper
LP2 allows you to practice making the kind of argument needed for the formal paper, which will require you to come up with an implicit or ideological meaning for a short section from one of the assigned (or student selected) works for this semester. To make it considerably easier, I am providing examples of reasonable implicit meanings for the scene, so that you can focus on crafting a more specific argument and connecting it to stylistic and narrative support from the scene.
Scaffolding: Class assignments build on each other.
All written assignments are required.
Learn as you go: Doing assignments is a way for you to learn the material more fully. They allow you to build skills by applying concepts in more complicated ways.
Prepare for writing formal paper by practicing connecting formal elements (narrative and style) to an implicit meaning.
Connecting Concepts: This assignment is designed to help you begin to make connections between film style and the levels of meaning
Read over the Week 2 information on the “levels of meaning” and be sure to read Barsam’s work on the levels of meaning, and the section on Die Hard, if you have not yet done so.
Question In Brief: LP2 Casablanca
Write an essay about the “Marseillaise scene” from Casablanca, in which Victor Laszlo, leads the French and other Europeans in Rick’s Cafe in a rousing version of the French national anthem. See Critical Information about The Scene and How to Interpret It for three variations on implicit meanings I have provided. Select one of these meanings and create a thesis statement that ties your take on the implicit meaning provided to at least two aspects of film style (editing, cinematography, sound, or mise-en-scene). Be sure to support the argument with specific narrative and stylistic examples drawn from the scene.
Note that you do not have to talk about everyone in the scene; you may decide to focus on a subset of characters. Your thesis statement should make clear which characters you will discuss, which will also allow you to tailor the general implicit meanings provided to your particular approach.
Do not focus on Yvonne: I have prepared a lecture video (see above) which offers an example of analyzing the scene based on the three shots that feature the secondary character Yvonne. Therefore, you are not to focus your analysis on that character, although you may certainly mention her.
See below for Question In Full: LP2 Casablanca
Key Assignment Steps:
Read this entire document — and look over the information in the supporting links.
This is not a research assignment but a close reading, requiring you to work on your own interpretive skills.
If you paraphrase or quote from the interpretation(s) of the scene offered below, just include a parenthetical reference to this assignment.
e.g. (Boyd LP2)
Follow the formatting and citation instructions (same as for the first assignment):
Formatting Assignments and Submission Instructions (F20)
Four Things to Know: Citation, Quotation and More (with Index)
To do this assignment successfully you should have:
Watched all of Casablanca (1942) and also the relevant clip provided below.
I urge you to watch the brief (2:31 minute) scene multiple times.
Reviewed the relevant information sheets, PPT slides, and readings that go over the key stylistic categories and terms.
Read/Reviewed the textbook for essential help!! Note that each chapter has a set of questions to help you work through a film noticing the key aspects of style, etc.
As with WA1 on Die Hard you are to write a well-formed essay (introduction, body paragraphs, conclusion) of 1.5 to 2 pages.
Use specific terminology from the course as appropriate throughout your essay.
When you are finished, upload your LP2 in a Microsoft Word (.docx, .doc, etc.) or PDF format to the Canvas Dropbox
Critical Information about The Scene and How to Interpret It
While Casablanca’s style and narrative embody many aspects of classical Hollywood cinema generally, it is also very much a WWII-era film. The rights to the play on which the film is based were bought immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the event that moved America from its isolationist position to full entry into WWII. Warner Brothers had been the first major Hollywood studio to openly support American involvement in the war, and had made several films in favor of this policy shift prior to Pearl Harbor. It is important to remember that Casablanca is set prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor but that the film was made (and arrived in theaters) well after that. It did however, come out well before the end of the war was certain. This essay question asks you to consider how various elements of style are used to reinforce both the explicit and implicit meaning of the “Marseillaise” sequence (clip provided below), in which Victor leads the patrons of Rick’s Cafe in the singing of the French national anthem.
Historical situation and the scene as a microcosm of WWII:
microcosm (noun). “A small, representative system having analogies to a larger system in constitution, configuration, or development: ‘He sees the auto industry as a microcosm of the U.S. itself’ ( William J. Hampton)” Link (Links to an external site.)
Character nationalities: It is important to know the nationalities of the different characters when thinking about this “microcosm” concept, and it may help you to know more about the songs in the scene. Please refer to the information sheet for Casablanca available in that module: W3A Casablanca Historical Info Songs.pdf Download W3A Casablanca Historical Info Songs.pdf
Parallel Between The Marseillaise Scene and the War as a Whole:
As discussed in class Warner Brothers Studio specifically wanted to support the US War Effort (that was already in full swing when this film was being shot).
Note that Casablanca in general and this scene in particular, use the conflicts among the characters as a microcosm of the larger war.
Just as the Nazi soldiers conquered Northern France during WWII, so the small contingent of German soldiers (under the command of Major Strasser) attempt to take over the previously neutral space of Rick’s Cafe. The scene makes clear that Laszlo is the inspiring leader who can rally the French and other Europeans to join the Resistance and rise up against the Nazi forces, but it is Rick, the American, who makes it all possible by setting aside his tendency to isolate and supporting Lazlo in his metaphorical battle with the enemy, implying that American involvement in the war effort can turn the tide against the Nazi forces.
Review the information sheet on Casablanca so that you know the character names and which nationality each one is. Each character (or group of characters) is used to stand in for his/her country (or a particular reaction to the war): W3: Casablanca
Explicit and Implicit Meaning in the Scene: Later, in the formal paper, you will need to come up with your own interpretation of a film scene, but for this assignment, I am asking you to support the argument I have discussed in class and presented here.
Explicit Meaning: The film suggests that Rick should put his personal issues aside (the love triangle between Rick, Ilsa, and Laszlo) and join the cause of The Resistance against Fascist Nazis.
Overtly stated during the airport scene in Rick’s line about the “problems of three little people” not amounting to “a hill of beans in this crazy world.”
Implicit Meaning(s): Although these are not particularly subtle, they are nonetheless implicit–in that they are not directly stated–meanings, as they interpret the scene in a broad way in relation to the war effort (and not just the specific situation for the European characters who are trapped in Morocco).
America should support the war effort but there will be a price to pay. Consider how Rick is punished for helping Laszlo in this scene.
France and other Europeans should rally to the cause of the resistance although there will be a price to pay. We see this in the success that Laszlo and the other Patrons of Rick’s have in defeating the German effort to control Rick’s Cafe, but they loose the ability to meet in the Cafe.
The Nazis/Germans are in the minority and cannot win if all the threatened countries (and their citizens) pull together despite the dangers. We see this in the way Major Strasser and his fellow officers start strong but end up seeming isolated and overwhelmed.
Brainstorming Help: Stylistic Pointers
Consider how the style works to not only focus our attention on key narrative details but also to suggest what attitude we—the audience—should have towards the characters and their narrative circumstances. See below for brainstorming prompts so you can think through ideas and decide which two style categories you want to draw your specific support from. You should demonstrate your understanding of the terms by using them appropriately and correctly, but you should not march through definitions of the terms.
Mise-en-scene (4 Aspects):
Lighting: Which characters get the best lighting, and what does this suggest?
Setting and Props: What does the layout of Rick’s cafe suggest about the conflict?
Costume and Make-up: What is the significance of the German uniforms vs. the civilian clothes of so many of the patrons of Rick’s?
Acting: Review all 4 concepts we covered with acting
Blocking: Consider where characters are placed in the setting, where they move, etc.
Business: Consider how Strasser directs his men vs. Laszlo’s style. Are there other significant gestures?
Vocality: How do the individual actors deliver spoken lines or sung lyrics?
Physicality: How do the actors stand, move through the space, and so on?
Editing (more on this soon):
Continuity Editing: How does the editing work to clearly establish the spatial relations of the scene? Does this add to the tension? What does the editing pace contribute to the scene?
Eyeline matches: Since the scene follows the 180 rule (more on this soon), we always have a sense of where each character is looking when there is an eyeline match. There are many eyeline matches throughout this scene. How do the glances of the characters and their expression in relation to what they are looking at encourage the audience to have particular reactions to the scene?
Cinematography (more on this soon):
Camera Distance: Who receives close-ups in the scene and what purpose do they serve? Why do so many secondary characters get close ups in this scene? Do we see any of the Nazis in close up? What camera distances are used for the Nazis? How do these choices connect to the implicit meaning you wish to discuss?
Camera Movement: When does the camera move? Whom does it follow? What types of camera movement are used? How do they effect our perception of events?
Framing and Camera Angle: Are there any low or high angle shots? Why are they used and/or what do they seem to imply? Are there any unusual framings?
Diegetic sound and non-diegetic sounds:The singing of the song and the band playing are clearly diegetic but, after that is over, the non-diegetic movie music plays. How does the diegetic and non-diegetic music add to the scene? How do the key musical motifs relate to the implicit meaning.
Question In Full: LP2 Casablanca
Write an essay about the “Marseillaise scene” from Casablanca, in which Victor Laszlo, leads the French and other Europeans in Rick’s Cafe in a rousing version of the French national anthem. See Critical Information about The Scene and How to Interpret It for three implicit meanings I have provided (variously focused on America; France and other Europeans; and the Nazis). Select one of these meanings and create a thesis statement that ties your take on the implicit meaning provided to at least two aspects of film style (editing, cinematography, sound, or mise-en-scene). Be sure to support the argument with specific narrative and stylistic examples drawn from the scene.
There are many viable options, but you should not try to say everything about the scene. Focus on making valid, specific points about how the style of the scene encourages the audience–like Rick–to side with Laszlo, the French, and the other Europeans and to reject the Nazis. Make sure to use the specific and correct terminology as you explain your stylistic points. In the course of your answer be sure to:
Provide specific stylistic support from any two aspects of style we have discussed: mise-en-scene, editing, cinematography and/or sound.
Your are allowed to reference other film scenes as necessary but the focus of LP2 must be on the “Marseillaise Sequence” itself.
This assignment allows for a good bit of choice on the part of the student, to mimic the kinds of choices you have to make when writing a longer piece. You decide a) which implicit meaning (outlined above) you want to discuss, b) which character or characters you want to focus on, and c) which two aspects of style to discuss and what to emphasize for each.
Note: If you discuss mise-en-scene (for example), you do not have to talk about all aspects of mise-en-scene. You could focus on lighting rather than the other elements.
Do not focus on Yvonne: I have covered her in detail in my video. You may mention her but do not center your analysis around her.
Casablanca Clip: The Marseillaise Scene
Casablanca Battle of Bands LP2.mp4