For one of my other classes, we watched the film Casablanca and then had to write a response that included how we felt the music played a big role in the movie. We also had to comment on the different types of scores that were used.
The 1942 film, Casablanca, is that of a classic romance that is surrounded by turmoil and blatant emotion. The major dilemma in Casablanca is to get out of there. War is on its way to this small place and its inhabitants are doing anything they can in order to escape; even if it means to gamble in order to get the money to leave or even to illegally buy transit passes with forged signatures, as long as it gets them out of Casablanca. The music within this film helps to undoubtedly clarify to the viewer the emotion that the characters are going through. Although some might take offense to this, I believe that the music, in this case, is not condescending towards the viewer at all. In fact, Steiner, the composer, made sure that the synchronization between the characters and their circumstances portrayed through the music is extremely supportive.
Within the opening scene of this film there are loud horns and drums. Towards the fading out of the music, where the characters will begin to speak, a tune that slightly resembles that of a middle-eastern tone presents itself. These, like many other musical sequences in the film, are constantly replayed whenever Steiner wants the viewers to remember a certain point in the movie that links to the present one at hand. Another example of repeated musical themes would be that of the jazz orchestra along with Sam and his piano inside of Rick’s Café. Being the protagonists in this film, Rick and Elsa have a certain themes of music that is usually played when he and/or she is on screen.
For instance, when Rick is shown, there is usually a jazzy, yet sad sounding tone that is portrayed by the piano, violins, soft horns, and light drums; occasionally the sound of Sam’s singing following. Elsa’s theme music, however, is that of a more depressing, confused tone. Her theme has a lot of sad, slow horns, followed by slow piano. These themes help to translate musically to the viewer how the characters are feeling as well as how they do not want to feel. Though the themes for Elsa, Rick, and other certain areas in the film which have a constant sound are non diagetic, it is that of diagetic music which basically guide the film.
A song that is a huge part of the emotion in Casablanca is “As time goes By”. This song is displayed in many different ways throughout the film. In one scene it will be Sam playing his piano while singing the song, usually when requested by Rick or Elsa. In the next scene only the soft melody of this song will be played by that of a jazz orchestra with no words at all. Through playing this song so much throughout the movie and in so many different ways, Steiner, not so subtly, lets the viewers know that this is probably a good hint as to how the characters had once felt as well as how they might feel in the end. Though Elsa states that “As time goes By” is her favorite song, it is played in parts of the movie where it is obvious that Elsa is upset. This is a good example of how the same music can be interpreted in many different ways.
Another example of diagetic music in the film would be that of the constant sound of a jazz orchestra blaring from Rick’s saloon. This portrays to the viewer a happier, lighter hearted feel for the city of Casablanca as well as what its people are going through. The jazz orchestra also represents the sound of a good time and happiness. It is not often that you will hear a person listening to poppy jazz music, or see them dancing to it when they are having a problem.
I believe that the fact that this film has much more diagetic music in it, rather than non diagetic really does help the viewer to feel as though they can perfectly imagine how the characters are taking in their situations at hand. It is obvious that Steiner felt this way as well, because he was one of the first composers to really use synchronization to his advantage in the films that he composed.