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Casablanca (1942)-Analysis of Lighting pt. 2

This is a continuation from Part 1, please read it first if you haven't already.

The filmmakers employed some of the more fanciful lighting effects used in the movie in Rick’s café, in particular the setting up of lights at low angles. “Edeson lit his scenes upward from the floor or across from sidelights, casting shadows of people high on walls that would be physically impossible in real life” (Lebo 142).
Odd Lighting in Rick's Cafe
Odd Background Lighting in Rick's Cafe
Long shadows appear high on the café’s wall in most scenes even though it would be awkward, if not impossible, to light a café that way in real life. This effect was created using cross backlights also known as ‘kickers’ (Alton 54). John Alton actually refers to it as ‘Criminal Lighting’ (Alton 54), as it is often used to light and demonize people, but this might be too strong of a characterization, as it also can be used to create an odd, or mysterious feel . The effect in Rick’s Café was that it helped create a feeling of distress that many patrons feel due to their desperation in their attempts to leave Casablanca. Rick transcends these issues and he himself is never lit in this manner. This kind of fanciful lighting creates a very interesting and sketchy atmosphere that allows Rick to operate freely. The café is also where we first develop an opinion of Rick’s character, which starts out slightly unsavory and who projects a cold persona.



One of the most important uses of lighting for the characterization of Rick was to show his power and when he briefly loses it. Throughout the story one of the major themes is Rick Blaine’s power; how extensive it is, who he has power over, and who holds sway with him. It is established from the very first shot of him that he has considerable power around town. He holds his power mainly through the sway he holds with many of the authorities and business men that work there. Lighting helps create this persona and is illustrated in the scene where Rick is retrieving cash from the safe.
Rick Blaine's Power in Casablanca
Rick retrieves money from the safe
You cannot see him directly; however you can see his shadow cast on a wall. Captain Renault, a police prefect, stands respectfully at the doorway, behind his shadow. As we can only see Rick’s shadow it creates mystery about him and we wait as the safe door slowly swings open to reveal a silhouette counting large sums of money nonchalantly. The distance given by Louis is an important sign as it signals the government’s respect of Rick.

Rick’s face is well lit throughout the movie, another signal of his power, however, there is one incident when his face is obscured.
Rick Blaine Loses His Power
Shadows on Face = Loss of Power
This happens when he’s drunk waiting for Ilsa after hours in his café the first time. This indicates that Rick has lost his power and that Ilsa holds considerable sway and influence with him. Later in the movie however, roles reverse, when Ilsa tries to get the letters of transit from him. He has the upper hand here and she knows it. She eventually defers responsibility to him and says “Do the thinking for both of us.” As he cradles her, his face is softly lit and hers in shadow. The lighting, working in conjunction with the dialogue and action, helps convey the power structure to the audience, an important dynamic of the sub-plot.



Another reoccurring motif is the spotlight that appears throughout the movie.
Spotlight Tower
Spotlight Searching Casablanca
This helps develop the implications of the light. Later, when we are first introduced to Captain Renault outside of the café, it sweeps by multiple times further connecting the two. Another notable use is during the scene where Lazlo and Carl are escaping the Free French meeting, pursued by police. They seem to be chased by the light itself as it sweeps around, giving the light a dangerous and forbidding presence.

Ilsa’s relationship with Rick is a powerful force affecting the plot and a couple of lighting elements help create this tension. The most significant is the use of eyelights, also known as catch lights, while filming Ilsa. It gives her eyes a sparkle and is primarily used to convey the connection she and Rick share. The sparkle in her eye makes her appear very human and as a soft caring person, as well as being a hallmark of Hollywood glamour lighting.
Ingrid Bergman
Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa Lund
It is always employed in the scenes with Rick and sometimes he has the sparkle as well, softening his tough character. Along the same lines is the clip of Ilsa entering the café after hours the first time to see Rick. As she enters the spotlight silhouettes her in the doorway, giving her an angelic glow. This not only affects our opinion of her as one might expect but also of Rick. With Rick in the foreground we’re exposed to how he feels about and thinks of Ilsa, he sees her in some sort of heavenly light. As in this example in almost all of her scenes she is given the Hollywood star lighting, helping to create her glamorous persona on screen as well as off. She is always lit from the front at a slight upward angle with a diffused light giving her a beautiful, soft glow(Alton 83). This was typical of the time period and Curtiz, banked that audiences would see her in a positive, admiring light, much like they did the other stars of the day.

The lighting techniques were really what brought the movie to life and helped
Casablnca (1942) - Title Scene
Title Scene
same factors as film noir rather than the glamour lighting of the thirties. This helps the impact on the viewer and also which contributes to its reputation as one of the best in film history. The lighting was a vital part of this film contributing to varied aspects of the film’s story. The influence of Arthur Edeson and his prior work on film noir is noticeable, especially with some of the more blatant examples. Combine the dark feel, the great writing, the reserved acting and you get a very unique movie, one that will be entertaining people for many years to come.

Works Cited

Alton, John. Painting with Light. Ann Arbor: Macmillan Co., 1949.
Biesen, Sheri Chinen. Blackout. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005.
Grant, Barry Kieth. Film Genre Reader III. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003.
Harmetz, Aljean. Round Up the Usual Subjects. New York: Hyperion, 1992.
Lebo, Harlan. Casablanca: Behind the Scenes. New York: Fireside, 1992.
Nelmes, Jill. An Introduction to Film Studies. New York: Routledge, 2003.
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