Saturday, August 18, 2018

Casablanca

  I took a day off this week just because I wanted to (something I have never really done in almost thirty years). As I was lying on the couch I decided to watch Casablanca. I had seen it as a teenager and didn't really understand it or appreciate it. I was blown away. Photographically it was gorgeous. The story was funny and moving, and the actors were all great. Of course, being a dolly grip, what really caught my eye was the camera movement. Most dolly moves back in the 40's and 50's were clumsy, shaky affairs used to accentuate a story point. Then MTV spoiled us and we became accustomed to the swooping, gliding camera we see now.  The moves in Casablanca were flawless. Although the name of the dolly grip is probably lost to history (they didn't give us credits back then, and technicians were studio employees assigned to projects by the studio department), the guy was a master. You could see it in the walk-and-talks where the distances, and starts and stops were perfect. There were a couple of sit downs and compound moves that he nailed. And push-ins were rock solid. Now if you watched a movie made today, these things wouldn't even register. Dollies, cranes, and track have become so advanced that it's not as hard as it was to make a steady shot once you've mastered the craft. I was just so impressed that the camera moved as much as it did ( a compliment  to director Michael Curtiz) and that the moves were so flawless that I was really struck by it. You can also see the influence it had visually on a young Steven Spielberg, whose camera is also rarely still. If you have nothing to do on a lazy Sunday, or are a young dolly grip working his way up, check it out. This is how it should be done, and why we do it today.
D

7 comments:

Michael Taylor said...

The local PBS station ran a pristine print of "Casablanca" a few months ago, so I tuned in to watch. Hadn't seen it for twenty years or so, and I too was blown away by how good it was in every way -- camera moves, lighting, the way the various characters were introduced in the first third of the story. With Bogey in his prime and the luminous Ingred Bergman backed up by a spectacular cast of character actors, it's just a great film. A true classic.

And smooth? Like butter. Think about that dolly grip having to shove a giant sled of a Moviola all over the set, loaded down with a massive BNC Mitchell, operator, and focus puller. Such a high level of craftsmanship by the whole crew...

D said...

I think that's part of the reason the camera is so free to move now and why I was so struck by the movement in Casablanca. Even today with an op, cam and dolly, I'm moving up to 700lbs. Back then it would been easily 1000 lbs.

ruby grip said...

I agree all moves would have been on dance floor boards, no rail. Either a Moviola mcd Or a McCallister dolly on big pneumatic tyres. great Jib system though fluid as you like

D said...

Thanks for the comments Ruby Grip. I figured a McAllister or Moviola also.

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