Cinema of the United States and Classical Hollywood

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How far does Casablanca represent ‘the culmination of Classic Hollywood’s thematic and formal strategies’ (Robert B. Ray)?

In answering the question, we must first establish what is typical of classical Hollywood. Classical Hollywood films have certain symmetry about them; they follow a set of norms and conventions which limits individual innovation. It is primarily concerned with being narrative. The ultimate goal of classical Hollywood is to tell a story that is not ambiguous and in fact, easy for the viewer to understand. It is evident in the opening shots in Casablanca that the film conforms to the basic principles of Classical Hollywood’s narrative structure. In the opening scene there is a narrative voice over explaining the political context of what we are seeing. This, along with the tracking shot in Rick’s Café of the many nationalities grouped together in one location; help the audience to establish a global context of what is going on. The viewer is not left to figure anything out for themselves, therefore conforming to this unambiguous typical narrative structure. Classical Hollywood is also defined by its two storylines: a topical one and a melodramatic one. The melodramatic storyline concerns a heterosexual romance, and it often intertwines and overlaps with the topical storyline. In the case of Casablanca, the topical theme concerns the coming of World War II, and the melodrama concerns the Rick-Ilsa-Laszlo love triangle. The melodrama is typically the main plot of the film, and it is due to this reason that such a narrative outline of the global and political context of the war takes place as this clarity allows the viewer to focus more on the heterosexual love triangle rather than trying to comprehend the global context as well. Typical of Classical Hollywood, Casablanca follows a linear narrative, with one exception. Everything happens in a chronological order, it begins by establishing the global and political context which as a result...
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