The use of editing to orient the viewer in space as seen in Michael Curtiz’s 1943 film Casablanca

Casablanca is an excellent example of continuity editing, through the use of a multitude of editing techniques the film constantly places the characters and locations in time and space relative to each other seamlessly. While watching Casablanca I never had to ask myself questions like, how did we get here? Or where is this? Or when is what I’m seeing happening? All of this editing comes together to eliminate any possible distractions from the story or characters allowing you the viewer to stay fully invested in the love triangle and  struggles unfolding around them. One shot shot in particular that doses a good job establishing where rick’s is in relation to Casablanca and more importantly the airport.

In this scene we see the front of Rick’s café as Rick brings his current girl out to send her home, right away in this scene we see a spot light cross the front of the building rhythmically a few times then it quickly cuts to a light house to orient Rick’s in the city.

As seen above the cut to the lighthouse.

Later in that same scene as Rick talks with the chief of police you see both of them look off camera toward the sound of an airplane.

  the film then cuts following the 180 degree rule to an eye line match over the shoulder capture so that we can see the airplane they were looking at an orient Rick’s café as both right next to the airport and the coast as the light house form the earlier shot is placed in view. This is just one of many series of examples of good continuity editing that I noticed while watching the film, were there any other scenes that you feel did a good job of this, or perhaps any scenes that you found to be poor examples of this style of editing?
2 comments
  1. I’ll say that I actually didn’t entirely realize the relationship between the location of the airport and Rick’s. I generally focused on them trying to get to Lisbon and had some expectations that we’d eventually see Lisbon (and that the airport in Casablanca was not that important). Upon reflection, I definitely see that I missed a pretty crucial set up in the relationship of Rick’s to the airport. It’s very symbolic of the fact that Rick could leave just about whenever he wanted, and yet he didn’t. I think the editing within these shots is super helpful at showing a viewer just how close Rick was to the place to leave.

  2. I think this is a really important point in noting the location of the airport relative to Rick’s. The first time we see the sign for Rick’s is when the camera is following Major Strasser’s plane (https://imgur.com/a/jfhxb). The scene you included in your post demonstrates the symbolic value of having the airport in the back yard of Rick’s cafe. I think an interesting topic to further explore by building on your post is the meaning in placing the ticket to freedom for many at Rick’s immediately behind the cafe. Generally people try and avoid living or hanging out around airfields due to the noise, however in Casablanca the most popular spot in town is right next to the airfield.

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