Throughout history, the film industry has seen many directing styles and techniques. The early part of the 20th century saw a factory style of film production, but as the years went by, director’s began to employ new and untried techniques in their pictures. One such technique which these director’s implemented was a new approach to the use of the camera and camera angles. “Casablanca,” an Academy Award winning film of 1942 saw director Michael Curtiz manipulate the camera in ways others had not. He uses the close-up, point-of- view, and creative shot motivation methods in his film starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, to create an American cinema classic.
The first camera technique Curtiz uses to help narrate the film is the close-up shot. The close-up can effectively convey the story to the viewer without the use of excessive dialogue. In this instance, the viewer is introduced to the main character, Rick, through the use of the close-up. The first scene in “Rick’s Cafe,” shows people gambling and making illegal deals to leave Casablanca. An employee of the cafe brings a check to a man seated at a chess table to sign. The signature reads, “OK. Rick.” By using this shot, the director makes clear to the reader, without any dialogue, that the man signing the check is Rick. This technique, however, is just the first of many used by Curtiz.
The point-of-view shot, also used by Curtiz was intended to place the audience directly into the action. By placing the camera at the exact location and height of the character, the viewer of the film is ‘inserted’ into the character’s body, making the scene more personal. Curtiz uses a slight variation of this type of camera placement when Capt. Renault and Rick are having a discussion about Victor Laslo’s arrival in Casablanca. The camera is placed just above and aft of Renault’s shoulder. The audience can now see Renault’s body reactions, as well as having Renault’s perspective on Rick’s response. In this episode, the point-of-view shot helps to set the viewer into the action, which will in turn motivate a better response from the viewer.
A third camera technique used by the director is not a camera angle, but is shot motivation. Shot motivation creates a purpose for the camera to move to another action. For example, as Major Strasse and his men enter Rick’s cafe, the camera pans from left to right, following them. As the camera moves right, Rick is spotted sitting at a table and the camera stops. This example of shot motivation, shows how one action can lead the camera to the beginning of another scene. This technique of shot motivation is an effective one which is found in many current pictures as well.
The close-up, point-of-view, and shot motivation techniques help the director to narrate the film and keeps the audience more interested in the story. Michael Curtiz uses these methods is “Casablaca” to add to this award winning film, and to make it a classic in America cinema.
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