When I was studying to become an English major, I was taught many theories on how to analyze texts and films. One of these theories was “close reading” which required the reader to look at the text and nothing more. Close reading prohibited any outside information like events that happened when the book was published or even the life of the author. I primarily disliked close reading due to its exclusion of outside knowledge. I believe outside information can help improve one’s experience reading a book or watching a film. When I read The Bell Jar, my knowledge of Sylvia Plath granted me a unique perspective of the book. However, I was never afforded the opportunity to read The Bell Jar isolated. Maybe, if I read the book without knowing about Plath, I could have enjoyed it even more. My experience with The Bell Jar was similar to my experience watching classic films for the first time. I recently watched Casablanca, and, like The Bell Jar, I was never afforded the opportunity to experience it without any outside information. I knew that Casablanca was considered to be one of the greatest films of all time when I started to watch it. But did it live up to my expectation? Somewhat.
Before I talk about Casablanca, I would like to talk about Citizen Kane. The greatest film of all time according to many. I remembered seeing the film on my syllabus and being excited that I was finally afforded the opportunity to watch the film. However, I thought it was a bit underwhelming. This film is still considered to be one of the greatest films of all time, but I felt nothing. My outside knowledge of its reputation ruined my experience; however, I thought to myself if there was any outside information that would improve my opinion on the film. And there was.
I read and watched countless articles and videos about why Citizen Kane is the greatest film of all time. Because of this, my opinion of Kane changed. It made me appreciate the film and all it did for filmmaking. I believe that reading reviews and analyses of a film can really help improve one’s views. I thought The Matrix was a great film but, after reading about the behind the scenes, I enjoy the film even more. Even with films that I didn’t like, I eventually grew to treasure them after reading analyses of them. I thought The Dark Knight Rises paled in comparison to The Dark Knight but after I read articles and forced to write a paper about its theme, I appreciated the film a lot more.
Moving on towards my thoughts on Casablanca. I’m glad I watched it and I thought the film did everything right. Both Bogart and Bergman were incredible. I also like how short the film was. In our current era of long films (even the new James Bond is 2 hours and 40 minutes), it was nice to watch a film under 2 hours. However, there was something preventing me from loving this film. This film, like Citizen Kane, came out in a different era of filmmaking. While I like both of these films, I didn’t love them. In comparison, my experience watching classic films from the 50s, 60s and 70s were more enjoyable. When I watched films like The Godfather Part 1 and Part 2, The Graduate, and Rear Window for the first time I thought they were amazing. The Graduate is even one of my favorite films. I knew about all these films and their reputation when I watched them for the first time. I even knew the major plot points in these films beforehand. Despite all this, my expectations were met. But with Citizen Kane and Casablanca, I thought they were good, but I appreciated more what they did as an art form rather than simply enjoying the film itself.
The feeling I got from Casablanca and Citizen Kane was similar to the feeling I got watching films from Paul Thomas Anderson. While I love There Will Be Blood, I was never able to love his other films. I always admired the work PTA puts in his films as they have some of the best acting and cinematography of this decade. But I have never been able to love his films. There was an article published last year where PTA said how you should handle a film that you don’t like. PTA said that you should not say a movie is bad rather just say it’s not for me. And that’s the message I like to leave on. While I like Casablanca and Citizen Kane, I am not planning on re-watching these films any time soon as they were not for me.