Marc Augé | Casablanca: Movies and Memory

book_casablanca.gifAugé weaves together memoir and film criticism in 76 elegantly written pages.







120 pages. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, $18.95 (paperback)

French anthropologist Marc Augé first saw Casablanca in 1947, when he was 11 or 12 years old. He’d been going to films "not of his age" (i.e., not intended for children) with his parents for several years already, perched on the edge of the seat to see over and around the adults. But Casablanca immediately connected with him as no previous film had, perhaps because he had led something of a refugee-like existence as a child following his father, and the French army, around the countryside during World War II.  

Or perhaps Casablanca was simply the first film Augé saw when he was old enough to understand the complexities of both time as experienced in life and of fictional time as experienced through the movies. At any rate, seeing Casablanca remains an emblematic experience for Augé, and one he returns to again and again to process and understand his own experiences.

Casablanca: Movies and Memory is as much a meditation on the experience of cinema as it is an examination of the particular film named in the title. Going to movies in the theater (as opposed to watching them on DVD or broadcast at home) is a distinctive experience for which the adult Augé retains a fondness which is inextricably intertwined with his love for old American movies. He shares both with many of his countrymen: It’s easier to see a classic Hollywood movie in a cinema in Paris today than in most, if not all, cities in the United States.

It’s not just the movies Augé loves but the whole ritual of cinema-going: walking to the theater, standing in line for tickets, chatting with a cashier who seems as timeless and familiar as the movies themselves, worrying if one will get one’s favorite seat in the back, being shown into the theater by the ouvreuse (usherette), and anticipating the film to come as the lights go dim. Watching a familiar film in the cinema is to him one of those rare experiences which offers the pleasures of both anticipation and memory. While a film does not change, the viewer inevitably does so a familiar film can be simultaneously remembered and experienced anew.

Augé weaves together memoir and film criticism in 76 elegantly written pages. One minute he’s reconstructing childhood memories of the war years, while in the next he’s contemplating the complex relationship Rick (Humphrey Bogart’s character in Casablanca) has with his own past. It succeeds brilliantly without being bound by any traditional structure, the form being dictated by the material itself.

Casablanca: Movies and Memory also contains an essay by translator Tom Conley which lacks Augé’s effortless grace but will help place this work in context for those who have never encountered any of Augé’s other 40-plus books. If you’re interested in explorations of modern life, you might want to check out more of Augé’s work; among other things, he coined the term "non-place" to refer to ubiquitous fixtures of modern life such as motorways, supermarkets and airports which are not distinctive enough to offer any real experience of place to those who pass through them. | Sarah Boslaugh

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