Belinda, Circa 1980.
I get it but I don't get it. We were home. We had a copy of the movie, Casablanca, on DVD. We tossed it into the player and sat back to watch. We've both seen the movie maybe a dozen times. Together at a theater, on VHS, on broadcast TV---in the cathode ray tube days, and also recently on a DVD and a 50 inch flat screen. But last night I was paying attention and really watching not only the pacing and editing but also the amazing quality of the lighting and the wonderfully translated range of tones rendered by the black and white film of 1942. If you've never seen the movie you might want to stop reading right here and get a copy to watch. It's one of the best movies to come out of the Hollywood studio system---ever.
There's a scene in Casablana, in a marketplace (I'm sure it was filmed on a set), in which Ingrid Bergman is wearing a wide brimmed hat and there is wonderful detail in her eyes even though they are in shadow. At the same time nothing burns out in the areas lit by full, direct light. The tonality of the movie in general is really amazing.
So I'm sitting here doing the math and best as I can calculate that movie was made, in a rush, over 73 years ago. So why is it that with all our technological advances nothing I see in magazines, on websites or up on the modern movie screens comes anywhere close to the image quality of this movie? They didn't have the ability to post process in the ways that we do. They didn't have miraculous computer designed optics with Nano Crystal coatings. No Arriflex Alexa or Red Dragon cameras. No video assist. No on set monitors. No digital techs. Just light, film and a measuring tape with which to check focus. And that film? Research says it was probably panchromatic Kodak ASA (ISO) 50 or slower.
Makes me wonder if technology as it relates to real visual craft has been going through a de-evolution over the past 70 years with people willing to trade for explosions and special effects instead of flat out quality and professional attention to detail and workmanship. Besides the time and cost savings have we gained anything of real value (visually) in our madcap rush to digital imaging and digital movie making? A quick comparison between Casablanca and just about anything out there on prints or on the screen today says, "No. You've been had. Suckers."
It's instructive to look at what brilliant visual artists were able to construct in the past. And we do need to look at it and become more aware of these treasures before each successive generation sweeps the real magic under the rug in an attempt to make audiences believe that what we're getting right now is the best that can be done. Tragic.