Before I say anything else I must hereby make a public confession:
WHILE CLAIMING TO BE A FILM FAN, I HAVE NEVER SEEN CASABLANCA.
There we go. It’s out there. Yes it’s shocking I know. It’s like saying you like music but have never listened to Ace Of Bass or pontificating your love of food but never sampling the delights of a fish finger sandwich. Some gaps in your knowledge you just don’t advertise. I’ve never actually lied about seeing Casablanca but I must admit that when presented with a social situation where conversations veer toward the merits of said film I would probably nod approvingly exhaling the occasional “hmm, yah…yah…hmmm….” Same thing happned when I pretended to know about football and someone introduced me to John Barnes and I had to talk to him about something I know literally nothing about for about 40 minutes. “hmmmm, yah… good game…oh wasn’t it…? bad game… yah.”
For these reasons, Future Cinema’s presentation of Casablanca had its work cut out for it. Not only would I be assessing the interactive-ness / immersive-ness / experiential-ness of the event but the whole shebang would also be influenced by whether Casablanca could live up to the mythological status it had it achieved in my mind. One more thing – I don’t like old stuff either.. coins, Argos, black and white films, Esther Rantzen.
Upon approaching the Troxy Theatre in Limehouse I was ushered down a side alley, offered what I presumed was an illegal visa and then asked for my papers by a stern faced official. I played it cool, chose my words carefully, squinted my eyes (easypeasy as the recent sunshine had brought on my hayfever) and managed to talk my way in. No papers needed. I might try this at the Holloway Odeon.
Once inside I was thoroughly impressed to see the auditorium transformed into Rick’s Cafe Americain. A white piano stood centre front while 1940s jive dancers on stage flanked an excellent live jazz band performing bilingual- period-jazz with a North African vibe. Sting tried bilingual-period-jazz with a North African vibe once – dude had to have his pancreas removed.
While hailing from a different decade, the art deco interiors of The Troxy were the perfect backdrop for Future Cinema’s installments evoking the pastiche nostalgia of a golden age we’d never experienced first hand.
I took a trip around the venue’s parameter taking in the cocktail bars (serving Casablancas, Moscow Mules and Gin Fizzs’) and the roulette table (serving me a series of gambling losses). While taking in the surroundings I imagined myself to look like a dapper gent on a 1940s stroll but considering I was walking slowly around the outskirts of the room I realised I probably looked like a pervert in a blazer so I took a seat and tucked into some food from the Blue Parrot restaurant. The food was prepared by Farringdon’s Moro, serving appropriately themed dishes such as Chicken Tagine and Moroccan pastries with blood orange salad. Nothing like a good meal after some parameter stalking.
While eating I was approached by a number of interesting characters including a serene man called Ferrari who performed a card trick for our table. Ferrari was soon followed by two hilarious young ladies who sang an impressive up close and personal rendition of Amazing Grace in return for jewels which led to a rather surreal conversation about the sexual proclivities of Rick and what people would be prepared to do in return for a visa. I mean who hasn’t degraded themselves for a visa once or twice? Hell, I’ve done worse for a Pot Noodle. All the while the evening was punctuated with live performances from key scenes from the film culminating with a particularly impressive set piece high above the stage.
The film itself did not disappoint. From Bogart’s wet-lipped initial close up to the first few keys of Sam’s ‘As Time Goes By,’ this all felt like wonderfully familiar cinematic ground. Although I felt bad for Sam who was tormented throughout the film with a barrage of conflicting messaging, “play it,Sam.” “No, don’t play it, Sam.” If I were Sam I would have told Rick to fucking play it himself and stood there laughing while Rick drunkenly played chopsticks.
The film was an unusual experience of the familiar and unfamiliar – a film posthumously assembled from a thousand quotes, images and moments caught on late night TV. Thanks to the ubiquity of Casablanca’s dialogue in modern culture the audience whooped along to key scenes and soundbites which are probably more famous than the film itself. Casablanca must be up there with Spaceballs as pound for pound most quotable film… Rick Moranis arguably being the Bogart of the 80s.
Watching a black and white classic in a venue like The Troxy is reason enough to consider this event even before you’ve enjoyed the wonderfully choreographed mixture of live music, theatre and a rendition of cinema’s most famous song played by the evening’s very own Sam. I’ll always be a purist when it comes to cinema needing only a dark room and a comfortable chair to the set the scene but this was an incredibly fun evening that aptly brought a piece of Rick’s Cafe to Limehouse for this, my first ever experience of Casablanca.
Buy tickets from the official site.