‘Casablanca’ Vs ‘Apocalypse Now’: Classical Hollywood Vs New Hollywood

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‘Casablanca’ can be greatly contrasted to ‘Apocalypse Now’ to highlight how different the creative control was from the ‘Golden Age’ of Hollywood and ‘New Hollywood’ films. One clear difference between these two films is that ‘Casablanca’ was produced by Warner Brothers, whilst in ‘Apocalypse Now’ the director was also the producer of the film, therefore emphasizing how the director was the most important influence on ‘Apocalypse Now’.

‘Casablanca’ was directed by Michael Curtiz with Warner Brothers. It is a Hollywood classic film, approved of by many film critics since 1942 (its release) during World War II. The film’s protagonist is Rick, he’s a restaurant owner who presents himself as impassive and somber who is also one of the many refugees stranded in Casablanca in French Morocco. People of all cultures are forsaken in this city looking for a chance to escape to America in the hope of getting rare exit visas. To this day, ‘Casablanca’ is still widely regarded as one of the best movies ever made and a testament to the Warner Brothers Studios during the Golden Age of Hollywood. ‘Casablanca’ is a great example of how an institutional auteur can have a greater influence than the director.

In 1942, American cinema was powered by the studio system, which was a big part of the success of Classical Hollywood. It was a system that made sure five major film studios dominated the industry, making an overwhelming amount of money. Due to how powerful these five studios came to be, it meant that they had complete creative control over the films they made and that the films were distributed to maximize the profit. This is an example of an institutional auteur, where the director’s creative influence is outshined by the power of the studio. By 1945, the studios either owned partially or completely 17% of the theatres in America, accounting for 45% of the film rental venue, so the studios had a guarantee that their films would be distributed. Furthermore, these studios also controlled the film making process. They usually had the actors/actresses, producers, directors and writers under contract, meaning they barely had free will and control. This is called the star system, which was an effective method of popularizing cinema and the films produced. Studios would often regenerate an actor’s name, personality and background to enhance and glorify them and make them into celebrities. The studios placed a large proportion of the budget on gaining the most well-known Hollywood stars, resulting in the tone of the film being changed. Further, studios also chose to use gender stereotypes to gain larger audiences. In ‘Casablanca’ Rick is presented as authoritative and apathetic, while Lisa is portrayed to be submissive, with her appearance constantly emphasized. Rick and Lisa are what Americans at the time believed men and women should aspire to be. These film making techniques influenced the overall aesthetic of the film.

In the 1930s, Zanuck (an American film producer working for Warner Brothers) developed new narratives and genres which defined the Warner Brothers’ ‘house style’ for a while. Being the ‘studio of the working class’, the Warner Brothers House Style portrays social realism which mostly catered to the working class. The main focus during the Golden Age of Hollywood was the great depression in America which resulted in the film being relatable and appealing to the working class. These things are emphasized in ‘Casablanca’; set in a vibrant city and people struggling to survive resorting to thievery. The house style often included urban settings and environments, the style is also fast-paced and often uses quick snappy dialogue to develop the plot. Further, this style was appealing to an American audience, and films studios made sure that every film they produced projected these characteristics, which often overthrow the director’s ideas. In ‘Casablanca’, in the first shot, we are introduced to the city through a long-shot which demonstrated elaborate sets and theatrical backgrounds which were used by the director (Michael Curtiz). Moreover, elaborate sets were a typical feature of Golden Age cinema as it appealed to an American audience.

Jack Warner was the driving force behind Warner Brothers Studios and was highly respected for his tough-mindedness and sharp instincts. The studio became known for its hard-edged studio dramas which was promoted by Jack Warner, and he also helped the studio recruit popular stars in the industry. Warner had an influence over many of the films he produced, often overpowering the director’s creative influence. As the executive producer of ‘Casablanca’, he made sure that the film had political connotations of America’s involvement in World War II as he held strong political views that included his hate for fascism and Nazi Germany even before America joined the war. In ‘Casablanca’, it’s been mentioned that Rick represents the characterization of America, as he owns an American cafe and is clearly solitary and headstrong towards the European characters in ‘Casablanca’. Towards the end of the film, Rick morally puts his life on the line and sacrifices his future with Lisa in order to bring peace and justice to Casablanca. Throughout the film, the Nazis oppose the protagonist, labelling them as evil. These are examples of how the director isn’t always the auteur, as Jack Warner shaped the film through his own institutional influence, overall concealing the director’s influence.

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‘Casablanca’ stands as proof that the director isn’t the most important creative influence on the production and content of the film, as Warner Brothers acts as the institutional auteur by altering the aesthetic of the film with the aim to increase the profit. The studio made sure to follow its ‘house style’ and the Hollywood style of film making to secure a successful production. The institution forcefully implemented the stereotypical representation of gender as well as casting well-known actors. Jack Warner shaped the film with his strong political views, leaving the director little to no room for his own creative input. The creative influence in ‘Apocalypse Now’ is drastically different to ‘Casablanca’, as Francis Ford Coppola had full independence and freedom during the making of his film.

On the other hand, ‘Apocalypse Now’ was co-written, produced and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, recognized as one of the first films of ‘New Hollywood’, sometimes referred to as the ‘American New Wave’, or ‘The Hollywood Renaissance’, refers to a movement in American film history from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s, when a new generation of young film makers came to prominence in the United States. They greatly influenced the types of films produced, their production and marketing, and the way major studios approached film-making. In New Hollywood films, the film director, rather than the studio, took on a key auteur role. The Studio system had fallen into decline due to some high-profile legal cases which ended their sales especially due to the introduction of television. They were no longer making films the new young suburban audience wanted to see. Fortunately, there was a new wave of film directors (who were just out of film school) who could identify more with the audience and who were quickly given the power and money to make their own original films. The films made during this movement strongly deviated from classical norms and conventions in society and tended to be more experimental in style. Endings tended to be downbeat, genre conventions subverted, there were few sequels or franchises, character actors and unknown actors were preferred over well-known celebrity actors and films were often violent and linked to themes of rebellion, paranoia and social conflict as well as responding to key events and issues such as Watergate, youth culture, the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War.

Coppola shaped ‘Apocalypse Now’ in a distinctive manner, heavily drawing from the French New Wave. In ‘Apocalypse Now’, he incorporates many of his auteur film making techniques such as chiaroscuro lighting, method acting, reuse of his cast from previous films and cinematography that includes a large amount of long continuous takes and tracking shots. For instance, the main scenes that incorporate chiaroscuro lighting in ‘Apocalypse Now’ are the scenes that feature Colonel Kurtz. Willard kneels in front of a backlit curtain, which results in Willard being presented in a silhouette. Moreover, in another shot within this scene, we see Kurtz’ head in full spotlight and the water is within darkness. Water connotates cleansing and pureness, therefore implying that Kurtz is in a constant torment that he cannot rid himself of. The chiaroscuro lightning usually is used to show the juxtaposition of dark and light as a contrast between the good and evil. However, the actor was said to be overweight, so Coppola had to improvise on the spot by using the chiaroscuro lighting to his advantage and hide Brando in the shadows as much as he can.

Additionally, the scene at the beginning with Captain Willard alone in his hotel room was completely unscripted. Martin Sheen had been drinking all day and Coppola had an impulsive idea to incorporate Sheen's drunkenness into the scene. By the time they got going, Sheen was so drunk to the point where he was unable to stand. Later on, they set up two cameras and started rolling without telling Sheen what to do and say whilst letting him know that he could wrap up for the day whenever he felt like it. Coppola stated that at the time of the shoot he intended to represent the different levels of good and evil in oneself and believes that Sheen has done things that no one had ever seen or ever talked to anyone about that must've been locked inside him for a long time. Moreover, this scene is Sheen essentially releasing that torment and sort of venting in a physical manner. Coppola needed something to set up the dark side of Willard and instill this conflict within him that would ultimately drive him towards Kurtz and an approach for displaying this conflict within the scene. These are a great example of how Coppola has creative freedom and was able to multitask during the production of the film. He often improvises or alters his original ideas, encapsulating his creative signature in ‘Apocalypse Now’, which contrasts with the director’s creative freedom in ‘Casablanca’. Much of the financing came from his own pocket (approx. $19 million), therefore, no one told him what to do as he was completely in charge.

Throughout the film’s production, Coppola shifted his intended focus from an anti-war film to an action-adventure film. Coppola said that he was trying to make a war movie that would somehow rise above conventional images of valor and cowardice. ‘Apocalypse Now’ is an allegory for the Vietnam War; not just in the story but also in the way it was made. The declining power of the studio system and the rise of independent cinema allowed directors such as Coppola to have a much larger creative influence in ‘Apocalypse Now’ than the institution may have supported in the past. Although it was also due to Coppola’s success in the previous films before ‘Apocalypse Now’ that made him gain the institution’s trust to take full control of the film.

To conclude, ‘Casablanca’ does not accord to the statement that “the director is the most creative influence on the production and content of the film”, as Jack Warner’s influence including Warner Brothers’ approach to film making proves that the institutions (studios) is the auteur. The major studio used the classic Hollywood style and their own ‘house style’ to secure a successful production and make profit out of it, often leaving the director with little creative control. However, ‘Apocalypse Now’ juxtaposes ‘Casablanca’, and supports the statement. Further, ‘Casablanca’ being a film produced in the studio era, it reflects the auteur signatures of the studio (Warner Brothers) rather than the director, whereas since the decline in the studio system, ‘Apocalypse Now’ reflects the New Hollywood, where director auteurs began being prominent.

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‘Casablanca’ Vs ‘Apocalypse Now’: Classical Hollywood Vs New Hollywood. (2022, December 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 13, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/casablanca-vs-apocalypse-now-classical-hollywood-vs-new-hollywood/
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