We Can Forget It For You Wholesale...
Casablanca was on television a few weeks back. Nothing out of the ordinary in that piece of news given that Casablanca makes at least an annual appearance on the box but the manner in which the Radio Times reviewed the film caught my attention. Like a good many such pieces, it was written in such a style so as to attract those who hadn't seen it before and if offered choice moments with which to snare the curious viewer, which would be rewarded on actually watching the film. And there was a personal feeling of disappointment, that I would, having watched the film some years back, never go to Casablanca anew. I know that in one of the most thrilling moments anywhere in cinema, the playing of Die Wacht Am Rhein will get railroaded by an impassioned singing of La Marseillaise. I know what will eventually cause Rick to hand over the letters of transit. I know how it ends. I know why Rick hurts as much as he does. And I know that the cat-and-mouse relationship between Rick and Louis will play out as it does. Much as I enjoy the telling, I still know the story.
In some ways, one envies a small amount of forgetfulness when it comes to film, Casablanca being a case in point. I won't forget my first viewing of Casablanca, largely for the memory of being as swept up in the story as I was. Similarly, it's unlikely that I'll ever forget my first watching of Last Year In Marienbad. But equally, I haven't forgotten the films either, which is slightly disappointing when, particularly in the latter, there is a sense of surprise at the outcome(s). When I first watched The Adventures Of Robin Hood, I giggled like a schoolgirl throughout, but subsequent viewings, though always entertaining, don't quite capture the magic present from that very first one.
Much worse comes with visually splendid or bloodily shocking films that have been near ruined by viewings on television. Blade Runner is a prime example of this. For years, the only time that I watched it was on television, videotape - more often than not from being taped off a TV broadcast - and, more recently, the non-anamorphic DVD. Yes I only have myself to blame but if you grew up in the country and had to travel twenty miles to the nearest, one-screen, oh-you're-showing-Rambo III-again cinema, there were, prior to the arrival of DVD, very few options when it came to watching films. Television was largely it. But in thinking about Casablanca, I also got to thinking about Blade Runner and how I'll never watch that astonishing opening shot of a future Los Angeles without it already having been ruined by years of fuzzy, pan-and-scanned television versions. Similarly, that chest-burster in Alien, often cut to bits by an over-zealous television company, has few surprises left in it while I would give much, within reason obviously, to be like editor Bud Smith (in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls) watching Star Wars for the first time and saying of its opening moments, "You started feeling this huge thing coming over your shoulder overwhelming you and heard this noise and you went right off into space."
Forget all the future talk of implanted memories from Total Recall and Strange Days. What I want is more Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind without the horrible Michel Gondry direction. A means to selectively and temporarily erase memories so I can go back and watch films like new. I want to experience comedies like I've never seen them before, to watch William Shatner appear from behind the computer viewscreen in Airplane II - oh! it's not a viewscreen! - and laugh once again like my eyes are going to pop. To watch The Producers and realise with mounting horror the insanity of Bialystock and Bloom's production of Springtime For Hitler, complete with toe-tapping members of the SS goosestepping into a Busby Berkeley-shot-from-above swastika. To hear Father McGruder tell us that he kicks arse for the lord before doing just that to a graveyard full of goons in Brain Dead. And yes to be suddenly and without any memory of horror to be faced with the best of Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi and to almost have to wipe my eyes clean of the splatter of fresh blood.
I want to savour those moments in film that by repeated viewings - my own fault, I admit - and the likes of Channel 4 and Five's ...Films To See Before You Die, I have tarnished through familiarity. Aided by some poking about and the snipping away of one's memory, I'd like to watch, as though for the very first time, the helicopter attack from Apocalypse Now!, Orson Welles emerging from the shadows in The Third Man, Gene Kelly in Singin' In The Rain and the whole of The Adventures Of Robin Hood. To have no memory of animation and then to watch Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. To see the shock of red lipstick in Black Narcissus and to realise what it meant. To hear those bells ring for the very first time in the overwhelming last few minutes of It's A Wonderful Life. And to sit alone in a cinema and, having forgetten it entirely, have a pristine print of Blade Runner projected just for me. But more than anything else, I would like to wipe clean all memory of colour films simply for that moment when Dorothy lands in Oz and steps out of the farmhouse into a lush Technicolour world. If that were my first sight of colour on the screen, I don't think I would have seen anything more lovely, even more so than the start of that beautiful friendship in Casablanca that I could see forming for the very first time, not once but over and over again.