Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Tribute Art for Re-Release of "Casablanca" (1942)

When I look back upon all my posts (which currently number over seventy), I'm almost shocked that I haven't written about a very large genre of art associated with the motion picture industry. I'm obviously talking about tribute art. In my personal definition, tribute art is art that was made after the movie was released, even maybe decades after the film was released, and has  no bearing on the plot of the film or even on its stars. That being said, tribute art is not a useless genre of art (if there is such a genre) because in some cases, the tribute art becomes quite recognizable because of its association with the film it honors.
I first starting pondering about such tribute art when I was listening to my Casablanca soundtrack. The CD's "cover art"-to borrow such a lowly term for a work of art- features this lovely composition of scenes from the film in vibrant color. The painting's palette of deep, rich browns and oranges matches the deepness and richness of the story and somehow seems quite apropos considering the Moroccan setting. The detail work is completely marvelous- Ingrid Bergman's Elsa looks as breathtaking as she was on the silver screen- except in this instance- she's in color. And what lovely color!
Casablanca(1942): Film still
When I began digging into this piece's background I was delighted to find a fairly solid back story. The painting was commissioned for the cover art  for both the film's soundtrack and video version in 1992, when Casablanca was released in honor of its 50th anniversary. MGM turned to a well-known realist who has worked in and out of the studios for years: one C. Michael Dudash. Dudash, so it seems, is a fairly prominent (and I use this term loosely) realist who specializes in Western scenes and work for films. Whether his work is high art of just a commercial argument is not a discussion I can have right now, especially considering a stupendous book which I highly advise on the nature of art in the "post-historical perspective" by Arthur C. Danto titled Beyond the Brillo Box. Look into it.
A view of Dudash's original painting
Casablanca (1992): oil on linen

The nature of the artist, in this case, is slightly irrelevant- no disrespect to Dudash who certainly has exhibited a mastery of painting. More importantly, I feel the mere existence of such tribute art helps to prove the artistry that lies in such a cinematic masterpiece. True, perhaps a certain element of gravitas should be held back on a piece of art that was 1. commissioned by a large corporation (basically) and 2. concerns a lowly motion picture. Rather, I like to think that (withholding judgment from Dudash), the obvious time he spent in creating such a stunning piece helps demonstrate that a film like Casablanca is worth spending time on. It is worth the criticism and admiration of scores of generations.It is in this respect that I believe tribute art is important. It is concrete proof that a film has made enough of an impact to demand an investment in time, energy, and creative skill. And in this instance, such a piece is accessible to the public to help spread this great "truth" about the film. And Casablanca is a cause without a doubt deserving of such an investment.
Publicity Still of the two stars:
Bogart's Rick and Bergman's Ilsa remain some of the
most memorable characters in film history
As a mild aside, I'm so glad I was able to talk about one of my favorite films- Casablanca- even if it was only in a fleeting respect. I know I'm not alone here, but Casablanca is just such a helluva good film that its hard not to share my love of it. It's stars, Bergman, Bogart and even Rains were at the top of their game. The mere fact that its lines are well known even by non-viewers is proof enough of the cultural impact it has made in our society. If only you knew the time I spent trying to find a subject to write about. It wasn't easy, I promise you. Sam's piano is not well documented. Even Ingrid's beautiful brooch is overly mentioned in sources. But I guess I thank Max Steiner's beautiful soundtrack for the inspiration for this post- without that CD- I would have still be looking. And why I'm sure my post doesn't "amount to a hill of beans in this world," I do hope you've enjoyed it!

Link: C.M. Dudash's Site

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