Sometimes, when a big man tells you to do something, you just do it.
Sometimes it’s something you don’t want to do, like showing the contents of your bag to a bouncer in a rubbish music joint when you’ve tried to beat the capitalist system and stick it to the man by taking your own gin.
Sometimes it’s something you don’t mind doing – like watching a classic film you’ve always meant to watch.
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting the entreaty to watch Casablanca to come from my no-nonsense bloke mate Simon. I would’ve thought we’d be more likely to become embroiled in a grapple to get me to watch the Alien films. To which I would get all hoity-toity and say “Er, no, Simon. I don’t like alien films. This world is quite confusing enough as it is, without dipping a toe into the questionable existence of wider life in distant galaxies, THANKS.”, to which he would roll his eyes at me and slope off to roll a fag.
There is something in being told something is cool that makes you think it’s going to be totally uncool. It’s just the way we work. I thought Casablanca was going to be an assembly of over-quoted lines with a lot of longing glances, lit smoke, and the sort of tongue-less smooching they did that makes them look like they’re removing a stain.
I was not prepared for the cool. After an opening so clippy I felt like I was being pulled along with my knickers around my ankles, I began to wonder if this black and white flick might be much more than I was expecting. Then by the time Humphrey Bogart had delivered some grumpy corkers and Ingrid Bergman had been Ingrid Bergman for a bit, I was hooked. All the fat was cut off; it was relentlessly brilliant, and their relationship wasn’t at all what I thought it was. Here was the lady holding all the cards, and the grizzly man, still panging from the last time he saw her, being reduced to a boozy mess at the bar. And there was famous Sam, playing As Time Goes By. I could feel the inner blub unfurling inside me. I began making strange noises and worrying my fist into my sternum. What on earth was going to happen? Surely they would get together?
It reminded me of the other old classic I had been reluctant to get caught up in. Brief Encounter. It look me about three goes to get past the scene in the train station cafe where Cynthia Johnson makes a fuss about her eye. I couldn’t watch. She was too pathetic. Her voice left me cold and her eyeballs annoyed me, even when they weren’t ruddy watering all the time. But one day, wrapped up on the sofa with some sort of disabling flu, I kept going out of some sense of obligation to classic cinema. I watched to the end. And I was rendered a complete and utter state. “WHY AREN’T THE PEOPLE WHO LOVE EACH OTHER GETTING TOGETHER, WHAT IS WRONG WITH THEM? WHAT IS WRONG WITH THE WORLD? LOVE SUCKS! I KNOW IT’S BRILLIANT, BUT IT ALSO SUCKS.” I intimated this with my disgraceful mucal snuffling before prodding my face back into my skull in some sort of approximate Picassoesque order, my nose hoiked up over my ear and trailing snot.
I might have permitted myself a similar outpouring of woe and moisture watching Casablanca if I had not been sat next to Simon. He’d been adding his own commentary about the context of the war and other boy things; I didn’t want to ruin it by squeaking.
Come the end, as Bergman returns to America with the man she does not love, and the man she does love walks off into the moonlight with another man to go and fight, I thought I was going to explode. HOW COULD THEY BE LETTING THIS HAPPEN? WHAT WILL THEY DO WITH ALL THE LOVE?
But then my burly chum gave the perfect answer. It was “bigger than love”. Everyone would do better things for the world if they were apart. And despite love being awesome, that was sort of reassuring. The world is bigger than the love of two people, and sometimes that makes for the best love stories of all.