Only history, non-narrative film, and non-fiction appealed to my sociologist-statistician father. Enticing him to read a novel or watch a movie that wasn’t a documentary was a fool’s errand. Now and then he would oblige, but the dour criticism that followed was always the price of admission.
When I was in high school, I asked my dad about Casablanca over breakfast one morning. I’d never seen it but I’d heard its signature song, “As Time Goes By” on the soundtrack to the 1993 film Sleepless In Seattle. My father surprised me with his response: a broad smile and an offer to watch Casablanca together. Perhaps it was the World War II-driven plot, or maybe my dad just had the hots for Ingrid Bergman — I’ll never know. But we did watch it one evening in our living room, and I’ll never forget the contented smile that appeared on his face at the very end of the movie when Rick says to Captain Renault, “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
Back then, I gravitated to the love story of Rick Blaine and Ilsa Lund, but the piano player, Sam (played by Arthur “Dooley” Wilson), also delighted me. Hearing the oft-misquoted line, “Play it, Sam,” spoken in context for the first time was exhilarating. And then there was the song itself, the “it” that Sam is admonished to play by Ilsa soon after she arrives at Rick’s Cafe Americain: “As Time Goes By.” Originally composed by Herman Hupfeld for a 1931 Broadway musical called Everybody’s Welcome, it gained new traction in the early 1940s when it was used in Casablanca. Just about every well-known singer has recorded it, but my favorite rendition is still Wilson’s — full of subtle tenderness and warmth.
My father is 91 years old now and his health is failing. Dementia has begun to erase his memories and aphasia has robbed him of the ability to speak coherently, but he is more loving now than he ever was when I was young. For me, the past year has been a wild ride of pain, anger, healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation. I don’t know how much time he has left, but I hope we can watch Casablanca together one more time.
It’s still the same old story
A fight for love and glory
A case of do or die
The world will always welcome lovers
As time goes by
(Song recommendation by Jeanne Sharp)