'Casablanca' with a live orchestra (or 'why I'm kicking myself for not booking 'Love Actually' too)

Last week I went to the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall to see Casablanca on the big screen, accompanied by a full orchestra playing the score. I love my classic movies and although Casablanca's not my favourite, it's definitely one of the greats. The opportunity to watch it in such an atmospheric setting was one not to be missed. The Phil is a lovely 1930's art-deco building in Liverpool's Georgian quarter (the original was destroyed in the Blitz) which as well as holding classical concerts, is host to plenty of other events. I've been to see films there before too. Usually they have a proper old-fashioned big screen that rises up out of the stage (to the accompaniment of a man playing jaunty organ music  - it's a bit random to be honest) and they always show It's a Wonderful Life on Christmas Eve (which is well worth going to.) But this time they needed the stage for the Liverpool Philharmonic orchestra (playing Max Steiner's acclaimed score) to do their stuff.

Despite Casablanca's fame, I wouldn't say the score was particularly iconic (like, for example Gone with the Wind's) but when the orchestra struck up the first notes for the overture I knew this was going to be good. It's amazing how they manage to keep so perfectly in time with the score as played in the film behind them - the only bit the orchestra didn't attempt was Sam's piano playing. Because the sound of the orchestra is louder than background music would normally be, subtitles were added to the film for extra clarity, but that didn't bother me too much and I'm glad they did it, as it stopped you missing any of the dialogue.

What really surprised me was that after a while you kind forget that the orchestra's there. That sounds like a bad thing, but I suppose if the score is doing its job you shouldn't notice it too much - you should be immersed in the film. The overture had loads of impact however and so did the scene where they play the French national anthem. Everyone in the audience started clapping and a few people even shouted 'vive la France!' Going  to the pictures never really has much of an atmosphere nowadays - films are so readily available on TV and streaming services and the cinema is getting so expensive that people don't go so much. Screens are quieter and film releases aren't the big events they once were. So when you get the chance to go to something like this - where people are making a big event of a film - it feels really special and nice. I love when people clap at the end or at a rousing scene - and Casablanca has plenty of those.

Created and released during the early years of World War Two, Casablanca is full of spirit and patriotism - and in part it's also a propaganda vehicle, originally intended to bring the Americans into the fight against the Nazi's (they joined shortly before it's release). I noticed the poignant lines this time around - when Rick says "I bet they're asleep all over America" or that the troubles of three little people don't amount to more than a hill of beans when compared to the big things, when Louis congratulates Rick on his 'sensible foreign policy' of never getting involved in politics, or chips in that the Nazis shouldn't underestimate American blundering, as he was with them when they blundered into Berlin in 1918. There's loads in it. Propaganda aside though, there are so many great (if intensely cheesy) lines in Casablanca full stop.  There's at least five or six big 'uns that you'll recognise even if you've never seen five minutes of the film before. In fact, it'd be great for a drinking game...

Casablanca is a love story, a thriller, a war story and a classic. And it somehow still manages to feel fresh and original despite that cheesy dialogue. Even kind of relevant at the moment, as it's essentially all about refugees. If you've not seen it before I'd heartily recommend, as live orchestra or not, it's a great film. Although the live music did make my viewing of it extra special. If you're a Merseyside local and this sounds like fun, it's also worth knowing that it isn't a one off. They do these movie + live orchestra things quite often. Love, Actually's next, for Christmas, and I'm gutted I didn't book (although it was a lot more expensive - £38 for the cheapest seats when for Casablanca we paid £26 for good seats in the stalls). The tickets go very fast. I think Back to the Future is coming soon though! And they've done Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone at the Echo Arena. I'm hoping we'll get the follow up too!

What film would you like best to see performed with a live orchestra? Ever seen Casablanca? 


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