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September 1, 2010

Man behind the curtain

When last we met, I’m afraid I got a little carried away with what could be considered a misfired practical joke.

In an effort to make a point about “spoilers,” I cast myself as the “Unstumpable Answer Man” and posed a question (to myself) purporting to ask the name of a particular film. It was an elaborate ploy designed to entertain … well, me. But I thought some of you might enjoy it as well.

I didn’t think I was being that obtuse.

The film I described, as some of you have pointed out, was, indeed, “Casablanca,” one of the most famous American films ever made. The joke of the column was that the “Reader” described the movie in great detail, included the names of several characters and, in fact, included the name of the city in which the primary action took place (which is also the title of the film), yet was unable to identify the movie.

Further, the “Reader” applied a level of analysis to the internal action of Ingrid Bergman’s character that pointed toward the possibility that she was either manipulative or weak-willed in her directive that Rick (played by Humphrey Bogart) must “think for both of us.” Would the great Rick sell out the freedom-fighting husband of his former love in order to live the rest of his days with one of the screen’s greatest beauties? Hell no. But would Ilsa play on his desire? You betcha. (Or, um, maybe not.)

Well, I think a lot (if not most) of you got the joke. The punch line (my equally bewildering, supposed inability to identify “Casablanca” with the overwhelming amount of Google-able information presented) was a misdirection. I figured everybody would see it coming after such a detailed synopsis, but I received two unexpected responses.

The more common was from folks who hadn’t actually seen “Casablanca.” The earnestness of these queries was somewhat heartbreaking, but it was fun to engage a number of people with my enthusiastic encouragement that they (and any of you who haven’t seen it) sit down and watch the damn thing. It is practically an essential lesson in American history. The moral issues presented are likewise worthy of in-depth discussion. Beyond that, it is, in fact, the most romantic American film (as selected by the American Film Institute in 2002). No matter how much prior knowledge you may have, the actual experience is simply indescribable.

The other response came as an e-mail from “Dave,” who seemed to find unhealthy delight in berating my stupidity. He asked how hungover I was when I wrote the column. He wondered if I was a “complete FUCKTARD.”

Dave rightly identified the movie and went on to identify the principle actors, adding, “Ever heard of them?!?!” And, in his funniest passage, posed the following:

“Hey I have my own question, I once saw a movie with a girl named Dorothy in it. It started in Kansas and had witches and munchkins in it, and I think a wizard, but I don’t know what it was; any fucking idea Einstein?” (I have carefully transcribed this passage using the “copy” and “paste” functions in my word processing program, and I assure you, the typographical and grammatical errors are Dave’s.)

Up to this point, I was OK with Dave’s note. I figured he was an ass-hat and didn’t know any better. He closed the e-mail by assuring me “this was all good natured kidding,” but then told me to “keep up the mediocre work!” I couldn’t really tell what was going on, but I found the various points of derision somewhat disconcerting.

After a simple volley of correspondence, it turned out he and his friends were merely having a lark at one of our fine local drinking establishments, and my little joke had inspired them. It’s nice to know that some of our drunken youth have seen “Casablanca.”

Now, I just have to figure out what that other movie was he described. It sounds so familiar … like a recurring dream I used to have when I was a kid …

For next time: Have you heard “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” version of Cee Lo’s big summer pop hit? “Cuss You!” I can’t stop listening to that shit.