I stayed up till 2:30 last night reading Defining Moments in Movies (2007, ed. Chris Fujiwara): 800-pages of short, illustrated entries about the history of film, "from the Lumière brothers in 1895 through the arrival of sound, to... the French New Wave, and contemporary Asian cinema...."
Different film critics write snippets not just about on-screen moments, but defining real-life events, e.g., James Dean's death, Oscar speeches, technical innovations (the Steadicam), and so forth.
I woke up this morning thinking, What are my life's defining movie moments?
Woody Allen Watches Casablanca (1942), in Play it Again, Sam (1972)
Play it Again, Sam opens with a b&w nighttime scene of a man in a trenchcoat saying good-bye to a woman on a foggy airport runway. The camera cuts to reveal that we are watching a man watching the film in a movie theater: it's the romantic loser and film critic, Allan Felix (Woody Allen), sitting alone, mouth open, lost again in his dreams of romantic heroism.
I was eleven when I saw this movie with my mother at the Orpheum Theater in downtown Madison, Wisconsin. She leaned over and explained that this scene was from Casablanca, a famous old movie. I remember my moment of confusion at this film within a film. The way the whole modern movie dialogued with the old one enthralled me.
I already loved old movies, which my family watched whenever they were on TV. Shortly after seeing Play it Again, I started to go by myself to the UW Film Society, which held showings in university classrooms (often in B-12 Commerce, a basement auditorium where business classes met in the day) on weekend evenings for a dollar.
The film guys set a projector up right in the back row, and you could hear the film whirring. Sometimes it broke or a bulb burned out, and you had to wait while someone fixed it.
The Film Society posted their b&w fliers on kiosks, and they often gave away extras at the showing. I covered my walls with them.
Casablanca was a popular offering, either on its own or as part of one of several series the society ran: Films of Humphrey Bogart; Great Film of the Forties, Classic Romances, and I saw it several times.
At the time, I thought I related to Bogart and Bergman, but looking back, I was really relating to the Woody Allen character, whose restless wife leaves him saying, "You are one of life's watchers."
He introduced into my life the character of the movie watcher, who isn't a passive viewer but who deeply engages, intellectually and emotionally, with the movies.