Taika Waititi Is Wrong About Michael Curtiz and Casablanca

Taika Waititi poses backstage with the Oscar for Adapted Screenplay during the live ABC Telecast of The 92nd Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, CA on Sunday, February 9, 2020. (Nick Agro / © A.M.P.A.S.)

Taika Waititi is absolutely wrong about nobody remembering Casablanca filmmaker Michael Curtiz some 80 years after the film was released.

The comments came during a cover story interview with The Hollywood Reporter. It’s enough to make someone’s eyes roll. If people do not know the name of Michael Curtiz, it is only because of sheer ignorance. Maybe they didn’t read Alan K. Rode’s superb biography, Michael Curtiz: A Life In Film. Pick it up and give it a read. You’d be doing yourself a favor. Rode’s book was one of my earlier pandemic books and I have absolutely no regrets in reading it. It’s certainly true of the portion of the country that somehow opts against watching films prior to 1975-1980. But still, the name of Casablanca is usually said right alongside the likes of Citizen Kane, The Godfather, or Singin’ in the Rain. If you want my opinion, it is the greatest film in cinematic history.

Here’s the paragraph in its entirety:

Waititi has managed to preserve the showmanship and silliness of his condo dance-off days, even as he has seen the stakes of his career raised. “I’m 47,” he says. “My God, take the pressure off. People are so obsessed with likes or leaving behind a legacy, being remembered. Here’s the thing: No one’s going to remember us. What’s the name of the director of Casablanca? Arguably one of the greatest films of all time. No one knows his name. How the fuck do I expect to be remembered? So who cares? Let’s just live, make some movies. They’ll be obsolete and irrelevant in 15 or 20 years. And so will I, and then I’ll die and someone else can do it. This whole idea of chasing, chasing, chasing this life. It’s like, do we have to actually work this hard? Maybe not.”

Michael Curtiz: A LIfe in Film
Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film by Alan K. Rode (Kentucky Press)

For an Oscar-winning filmmaker like Taika Waititi, his comments are ignorant. Anyone who is familiar with classic film definitely knows the name of Michael Curtiz. Make no mistake that Curtiz is a filmmaker who we know for being hard on his actors. However, he was one of the directors that Warner Bros. could consistently rely upon in order to finish the job. But then again, maybe Taika Waititi does have a point. One of the bonus features on the recent Casablanca 4K UHD release is Michael Curtiz: The Greatest Director You’ve Never Heard Of. The documentary short–directed by Gary Leva–was originally released in 2012. It’s too short of a film for audiences to really get to learn about Michael Curtiz. That said, Alan K. Rode’s bio of Curtiz, published by the University Press of Kentucky, is the definitive biography about the Oscar-winning filmmaker.

Curtiz first made the move to Hollywood in 1926. Only 39 years old at the time, he already had 64 directing credits to his name in Europe alone. He really made a name for himself at Warner Bros. All in all, he would direct some 102 films after immigrating to the United States–the large majority with Warner Bros. He was innovative and brought a visual style that is still in use to this date. Ten actors also received Oscar nominations with James Cagney and Joan Crawford being among those who won. In addition to an Oscar for Casablanca, Curtiz also won for Best Short Subject with Sons of Liberty.

If you want to know more about Michael Curtiz, please do yourself a favor and order Alan K. Rode’s book today.

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.