Tuesday 11th December 2018

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Play It Again, Sam

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By DONALD DeMARCO

Movie buffs know all too well that the words “Play it again, Sam” were never uttered in the film Casablanca. Ilsa, played by Ingrid Bergman, did say to the piano player (Dooley Wilson) “Play it,” but did not articulate the word “again.” Sam, however, did play the haunting song, As Time Goes By, again and again.
Posterity has more than made up for that missing word. Woody Allen’s 1972 movie, Play It Again, Sam was based on his 1969 Broadway play by the same title. There is an international record label known as “Play It Again, Sam Records.” That persistent phrase also titles a 1989 work for solo viola by Milton Babbitt. It is a song and a branding used by Superior Software. The list goes on. The question: Why is it that the missing word in Casablanca has been reinserted so many times and remains one of the most notable misquotations in all of filmdom?
The answer is fairly simple. Whenever we experience something good, we want to experience it again. We are not content to hear a beautiful song just once. We want to hear it again and again. A dozen roses is a far better gift than a single rose. It would be a far poorer world if no rose ever repeated itself. We return to our favorite restaurant, celebrate anniversaries, and welcome the New Year. We love the repetition of everything we love.
The solar system is a symphony of repetition: the diurnal rotation of the Earth on its axis, its annual rotation around the sun, the regularity of the lunar month, the alternation of the seasons, the planetary orbits. These repetitions conspire to produce cosmic harmony, unity, and balance. On the atomic level, a similar symphony is played out involving the periodicity of electrons orbiting around their nuclei. The replication of the DNA molecule and mitotic division are the elementary activities required for organic reproduction. Repetition permeates the universe on every level.
Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, one of the most celebrated of all orchestral compositions, begins with a four-note figure which is the thread, repeated in sundry ways, that weaves the first movement into a dramatic unity. It never lapses into anything akin to boredom or monotony, but remains invigorating and captivating. Repetition here is an expression of vitality. In the right hands, repetition becomes excitement without dullness, intensity without predictability. On a theological level, the Mass and the liturgical calendar attest to the importance of repetition.
The 1939 song We’ll Meet Again was one of the most endearing of the Second World War Era. It resonated powerfully with soldiers going off to war and the intense desire that family members and friends had for seeing them again: “We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when. But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day.” The lyrics are nearly heartbreaking.
Bishop Fulton J. Sheen once stated that he could easily imagine God, with the exuberance of a child, saying every morning to the sun, “Do it again,” and every evening saying to the moon and stars, “Do it again,” and every springtime saying to the daisies, “Do it again,” and every winter saying to the snowflakes, “Do it Again.” He welcomes every new child born into the world as a divine encore. God repeats Himself, so to speak, in a limitless number of ways because it is His nature to give. His richness overflows in an endless cascade of creativity.
In fact, it is the very nature of being to give of itself. For St. Thomas Aquinas, the good diffuses itself (Bonum est diffusivum sui). Therefore, it is because God is good that we exist. The Angelic Doctor also states that “it pertains to the notion of the good to communicate itself to others.”
Plato recognized the innate inclination for repetition that exists in human beings. Accordingly, he wrote, “Happiness expresses itself in the desire to reproduce the beautiful.” It is quite natural, therefore, for husband and wife to reproduce, just as it is natural for an artist to continue reproducing artifacts. The single experience never exhausts the plenitude of being. Love, joy, friendship, beauty all desire continual repetition. Once is never enough for the creative appetite.
“He who would win joy must share it,” wrote Lord Byron, “for happiness was born a twin.”
If, in the contemporary world, enthusiasm for procreation has waned, it may very well be that it is because happiness, the engine of creativity, has also waned. To be happy is to be in touch with one’s being. And it belongs to the nature of being to reproduce itself in some way. The happy person does not desire either isolation or sterility.
The first book of the Bible is Genesis, which is about generation. Generation, creation, reproduction, repetition, echo, and encore all attest to the built-in tendency of both God and man to “do it again.”
This tendency is most evident in children. Whenever they come upon something they enjoy, they want to do it again, and again. They love hearing the same story, listening to the same song, seeing the same trick, over and over again. Because the child is full of life, his appetite for fun is not satisfied by a single serving.
Christ said to Nicodemus that unless a man be born again, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God (John 3:3). We cannot be content with the earthly life we have been given. We need to be reborn in the spirit. We must be sensitive to that spiritual dynamic within ourselves that urges us to higher things. We are born, but must be reborn to share more fully in God’s life. Complacency is not the way of the Christian.
Casablanca has been repeated and re-appreciated numberless times by countless movie buffs over the past 70 years. So, too, has Sam played As Time Goes By for his cinematic viewers again and again.
Time has corrected what Hollywood had omitted. We should welcome the repetitions in our life that give it energy and order.

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