Text by Gabriele Niola
Translation by Bianca Baroni
In collaboration with badtaste.it
Photos: Alessio Costantino
Nostalgia is when we ask ourselves if we can be the ones we used to.
Indeed, in cinema, nostalgia is what makes us wonder if the old cinema could still exist. La La Land, more thinly, tries to understand if in modern cinema there could be room for the feelings caused by the old movies. Of course Damian Chazelle is not the only one who asked himself this kind of questions, but he’s the only who tried to figure out if we could save that incredible naivety, that complexity disguised as simplicity we found in the Hollywood of the ‘40s and ‘50s. Can we still look at the seventh art as a “dream machine” (that is the less contemporary definition ever)? Can we still make a sugary, colored, idealistic and cheerful cinema using a modern language to express up-to-date references and problems?
Two years ago, Peter Bogdanovich brought to Venice She’s Funny That Way, a movie that showed a time travel: it seemed it was made yesterday and hit a wrong note since the costumes were modern. Chazelle does not want to travel throughout time, as also Tarantino often does: he wants to recreate those sensations in contemporary cinema. He wants to be modern, but also as cool as jazz.
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La La Land has the colors of Vincent Minnelli and the elaborate camera movements we came to know from studio system, but it’s a contemporary movie and has such a wonderful and enthralling soundtrack that is able to work on the easiest feelings. Music comes out from every car that passes by, there’s a different genre from every radio, while a boy and a girl meet, he dreams about giving jazz a new life, she daydreams about becoming an actress. The hard-earned first kiss arrives at the end of a dancing courting that lasts for three choreographies, two dates and random meetings. Just like the old rhythms (in cinema and life).
This movie is incredibly able to make you yearn for the opportunity to live in that world instead of ours, to know those character and feel that carefreeness even in dramas. It makes you dream, in the strict sense, and fills you with the desire of dancing on an easy and light choreography, whistling. At least in the first stage.
In the second half of the movie, love is flanked by the real attempt to follow a dream (and Chazelle never jokes about dreams of glory: they are a hell that doesn’t leave space for anything else). From that moment, the movie wants to change, in order to become something else, leaving the sweet old world behind, to turn into something cruel like Whiplash, in fact they share the same ethic of effort and emotional deprivations. That’s when the story is no more as quick and cheerful as it was at the beginning. What rescues the situation are Justin Hurwitz’s musics (he’s the same of Whiplash) and Emma Stone, who is perfect, even more of the increasingly seraphic Gosling, when she performs the need of cheerfulness and sentimentalisms even in the drama, in a little naïve way – and for this reason, desirable.
Some years ago, Hollywood fell in love again with musicals (Chicago, Dreamgirls, Moulin Rouge!) and the comparison between those reinterpretations and Chazelle’s version shows how hard it is to reach La La Land standards. To realize such an opera, there’s the necessity to have commitment and balance in such a technically sophisticated way, so elaborated and conceived in order to hide all the effort, that it’s no surprise that the movie can’t stand it all for its whole length and that it ends with a convoluted and jumbled finale.
Because, in short, Chazelle, like his characters, didn’t choose any easy way. La La Land in fact doesn’t belong to the musical genre, where songs conduct the story and characters don’t talk but sing, in order to tell each other what they have to. It belongs to that kind of movies like An American in Paris, where music and choreographies are used to put in scene feelings expressed in that moment, words are not put in music but are substituted in the rise to the emotional representation. It is all about harmony to narrate sensations, just like when the bar piano player doesn’t know what to say to the starlet and starts playing a song that is so moving that seems to become their life together as they’ve never lived it.