La La LandDamien Chazelle (USA 2016)Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone
viewed 18th Jan 2017 Empire Cinema Newcastle; ticket: £3.95
follow the dream follow the money
Damien Chazelle’s La La Land (LLL) didn’t register with me a musical.Rather it was a romcom movie with very ordinary dance routines and some immemorable songs, bolted on.
What was most interesting was its pitch. What’s it selling? In a similar way to Aronofsi’s Black Swan, it’s selling Narcissism.The pitch is the legitimation of self engrossment.LLL is an ad, one of those singing dancing life style promoting adverts wrapped up in a Romantic geste.
Of course this is what makes LLL an interesting mass product tuned into its times audience and culture; no more relevant than a hair conditioner or a Porsche promotion, but of a different cultural weight in that it is not selling a tangible product through narcissistic association, rather narcissism itself is sold as the intangible product. As community and family as a source of identity are replaced by commercially factored indicators of presented individuality, image and self image become core components of defining self.
Of course evangelical politics and fundamental religions (as Isis know) can reterritorialise voided selves. But aside from these radical identity shifts, in the West it is the mix of music social media movies and adverts that define and reflect self image.Cue LA LA Land which, like ‘the Black Swan’, is primarily aimed at the manipulation of its female audience.
The way LLL is shot is reminiscent of a two hour selfie with the iPhone pointed at Mia.The camera loves Mia, its lens caresses her and whenever it gets the chance, it zooms in for a kiss, tracking in for that Big Close Up of her happy smiley face.Mia’s face, or perhaps a faciality Mia’s implied affective state that comes to exemplify the ‘Dream’;not just any dream but the ultimate defining dream that everything is possible.Just pursue your dream: everything you desire will be yours.In her exemplary mediocrity, Mia in herself epitomises this for her audience, in that Emma Stone’s execution of the specifically technical demands of the film is very ordinary.Neither her singing nor her dancing are particularly good.This in itself is important; it flags up the message to the audience about the levelling out of their own aspirations.LLL says to its adoring public that it doesn’t matter if you can’t do stuff very well, there’s no need to spend too much time on proficiency; just trying reasonably hard is enough to fulfil your dream.Mia is a simple uncomplicated undemanding role model.
Sebastian interestingly is not.It feels as if Chazelle has scripted him not as a boyfriend but an animus: Mia’s psychic shadow, the unstated repressed elements of her being.Sebastian, as Chazelle sets him up, comes across as so contradictory that even the LLL script gives up trying to understand or develop him coherently.For instance, Sebastian claims to love jazz; but when he plays the piano for himself, he gurgitates the La La Land theme music which sounds like a middling Einaudi composition.Not Jazz.In the end Chazelle’s gives up the pretence that Sebastian is an independent character, and he is assimilated into Mia’s dream of perfect romance. Of course he is marginally more interesting as a shadow.
LLL is trailed as a homage re-visiting of the ‘classic Hollywood musicals.But it is not. The great Hollywood musicals worked through de-individuation. Minnelli Donen et al created dream worlds into which their characters were assimilated. In dance the outer forms, the identities and characters of AstaireKelly Rogers or Charisse, fell from them as they became dancers pure released into another world.But these guys could dance; the same cannot be said of Gosling and Stone.Chazelle, with the exception of the opening number, has the opposite intention than that implicit in the great era musicals: that the dance advances individuality. In particular with Miadance serves her rather than she serving the dance.As such, given the low level of performance, the musical numbers are flat rather than elevating.Even the opening number set on the upper deck of a highway snarl-up falls victim to the curse of the one shot fetish.The camera movement although fluid always has a feeling of being ill at ease with itself, of perhaps drawing attention to itself, its individuality and taking attention away from the dance.There is one moment of energy when the tailgate of a truck rolls open to reveal a band playing; otherwise this ten minute shot falls victim to its own mechanics. The less said about the homage shot to ‘American in Paris’ the better; its not even a pale imitation.The problem with the choreography and settings of this homage are augmented by the low calibre musical composition; but Gershwins are thin on the ground these days.
Of most interest in the development of the film was the end section of the credits roller. Up and past went an unending series of names of financial backers and co-production deals (There was significant product placement in the movie).La La Land has been an expertly sold prospect to international investors, including the Chinese.In the era of the soft machinery, the malleable ego, expect business model clones to follow.