“La La Land” – Damien Chazelle

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I will never not find the prospect of a musical most off-putting. The music and the film only ever seem to ridicule one another, and there is no honour in self-mutilation. The most a musical could ever hope to do if I am in the audience, is win back its own integrity.

But then I remember the past. I am quite sure that the musical appeals to me so little for reasons firmer rooted than personal taste. For it is true, the musical is a highly unfashionable format. Perhaps it is the mincing trite of the primary conceit that has fallen from favour – only to be replaced by the barren trite of Now – or perhaps, to young ears, the tunes themselves sound like blousy ham.

Or perhaps I am an inexperienced spectator of the bleeding-over of things, for I was born at a time at which everything has its right place; by this, I suppose, I mean the time of television – the great media oil-spill, into the home. Where once the spectator was keen as an elkhound, now he is stuffed full at every moment of the day, cushion-cast. And ‘tis no great joy to find slake so easily, for yearning is half of love. Surely the notion of a musical is a relic of the show-hall. The variety show idea.

All this does not remotely excuse the existence of things like Glee. La La Land is good because it is so clearly a relic. The only recent example that is even remotely comparable is Hail Caesar!, for they both share a fearfully outmoded sight that is not feigned, and a sensitivity is not artificial. The result is an uncanny film.

People fly in La La Land; but it won’t be tagged a fantasy film, it’s just old-fashioned. What are these extenuating circumstances? It is not rose-tinted like a Woody Allen movie; it seems more truthful than that. Nostalgia feels like the wrong word. In the presence of such integrity, and surprising absence of the self-awareness that makes a musical unbearable, the past is not so much re-created, as it is simply created. Like the Hitler Diaries, it is a forged document.

Stone wakes every morning under the great billboard cheeks of Ingrid Bergman. Sure, this means she’s a romantic, and it helps pump the movie full of Old Hollywood sedative gas – but mostly it’s there to look absurd. Remember the first strangeness of cinema is its scale. This is but one of its risible features. Cinema is a grand, very thorough joke, and so is Los Angeles to a less edifying extent. La La Land knows this very well, for the lore it enacts is its own. And all its jokes work wonderfully – the people, music, dances, sets, words, all just as you’d hope. Cinema’s great joke is, I suppose, that it isn’t funny.

Owen Neve

Drama, Musical | USA, 2016 | 12A | 12th January 2017 (UK) | Lionsgate Films | Dir.Damien Chazelle | Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, J.K Simmons, Rosemarie DeWitt