2017 Film Writings by Roderick Heath @ Ferdy On Films.pdf

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2017 Film Writings by Roderick Heath for Ferdy On Films
La La Land (2016)
Director/Screenwriter: Damien Chazelle

By Roderick Heath
A clogged LA freeway on a winter‘s day, ―Another Day of Sun,‖ cars backed up for miles on
either side. Suddenly a spasm of frustration manifests itself not as shouting or horn-blowing, but
as song, and the traffic jam erupts momentarily into carnivale, the humans caged in their rolling
steel egoverses momentarily joining in shared celebration of the dreams and less glamorous reality
that defines their lives. It‘s the sort of absurdist set-piece I‘m sure that has occurred to just about
anyone who‘s ever been stuck in such a traffic jam, and it retains a certain spiritual connection to
the early dream sequence in that eternal touchstone of artistic self-appraisal in cinema, 8½ (1963),
and even to the music video for REM‘s ―Everybody Hurts.‖ Damien Chazelle ultimately follows
those models arcs towards melancholy reckonings with the gap between private passion and the
dismay of modern living, but for the moment goes for big, raucous this-is-going-to-be-a-ride
showmanship. It‘s the sort of opening gambit that will surely split an audience right down the
middle, between those who will be instantly swept up in the cued excitement and those who might
uneasily gird themselves for what‘s coming. I was amongst the latter. Not because ebullient
outdoors production numbers annoy me per se, but this one did. Chazelle‘s camera spins and
twists and cranes with dramatic, athletic mobility. But the showiness of the camerawork is overtly
strenuous, technique without actual purpose, distracting from the fact that what it‘s filming isn‘t
actually very well staged or choreographed; it is in fact rather a hymn to its own existence, a
―wow, can you believe I‘m pulling this in 2016?‖ statement. People stand on their car bonnets and
throw their hands up and down and fling themselves about in conga lines. This immediately lays
down a template that the rest of La La Land follows studiously: approximation of classic musical
style served up like the coup of the century, but which on close examination proves to be all sizzle
and no steak.