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Life with Lavendar in London town

Monday, 16 January 2017

Wah Wah Land

Sometime before Christmas last year, publicity posters of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling locked in dance embrace started following me wherever I went. The tube, the train, escalators, online media. Wherever I was, so was this poster:

The Stalker Poster

You could be blind and still be able to see from all the stars and accolades squashed together in said poster that the film was well received. Still, the public's appetite can differ from that of film critics and attendees of Cannes, Sundance and other chi chi film festivals. You can shove as many stars as you like on a poster but will it translate into box office?  Undeniable though was the buzz surrounding  La La Land, reaching crescendo height at the recent Golden Globes where it swept the floor with all other films nominated.

I went to see the film today with a sense of unease due to my sky high expectations. I grew up watching old MGM musicals and I rate Gene Kelly as one of my favourite dancers, ever. I choreograph ensemble dance sequences in my head on the way to work with my face squashed against someone's armpit on the Tube. This is what I see every night before I go to sleep as it hangs in my bedroom:

Gene Kelly & Vera Ellen in Words & Music

Before I saw the film, I read an interview with director Damian Chazelle where he discussed his intent to make a musical for people who don't like musicals. The aim was to draw from the canon of musicals from the golden age of Hollywood and yet make the film modern and fresh.

I was sceptical. Musicals aren't really a genre in film anymore. Chicago, Mamma Mia. Sweeney Todd. What else from the last ten years?  Gone are the days where actors could also sing and dance, doing all three things well at the same time. Doing a musical is tough as it is. How the hell was he going to do a new type of musical to win over a non-musical accustomed audience?

I went to an afternoon screening filled with old aged pensioners holding glasses of wine and walking sticks. Usually afternoon screenings are sparse but the cinema was almost full. A guy came in and sat next to me. Immediately he took possession of the arm rest between us.

I saw red. Stubbornly I wedged my arm back onto said armrest so that our elbows were both perched together like angular roosting pigeons. The previews came and went.  The lights dimmed. The film started.

My arm did not move from that armrest.

Vibrant technicolor hues flooded onscreen where tanned people started dancing on top of their cars on a gridlocked highway. All the cars looked cool, not like the ugly monochrome plastic bubbles they make now. The sky on film was vivid blue. I could almost see the shimmer in the air emanating from the heat of hot LA summer's day. I took it casually in whilst having this internal monologue:

I was here first Mister. Why makes you think you have the right to hog the armrest? Because you're a man? Because you're tall? Because you're tall man?  It's so annoying when men do this. Do women do it? No, usually men. Like in swimming pool lanes. Men* are arseholes when swimming in pool lanes. Does testosterone multiply when you're submerged in water. Do you feel my elbow sticking into you? 

Oblivious, the guy seemed absorbed in the film and remained that way for 2.5 hours. He didn't move. And neither did his elbow.

By this time, my own elbow was in pain from being stuck in an awkward position. I decided to distract myself by paying attention to the film. It certainly was gorgeous to look at. The cerulean sky changing to an effervescent mauve draped over the twinkly lights of Hollywood.  Emma Stone's incandescent face and googly eyes drawing you in. The ever present music which was the third character in the film, so much was the mood of this film driven by music. The dancing was a bit blah but I didn't care. The film had a tangible rhythm which made up for it.  The camera techniques employed were reminiscent of old Hollywood with fish eye lens zoom in and out. Shots were framed like Edward Hopper paintings such as:

La La Land film still

La La Land film still

La La Land film still

Early Sunday Morning by Edward Hopper

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper

Quietly and with great charm, the film won me over. I completely forgot about my now frozen elbow and fell headlong into La La Land. An old fashioned story, some might say cliche, of girl-meets-boy, boy-meets-girl, with stars in their eyes, hoping to both make their mark in Hollywood. It is a cliche but who cares. Grounded by two very real and nuanced actors, both fizzing with onscreen chemistry, Damian Chazelle has made a tender, romantic and hopeful film which will charm the pants off you. And if it doesn't, well, there are plenty of other films for you to watch that would not employ those adjectives.

I don't cry often during films but something in La La Land set off  the waterworks, resulting in Wah Wah Land.  After an annus horribilis where the UK voted for fracture instead of unity and where a giant orange wart was voted President of the US of A, it was a tonic to watch something uncomplicated and lovely.

By the end of the film, I wanted to give the guy next to me a hug. I couldn't move my arm, but that's an aside.

That my friends, is the power of art.

And here's to the fools, 
who dream 
Crazy, as they may seem 
Here's to the hearts that break 
Here's to the mess we make

-Audition, La La Land soundtrack

* My intention is not to tar all men with the same brush. I have just observed that after many years in swimming pool lanes that men tend to be much more aggressive in claiming space than women.

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