Journal: La La Land and the Celebration of Audience and Cinema

Whoops…another long break. Sorry. Stuff happened (like holidays and…uh…moving…) so, have an examination of La La Land. Caveat emptor: this is written on one viewing of La La Land, and will contain spoilers for such.

All Across the Cosmos will be back at some point – one of my major personal flaws is when I have nothing to occupy my time I…do nothing and quickly run out of energy. So maybe I’ll start setting an alarm every Monday to remind me to write it.

Love you all.

La La Land is probably one of the few film musicals I’ve seen that could comfortably transition to a stage musical without many changes really needing to be made, yet it’s also one of the few film musicals I’ve seen where a transition to stage would indicate a complete refusal to understand one of the major underlying themes of the film: the celebration of cinema, and of audience.

The film opens with a slow pan across a highway, and as it does, we get to listen to every blaring song coming out of each open window; in other words, we witness each person enacting the mode of audience, listening to the music of their choice. Slowly, the camera selects one character, and the opening number “Another Day of Sun” begins.

“Another Day of Sun” seems, at first glance, totally irrelevant to the overarching story – except that it’s telling you exactly what the story will be:

I think about that day

I left him at a Greyhound station

West of Sante Fe

Still I did what I had to do
‘Cuz I just knew
Summer Sunday nights
We’d sink into our seats
Right as they dimmed out all the lights
The Technicolor world made out of music and machine
It called me to be on that screen
And live inside its sheen

It is literally the story of Mia and Sebastian: Mia leaving Sebastian at the station explicitly so that she can be a movie star. The movie simultaneously exulting the movie screen and warning us that, for the sake of ambition, love must frequently be sacrificed.

Now we cut to Mia’s story. While Mia auditions, we are always put in the place of the people screening her; we very rarely get a long, clear look at the casting directors. In essence, the audience is put in the casting directors shoes. Because Mia respects these people, the movie returns to one of it’s core themes: the celebration of audience and of cinema.

Now, let’s talk about when Mia meets Sebastian for the first time. Her car has been towed, she is walking around town and she passes a giant mural depicting a cinema audience, sitting, enraptured, eating popcorn. The way the scene is set up, the two audiences sit opposite each other; we are literally viewing ourselves as Mia, hearing Sebastian play (the tune that is, for the record, entitled “Mia and Sebastian’s Theme”) walks into the club. The camera is then placed amongst the people eating, so that again, having viewed an audience, we now become part of another audience – that of the jazz audience, listening to Seb.

Audiences show up frequently again and again, but there are only three other notable situations to mention:

The first is during Mia’s one-woman show, where we are deliberately kept from viewing the show in it’s entireity. After seeing the packed, painted audience watching the beginning of her romance with Seb painted on the wall, we now see the small crowd gathered to clap her on, and her disappointment.

The second is that of the audience at Seb’s in the epilogue; we get a good look at the full crowd, before they slowly fade out; for the first time, the audience is immaterial.

And then finally, the epilogue song.

This is the headtrip song – and when I saw it, I genuinely wondered whether they were going to go the route of the whole movie being a shared illusions by Mia and Seb. Here, we see the audience in Mia’s show replaced by a full crowd giving a standing ovation – and, interestingly, when Mia does her audition song, rather than *us* becoming the audience, as we have with all of her other auditions, her and Seb are reduced to silhouettes.

This ties into the other major theme of the movie: the celebration of cinema. When Seb shows up at Mia’s workplace, she points out the balcony where Humphrey Bogart kissed Lauren Bacall; Mia’s boyfriend Greg is called “her Bogart”; Seb and Mia’s first date is to see “Rebel Without A Cause”; Seb spends most of the movie wearing spats, ala Fred Astaire. The whole movie is one long shout out to the golden age of motion pictures, as much as it is to the golden age of jazz, and it’s celebration of audience is part of that. It’s notable that Seb and Mia’s first date is when they are part of an audience.

The film has a lot to say on the conflict between ambition and love, but is also a loving tribute to a bygone era of jazz and cinema, as well as to the people who keep music and film going – the audience.


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