“How are you gonna be a revolutionary if you're such a traditionalist?” Keith asks Sebastian this question in La La Land - but does this have an underlying meaning of what Damien Chazelle wanted to achieve? I am a final year Film Studies student at Portsmouth University and as a La La Land fan and general lover of musicals, I made the decision to study this for my dissertation, aiming to study La La Land as an example of a ‘nostalgia film’.
La La Land opened to large audiences and critical acclaim, visible through the film critics that praised and commended it for numerous qualities and its positive recognition at awards ceremonies, with six Academy Awards, seven Golden Globes and five BAFTAs. The film takes place in Los Angeles, and rotates around the lives of Mia and Sebastian; Mia is a barista in the backlot of a Hollywood studio, and an aspiring actress, constantly rejected at auditions, whilst Sebastian is a piano player in a restaurant, who dreams of opening his own jazz club.
A love story ensues, and the future seems fixed, until Sebastian accepts a job offer that sends him around the world as Mia pens a one-woman show, and thus, their relationship is positioned in competition with their own individual ambitions. When reviewing the film, Mark Kermode said that it “invites us to welcome the return of something lost, the revival of a golden age”. With this in mind, La La Land references a number of classic, beloved musicals bears such as Singin’ in the Rain (1952), Top Hat (1935), An American in Paris (1951) and a film that Chazelle himself admitted he was influenced by, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964). In order to discover first-hand opinions of the film, I held interviews with a group of very helpful volunteers at the No. 6 Cinema (to whom I am very appreciative for the incredibly useful information they gave me!).
The interviewees discussed a wide assortment of topics, ranging from the formal elements of the film (the music and cinematography), to contextual insights, such as the film’s escapist nature, its underlying interpretations of ‘utopia’ and the American Dream, and significantly, how it stimulated personal sentiments of nostalgia and memory, through its reverences to classic Hollywood musicals. La La Land is one of many films in the contemporary era that aims to grab audiences’ attention by transporting them back in time through the art of recollection and memory.
But, why is nostalgia such a key element of modern cinema, and specifically, the musical? And has this distinctive approach encouraged a resurgence of the traditional-style Hollywood musical, and paved the way for a future of nostalgic musicals? With the original research I obtained from my interviews, combined with existing research into nostalgia and memory, this is what I am hoping to discover. Once again, a big thank you to those at the No. 6 who willingly took part in the interviews and focus group, and aided me in my research!