Sunday, January 1, 2017

Why We Can't Wait To Tell You About It!

Movies and song have been going together as long as the movies could talk.
After all, when Al Jolson blurted out "You ain't heard nothin yet," via Warner Brothers' Vitaphone recorded film process, he was talking about the songs that preceded and followed his words in the landmark movie The Jazz Singer.
Now, 90 years later a singing movie has jazz on its mind once again.
But the journey from The Jazz Singer to the new movie musical, La La Land has been peppered with more than a few bumps, twists, turns and detours.
At first, movies that made music were obviously a startling and wonderfully accessible innovation. Then, they became spectacles; first via vast production numbers and later through technological breakthroughs like Technicolor, Cinemascope and Todd-AO. By the 1960s however, it seemed movie musicals had run their course. They'd gone about as far as they could go and the public's appetite for such confections seemed more than quenched.
But two pioneering musicals (both spun out of Bob Fosse Broadway productions) changed all that. The first was Cabaret in 1972 which won eight Oscars. The second was Chicago in 2003 which won six Oscars, including Best Picture. These two films redefined the movie musical. They did it by almost imperceptibly weaving song into serious movie narratives that confronted important social issues and featured often troubled, compelling characters. Of course, it helped that both films involved show biz related stories.
And such is the case with La La Land as well. Here we have a jazz-obsessed keyboardist (Ryan Gosling) and an aspiring actress (Emma Stone) thrown together amidst the glare, the glitz and the guile of Hollywood.
But this is no adaptation of a proven Broadway success.
No, this a true movie musical with an original screenplay by Damien Chazelle (who also directs) and original music by Justin Hurwitz. Here the story, the music, the words, the characters, the setting -- all are created specifically for the screen. And it shows -- in the very best way possible.
Which is to say that La La Land is the most exuberant, the most lushly romantic, the most vibrant film musical since, well -- since Singin In The Rain!
But don't assume that La La Land is all frothy sentiment and showy Hollywood gloss. For while this movie is beautiful to watch and even sentimental at times, this is still 2016 and and the characters are up-to-the-minute which means they have their own share of frustrations and contradictions. This is no simple "boy meets girl" story full of sunny mornings and dreamy nights.
We don't know much about the two love interests (Seb and Mia) but we do know they are young and full of dreams, disappointments, aspirations and longings. But it's their dreams that drive the story and the film. In that sense, La La Land is a gorgeous love letter to a whole new generation. And while it offers no panacea to today's young adults, it's nonetheless full of hope and peppered with delightful flights of fancy that make you want to leap up and assure these two passionate pursuers that everything's gonna be just fine.
As Seb, Ryan Gosling displays so much appealing personality and so much determination that you can't help but be taken in, finding him cocky one minute and charming the next. As Mia, Emma Stone paints a portrait of a modern woman who wants to be free and liberated while nonetheless enjoying the company of a strong, focused, virile male. Together, their chemistry creates so much romantic tension that when they first join hands and look out over Hollywood's glittering skyline it seems only natural that they put on their Capezzios and engage in a bit of terpsichore. The moment is exhilarating beyond belief.
And it doesn't stop there.
It's been far too long since Hollywood produced such a vivid, imaginative, uplifting tale. And one of the wonderful things about La La Land is that it succeeds in being marvelously intimate without being invasive. It doesn't have to thrash the characters' hearts and souls or trash their intentions to reveal them to us. Instead, this tale of starry eyed lovers unfolds through song and color and movement and imagery -- like an innovative cinematic ballet that is part jazz, part ballad and sometimes just a jazzy ballad.
This movie doesn't have a cynical cell in its celluloid. It's so honest, so true to itself.
La La Land is quintessentially American and it's very of-the-moment. It's really American movie making at its best and it richly restores our faith in what the late film critic Judith Crist used to call "movie movies."
Hooray for Hollywood!

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