‘La La Land’: An Homage to Old Hollywood

By Julia Wilson, Edited by Anthony Peyton

For this week’s Time Warp Tuesday, the film we’ll be talking about isn’t very old, but the references it makes date as far back as 1935.

I’m sure when you hear about the film La La Land you probably think of the truly iconic moment in Academy Award history when La La Land was announced as the Best Picture winner, only for someone to come up and say moments later that Moonlight had actually won Best Picture.

Although I could talk all day about the Oscar drama surrounding this film, today I want to talk about its many references to old Hollywood musicals, why they’re there, and what makes them such a key element of the magic of this film.

La La Land is a love story between Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), two struggling artists with big dreams. Mia dreams of one day becoming an actress, and Sebastian dreams of opening up his own jazz club and reviving the genre. The story is sweet and relatable to any struggling artists out there, but what really sets this film apart is its attempt to make an old Hollywood musical today.

Throughout the film there are several references to old Hollywood musicals, but probably the most prominent reference is to the 1952 classic Singin’ in the Rain starring Hollywood legends Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds. Some allusions to the 1952 classic in La La Land include Ryan Gosling swinging on the lamppost during “A Lovely Night” as Gene Kelly does in “Singin’ in the Rain” and large dance scenes in La La Land that mirror some of those in Singin’ in the Rain. In the image below, the top is from La La Land and the bottom is from Singin’ in the Rain.

Singin
Top: Courtesy of Lionsgate, Bottom: Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

One of the most memorable scenes in La La Land is during the song A Lovely Night”. Although this scene has references to many old Hollywood films, the general concept is heavily inspired by the 1935 film Top Hat starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Specifically, the song “Isn’t this a Lovely Day (to be Caught in the Rain)” where its concept of a couple whose dialogue tells you they’re bickering, but through the song and dance you see that there is actually love there really inspired director and writer Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), as he describes in his interview with PBS NewsHour. You can see the similarities below, with the top image from La La Land and the bottom image from Top Hat.

A Lovely Night
Top: Courtesy of Lionsgate, Bottom: Courtesy of RKO Radio Pictures

Another classic Hollywood allusion is to the film Broadway Melody of 1940 which starred Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell. In that film Astaire and Powell dance on a starry looking stage, and a very similar image appears during the “Epilogue” scene in La La Land. This can be seen below with the top image from La La Land and the bottom image from Broadway Melody of 1940.

Broadway Melody
Top: Courtesy of Lionsgate, Bottom: Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Some of the other classic Hollywood films referenced in La La Land include Rebel Without A Cause starring James Dean and Natalie Wood, Funny Face starring Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire, and Bob Fosse’s film Sweet Charity starring Shirley MacLaine. Below you can see side by side images of La La Land and Rebel Without A CauseFunny Face, and Sweet Charity.

Collage 1
Left: Courtesy of Lionsgate, Right: Courtesy of Warner Bros., Paramount Pictures, and Universal Pictures

 

So why did Chazelle choose to make a film such as La La Land? As he describes in his interview with PBS NewsHour, ever since he fell in love with old Hollywood musicals he really wanted to try and see how you could make one today. He goes on to describe how these musicals had him “reveling in what only movies can do”, and how he loved the idea of telling a story through sound and image, opposed to dialogue, which is something no other medium could do.

The amazing thing about La La Land is it revived the magic of film that we haven’t really felt since the days of old Hollywood. Since then we as a society have gotten used to the tricks, CGI, and typical movie structure that we see today, and lost the magic and wonder film used to bring. By combining stunning cinematography, beautiful music, and of course allusions to old Hollywood classics Chazelle has brought that magic back with La La Land.

 

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