‘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 coose 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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‘Titanic’ Makes My Heart Go On

By Anthony Peyton, Edited by Olivia Norwood

When I think of late 90s cinema, there are dozens of movies that come to mind. We have American Beauty (1999), The Sixth Sense (1999), Good Will Hunting (1997), Clueless (1995), and so many others that quickly became classics. For me, however, none touched me quite as much as Titanic (1997).

Titanic is a movie that nearly everyone knows about as most grew up having seen it once or twice. Maybe they’ve even heard about its impressive eleven academy award wins at the 1998 Oscars. No matter how one may have heard of it, it’s a movie that’s touched the hearts and minds of everybody.

Given that everybody knows what the film is about, I’ll keep the summary brief. When poor Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) and recently engaged Rose Bukater (Kate Winslet) meet aboard the RMS Titanic, they find love in one another. They build a relationship beyond anything many have seen, but realize sometimes love doesn’t last as long as you may like it to. In their case, however, it wasn’t a break-up that brought this realization.

The sinking of the RMS Titanic was the climax of this movie, and showed – practically in real time – the sinking of the ship and the drowning of the lives on board. Director James Cameron knew how to capture this emotional tragedy and make it so the audience doesn’t even care about its running time (194 minutes).

Titanic 1
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Everything about this movie was astonishing to me and millions would agree. Being able to witness such stellar performances by DiCaprio and Winslet (as well as such notable names as Kathy Bates, Billy Zane, and Frances Fisher) under equally beautiful writing makes any moviegoer fill with joyful tears from beginning to end.

It doesn’t happen often in modern cinema that you see a cast of actors and actresses who are all so individually dedicated to their roles. It was obvious that each wanted to portray their characters with the seriousness that those on the real Titanic would’ve maintained.

Much of this is due to the main man himself, James Cameron (Avatar, Aliens). People are no stranger to the work of Cameron, as he had already released Aliens in 1986, eleven years prior to Titanic.

Not everyone was too confident in him for Titanic (given that the budget was incredibly high – the highest of any movie in history at the time – and that most thought it would be “just another romance flick”), and many lost faith before it had even been released. That concept in itself is a marvel to me given its brilliant reception and continued adoration today.

It’s not doing Titanic justice by calling it a brilliant historical adaptation, when it felt like so much more. It was a near spiritual awakening for most who watched it, whether you’ve seen it once, twice, or two dozen times.


My Rating: 96%

Acting: 3.8/4

Cinematography: 3.9/4

Story: 3.8/4

Enjoyability: 3.9/4

‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’ and the Sensitive Vampire

By Olivia Norwood, Edited by Therese Gardner

Vampires. Hollywood has an obsession with them, especially with Dracula. The lustful, blood driven character has become one of the most popular literary and cinematic figures since the book release in 1897. And over the years, Dracula’s image has remained that of a cold, heartless villain until Francis Ford Coppola gave him and the story a new perspective in his 1992 version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

The film follows the same plot as the novel but with a twist. The eternal monster is not driven by power, but by love. Taking inspiration from the real-life villain, Vlad the Impaler, Vladimir Dracula starts out as a human warrior protecting his castle from Turkish forces but all turns to demise when the love of his life, Elisabetha, throws herself from the top of the tower and into the river. When he’s told of the news that she is damned by God’s law for committing suicide, Dracula revokes his religion, drinks blood, and becomes vampyre.

The rest of his life is in mourning for Elisabetha until she is reincarnated centuries later into an engaged woman in London named, Mina. He spends the rest of his life (or until the end of the film) trying to get her back.

If you’ve ever seen a Dracula movie then you’d know that this is not how the story goes. But, Coppola and writer James V. Hart defy the status quo of former Dracula films and bring a softer touch to it. They give the vampire a heart when there wasn’t one and it figuratively beats for the love of his life and afterlife.

With this simple change to the story came generations of sensitive vampire characters. The blood lust was no longer the motive of our leading men and women bloodsuckers; they were no longer seen as the monsters.

An example of this is the 1994 film, Interview with the Vampire, where it’s main character Louis spends his eternal life mourning the loss of his family in the midst of taking care of a child vampire. He’s maternal and emotional while suppressing the urge to kill.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula turns lust into love and the heartless into human (sort of). Overall, it changed the way that Hollywood views the undying and beloved characters that created the monster movie craze amongst us mortals.

Let’s do the Time Warp Again: ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’

By Julia Wilson, Edited by Anthony Peyton

The original cult classic, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, is a sight to behold with kickass music, costumes, set design, and more. This film really rocked (pun intended) the film industry by becoming one of the first films to develop a cult following. For today’s literal Time Warp Tuesday it’s time to look at how this film became the cult classic it is today.

Just in case you haven’t seen Rocky Horror (which if that is the case, what have you been doing with your life up until now?) I will recap it for you. A young, newly engaged couple, Janet (Susan Sarandon) and Brad (Barry Bostwick), approach a castle on a dark stormy night in search of a telephone after one of the tires on their car blows out. They are welcomed inside by handyman Riff Raff (Richard O’Brien) where they meet mad scientist Dr. Frank N. Furter (Tim Curry, who later played Pennywise in the original It). From this point forward all kinds of strange happenings occur.

This film started out as a stage play under the title The Rocky Horror Show. The “picture” portion of the title was added for the film adaption. It was written by Richard O’Brien in London in the 1970s where he was inspired by science fiction and B horror movies. After its large success on stage, it was turned into a film.

When the film first opened it did not draw large audiences. In fact, many early showings got cancelled. But once it was relaunched as a midnight film starting at the Waverly Theater in New York City that all began to change.

Not only did the film become a big hit, but a very large, committed fan base began to form. People started coming to the theater dressed as the characters, performing callbacks to what’s happening on the screen, and throwing objects such as toast and toilet paper. Another staple of Rocky Horror showings are shadow casts who act out the film.

Now, midnight showings of Rocky Horror are a regular occurrence in countless theaters across the country. There are even Rocky Horror conventions as the fan base has grown only larger and more committed as the years have gone by. Fans seem to really connect with this film in a way that you don’t see with many other films.

The massive cult following that this film has gained made way for other cult films such as The Room and Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show really did change the film industry by creating this new participatory way to enjoy your favorite film. In a sense, it created its own genre of cult films with its signature showings and dedicated fan base that have become synonymous with the words The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Let’s Talk About ‘Lolita’

By Olivia Norwood, Edited by Julia Wilson

Age-gap relationships. It’s easily the most intriguing storyline for film which is why many directors pursue making them. But why do people and movie reviewers treat this as a taboo subject? Well, for this Time Warp Tuesday, we’re getting controversial with the provocative Adrian Lyne film, Lolita.

Based on the novel by Vladimir Nabokov, a middle aged professor/narrator named Humbert Humbert (Jeremy Irons) develops an unhealthy obsession with his prepubescent step-daughter, Dolores Haze (Dominique Swain) or according to Humbert “Lolita”. This quickly falls down an expected path as the relationship becomes sexual and abusive. Although many have argued that Swain looks more like a matured 17 year old, her character is still 13-14 years old and it’s still sickening to most audiences…which is a good thing.

Most movies portraying significant age-gaps between an adult and a seemingly older looking teen have usually made the relationship appear so normal that audiences become comfortable with it. Films such as Call Me By Your Name, An Education, and Manhattan do this quite successfully. However, that is not the case with Lolita. Other films make the maturity of the younger character a huge part in determining whether or not the relationship shown is appropriate. When a teen character looks and acts like an adult, they are no longer perceived as a child. In Swain and Lyne’s version of Dolores they have her behave like a kid, dress like a kid, and talk like a kid.

Others could also argue that Lyne purposefully makes her look that way to sexualize her by having her wear red messy lipstick and frilly babydoll dresses so she can “seduce” Humbert. And all I have to say to that argument is if you think that a 13-14 year old has any potential to be made “sexy” then you’re the pervert, not Lyne.

The director specifically portrayed her as youthful, innocent, and naive (all of the usual traits) so that the “relationship” between the two is seen as inappropriate as it is. What Nabokov and Lyne achieve is striking a nerve in people and making them remain uncomfortable with the idea of an adult and a minor engaging in any type of romantic involvement, unlike the widely adored Call Me By Your Name.

This is evident in the fact that both the novel and film were rejected by American distributors, which is also evident of how the U.S. and other western cultures silence artists from creating what they want – but I digress.

Lolita is a cautionary tale on what is and isn’t love. The novel affected an entire generation in the 1950’s and had the same effect on generations in the 1990’s with the film. It’s a story that holds power and will continue to for as long as art and artists live.

A Galaxy Changed: Looking Back on ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’

By Anthony Peyton, Edited by Olivia Norwood

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away we fell in love with George Lucas’ Star Wars (which would later be titled Star Wars: A New Hope) and we haven’t fallen out of love with it since. But, as with all great movies, there had to be a reason to the fan craze that developed immediately after.

Millions around the world wish they could step into the mind of Lucas as he first conceptualized the unforgettable C-3PO, R2D2, and Luke Skywalker, who was actually named Luke Starkiller during the beginning stages of filming. It wasn’t until Mark Hamill, who has reprised his role as Skywalker in every sequel, had already filmed several scenes with the name Starkiller that they decided to change it.

We can look at all these decisions all we want, but it is certainly more than just the characters we find ourselves craving more of 40 years later. We crave the thrill of Han Solo flying the millennium falcon, the shrill of lightsabers clashing, the bird-like chirps released from R2D2’s blue robotic body, and the incredible story that makes up not only A New Hope but the entire franchise.

When looking at the first film and the actual good qualities behind it, they truly are easy to find. Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, Harrison Ford as Han Solo, and Hamill as Luke Skywalker create an unstoppable trio – believe me, I’m not forgetting Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), he was unbeatable as well – that surely everyone on Earth (and the galaxy for that matter) should know better than to mess with.

The acting is as you would expect from a 1977 Sci-Fi flick, but even that is done well. I’ve never seen a group of otherwise average actors pull off ‘average’ so well! They do this with the extraordinary help of the set and cinematography that can never be repeated quite as brilliantly as it was in this. If you were living in ‘77, chances are you hadn’t seen so many aliens, planets, and spaceships on the silver screen in your life.

Known as one of the best scores of the 21st century, it’s one of the few movies where the music has an absolute impact on its level of enjoyability as you watch Luke Skywalker explore the ways of the Jedi and – more importantly – the seemingly impossible ways around the Force.

Star Wars: A New Hope was the beginning of a journey with no termination point. It flipped Hollywood upside down and spun it around until it was knocked unconscious and woke up with millions of beyond dedicated fans who couldn’t get enough of what would forever become the most well-known galaxy far, far away.


My Rating: 92%

Acting: 3.4/4

Cinematography: 3.8/4

Story: 3.8/4

Enjoyability: 3.7/4

‘The Basketball Diaries’: A Change In Coming of Age

By Olivia Norwood, Edited by Anthony Peyton

Coming of age has always been a popular genre among film but it tends to always be about the same thing. A light hearted drama about a suburban teen who struggles to find their identity while exploring the many aspects of growing up. Occasionally, you’ll find a darker approach to this subject such as Girl, Interrupted and The Virgin Suicides. But those films were made possible because of the unconventional 1995 film, The Basketball Diaries.

It centers on a young basketball player Jim Carroll (Leonardo DiCaprio) who lives in the rough neighborhoods of New York City with his single mother. After the death of his best friend, Jim soon spirals into the dangerous world of drugs, prostitution, homelessness, and theft.

Jim’s story is one that many would rather not tell when it comes to adolescents. He doesn’t come from a middle-class home and doesn’t have the same opportunities as other kids. He’s poor and comes from a neighborhood that is infested with drugs and crime. Kids, like himself, have dreams and goals but sometimes their environment swallows them whole and they’re pressured into the life that they wanted to escape.

Jim wanted to be a writer and he was obviously gifted, which is evident through the narration of his diary entries. Unfortunately, he gets caught up in the rough scene of New York City and his dreams become non-existent.

But that isn’t all that the film shows. It also gives us a look at the coming of age story for boys, which we don’t often see. Girls and boys have different versions of growing up, that is a known fact.The Rumspringa of a boy’s life is especially unique as it consists of rebellion and proving your manhood through sex and violence. Jim deals with these complexities while also having an addiction that leads him to stealing and selling his body for the money that pays for it.

So, why is this important?

Well, this story changes what being a teenager means. It doesn’t always involve a first car, dating, prom, or graduation. For most teens, it’s darker and more life-altering. They don’t get to grow up like the rest of us. For them, growing up is more like a shortcut to adulthood. Jim Carroll is of the many teens that these things happen to and they don’t just exist in 1995. They exist here and now in 2018.

The Basketball Diaries forced the industry to look at and tell the stories of people who aren’t as privileged and give the Jim Carroll’s of the world a voice. It affected the coming of age films to follow and proved to everyone that they could be just as successful as a John Hughes movie.