© 2017 by James Clark
La La Land (2016) approaches us as a peculiarly naive boy-meets-girl story, with an archaic musical façade. It lulls the viewer into an effervescent Debbie Reynolds’ diversion about show-biz ambition, somehow goofy and uplifting at the same time. It insinuates that the bad old 21st century is, when all is said and done, as cute and sentimental as before. But, on further inspection, its “before” turns out to be the world of Jacques Demy (1931-1990), who was neither cute nor sentimental. (I must interject, at this point, that this glowing refinement of the Demy aesthetic is, to me, an almost incredible gift! The exposition to follow, however, becomes attentive to that rally’s making any headway.)
The first encounter—bristling with Singin’ in the Rain’s cliché of hate-at-first-sight—takes the form of her (Mia) giving him (Sebastian) the finger during a stressful LA traffic jam. Before we see them, however, we see that same freeway when clogged with convertibles and alight with song-and-dance hopefuls bounding skyward and frolicking lyrically upon what has become a virtual (cement) stage from which to display their resilience and wit. The troupe are Southern-California casually clad as they sing and dance in unison as if they were close acquaintances. Or, as if they were a company of carnies, headed for their next gig (Rochefort, France) by way of the suspension ferry-bridge which, in 1967, still served that town as occupied by members of the cast of Demy’s film, The Young Girls of Rochefort.
The song in the bottleneck, “Another Day of Sun,” conveys that paramount to their experience is the tough slog to become movie stars. (“Could be brave or just insane… reaching for the heights.”) The salsa current stresses the staccato cadence of a life of self-assertion, self-promotion and withstanding refusals and harsh discouragement while leaving room for Michel Legrand-resembling musical topspin. The phrase, “another day of sun,” pertains to gratifying opportunities in the offing every day. What it strikingly lacks—despite brio—is full-scale joyousness and lightness; and that soaring is what the Legrand pop/jazz instrumentational-only motif induces from the dance-carnies. No one declares anything on that Pont (bridge) Transbordeur. It all comes down to bodies in buoyant dance motion, joining with the natural and constructed surround as a delicious mystery, in contrast to a battlement to be scaled. The travelling music and motorcycle marketing soon experiences a defection of two of the ladies (opting for romance with two guys from Rochefort); but they had had that afternoon on the bridge. Their local replacements, twin sisters (one a musician, one a dancer), however, prove to be far more driven to public grandeur; and it is with them that the protagonists having a bad day in another day of sun coincide and with them who get under the skin of our up-to-the-minute persons of interest. (more…)