Nostalgia: a sentimental longing or wistful affection for a period in the past. The main theme of Damien Chazelle’s musical genius, La La Land, with all the beauty of a Hollywood classic, a song, City of Stars, with an equally hummable tune to Singing in the Rain and enough modern twist to make you feel like you’ve walked out of a beautiful revival instead of a lacklustre sequel. I am a huge musical fan and can safely say this is the best classic style piece since the originals. What I think it teaches the world of film, and indeed wider society, is that new is not always better, how many award-winning films have you been to see in the last few years that, although mind-blowing, didn’t always comfort you and leave you with that warm fuzzy feeling which only classic cinematography can create? – personally, you can’t beat Casablanca. Recently, arguably in all areas, we have become more concerned with challenging everything often to the point of existential crisis, than comforting the part of us lost and bewildered in this ever changing and contradictory world. Since when did escapism become such a dirty world in higher art forms? Why has it increasingly become synonymous with pieces of lower integrity? If you look at last year’s Oscars, each film although an amazing piece of art could, perhaps with the exception of Best Animated Feature, been described as harrowing in some form. La La Land, despite a title which makes it sound like a Teletubby spin off, deals with the equally important issues of fame, dreams, ambition and perhaps what grounds this musical in modernity as opposed to its classic counterparts, realism. Yes, it has its moments of the fantastical, but unlike many big popular box office hits you are not left having to come to terms with a list of ex Machina events longer than the closing credits- I’m looking at you Marvel.
More usually associated with an overt romanticisation of history, the ever prevalent- good old days, the term nostalgia has more negative connotations than positive. As a history student I am quite often told I am living in the past, but what is wrong with having knowledge of and taking inspiration from those who have come before? In both Mia and Sebastian (the main characters) we see a love affair with the past, but this and the success of their predecessors, acts as an example to them of the obstacles that can be overcome and the realisation of even the most improbable of dreams and yet the piece remains very relatable. Yes, they sing and they dance, but although some have criticised the casting of actors rather than classically trained singers and dancers, the subsequent vulnerability present in the performances as well as the imperfections resultant of long takes and inexperience means that the musical numbers may lack the pizzazz of Fred and Ginger, but therefore seem so much more attainable and real. Whilst Damien Chazelle maybe nostalgic he is not unrealistic, he grounds all the romance and beauty of the classics in the cold reality of the 21st century. What this film needs to teach society is that just because the past is gone, it does not mean it doesn’t belong in the modern day, indeed Chazelle champions viewing the past and the present as an ongoing love affair, rather than an acrimonious divorce because La La Land, may show us that sometimes we can waltz in the stars, but it also makes abundantly clear that, unfortunately, we must all come down to earth eventually.