Murder On the Orient Express (Kenneth Branagh, 2017)

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It is perhaps only to be expected, considering the remarkable extent to which Murder On the Orient Express feels driven by product placement of one confectionery brand in particular, that its visual aesthetic at the level of mise-en-scène is 100% chocolate box. The entire film is The Polar Express, multiplied by the final shot in All That Heaven Allows. Accordingly, one expects the film to operate wholly on that level of the pleasure principle: a safe, comforting locked-room mystery, the culprit or culprits already known to the audience, who can thus sit back, relax and reminiscence with one another over which actor they saw previously and in what.

Accordingly, Murder On the Godiva Express‘ fascinating implementation of alternative camera techniques throws a spanner into the works of appeal-via-familiarity, in equal parts welcomely novel and unwelcomely jarring. The whole affair operates similarly in kind: I was grateful for several of the subtractions made to Christie’s original story, not least of all several of the unbelievable flubs made by suspects (one would hope that a princess, pretending to be a maid would indeed take more manipulation than “I hear you are a very good cook” before she lets slip “all my maids tell me so”), but sadly the film’s additions are less inspired. The insistence on adding aspects of action where absolutely none are required or truly justified soon become a chore, as, unfortunately, do many of the performances. Naturally, Judi Dench and Olivia Colman are effortless in evoking intense pathos, coming from a school that acknowledges the deepest human emotions will only respond to the most understated human performances; a memo missed by several other actors, including Lucy Boynton and Sergei Polunin, whose thankfully brief time onscreen is still absolute torture. It’s no secret that actors acting acting is no mean feat, but Godiva On the Godiva Express is defined by suspects pretending to be people they are not; indeed, this is true for most detective fiction.

Thankfully, all pretence eventually comes to an end, all masks slip off and Willem Dafoe, Michelle Pfeiffer et al are allowed in the final 15-20 minutes or so to come into their own. However, these are good actors with long careers who should have been able to impress me – a fan of almost all of them – long before the end. For this, I suppose I must blame both the direction and the editing, which – for a film which implies the Swiss watch precision of a Wes Anderson feature, it often has stilted pauses, not unlike a sitcom with the canned laughter removed.

Ultimately, Godiva On the Godiva Godiva has shifted from Agatha Christie’s meditation on the compromising of moral imperatives in search of higher justice in lower places, into an enjoyable enough mixture of inviting familiarity and uncomfortable blunders which resolves itself to a better extent than I would have expected, but too late to salvage the film into a higher rating.

 

**1/2

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INLAND EMPIRE (David Lynch, 2006)

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Lynch’s masterpiece, and I won’t countenance any opposition, INLAND EMPIRE is a challenging development on the möbius strip structure of Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive and into what appears to be a meditation on a murdered Polish sex worker, quite possibly from the 1930s, trapped simultaneously in a Sartrean (albeit this time seemingly purgatorial) hotel room and in a state of Deleuzian eternal recurrence, experienced both by her and we the spectators (she watches all the filmic events through a television screen, herself) as a rhizomatic system of assemblages that serve to investigate genealogies of gendered violence, ultimately in search of a line of flight.

Or, at least, that’s how best I make “sense” of INLAND EMPIRE. The keenest interpretation is one that doesn’t necessarily accept any (I say “any,” rather than “either”) of Laura Dern’s characters as the true protagonist. Characters merge, they fracture, they exchange roles, become each other’s mirrors, avatars, spiritual doppelgangers. In so doing, INLAND EMPIRE reflects on the ways in which we can become our own victims and perpetrators and, accordingly, how much self-liberation may feel like self-murder.

Constant motifs of holes speak to the permeable membranes of ontology and identity that come to define the constellation of bodies that make up the assemblage of characters and situations of INLAND EMPIRE, the folded silk reflecting the foldings at levels both spatial and temporal which Sue/Nikki/? as the Lost Girl’s avatar/s must strategically navigate to a point of self-realisation and radical self-realignment to achieve meaningful deterritorialisation and liberation. When that moment finally arrives, it is perhaps Lynch’s most sublime, moving and beautiful moment in his whole career. Indeed, it expresses a similar sense of pathos as the ending to The Tempest in which Prospero’s letting go is clearly Shakespeare’s as well. It comes as no surprise that INLAND EMPIRE was announced as Lynch’s final film for entirely the same reason: it’s a film, made of endings. It may not be an ending everyone likes, nor one everyone understands, but it is nonetheless perfect in its philosophy and its execution.

 

*****

A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge (Jack Sholder, 1985)

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A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge may not have much going for it at all, other than being perhaps the only ostensibly straight horror film gayer than The Lost Boys, but at least it has that, I suppose.

Indeed, sexuality is at the core of most responses to ANOES2. Long before the frankly annoying, bordering on genuinely offensive jokes about the Babadook and the new Pennywise being gay icons, people were already speculating on the perceived “fruitiness” of Freddy, particularly in relation to Jesse, the protagonist of ANOES2, sleepwalking away from his haplessly unfulfilled beard of a girlfriend to the bedroom of his boisterous classmate, and an encounter with his sadistic gym teacher in a leather bar. His gym teacher’s death includes being bound in a standing position and being nakedly towel-whipped, by the way.

However, any critical interpretation of
ANOES2 that reads Freddy as a homophobic portrayal of queer monstrosity (not that cinematic representations of queer monstrosity has ever been anything to which I’ve been remotely consistently opposed) is an oversimplification to the point of gross misrepresentation. The first ANOES reflected on traumatic neuroses of adolescence above all in relation to the sins-of-the-father (and, indeed, mother), commenting astutely to a level really only bested by IT on the parental negligence, if not total absence in one sense or another, integral to virtually every teen slasher ever made. ANOES2, by contrast, reflects the brutality of the closet for queer teens, trying to make it through high school.

In contrast to a great many horrors, in which the domesticated animals that suffer the most are typically pet cats, in this film we see the deaths – in fact, explosions, of birds and, later, fish. Animals that are caged, confined, one might suggest closeted. The death of Coach Schneider makes significant reference to BDSM at a time when it was almost exclusively associated with gay subculture, but decides to leave the gay bar, in favour of a high school changing room. By electing as a torture implement a wet towel over an actual whip, Freddy draws attention to the significant undertones of queer sexual frustration within so many horseplay and hazing rituals within male bonding contexts that always hole a volatile, violent potential. In such a way, a character who could have become a great confidante for the hero is instead the non-supernatural antagonist, until his death.

One of the most striking images from the original film was the phone receiver growing a tongue and freaking out not only the hero, Nancy, but everyone else in the audience. Similarly in ANOES2 Freddy’s tongue makes another appearance, flopping out of Jesse’s mouth as he makes out with Lisa. An exaggerated size, but also blue and flaccid, the tongue is no longer a simple phallic signifier of prurience, but of overcompensation. Freddy is absolutely throughout the film the manifestation of a deformed masculinity which, in the name of self-denial of genuine desires, acts out both destructively and self-destructively.

So, why am I only giving ANOES2 two and a half stars? Put most simply, it’s just not scary enough. Freddy’s apparent need for Jesse to kill for him in this film makes the entire process rather more mundane, and thus it doesn’t engage with nearly enough surrealism in the dream sequences, or blur the line between dream and reality to the same seamless extent as the first. If my interpretation of ANOES2 is correct, that Freddy’s power in this film stems first and foremost from the violent anguish of the closet, it stands to reason that his defeat should have been connected to a coming-out of one sort or another. Instead, Lisa kissing Freddy to turn him back into Jesse, freeing him from the clutches of evil via the assurance of heterosexual romance, is a significant let-down. Of course, the fact that he is revealed in the final sequence not to be defeated, after all, could imply a hammering-home of my interpretation but, considering ANOES‘ ending being stuck on at the last minute, contrary to Wes Craven’s wishes, to imply later sequels, it’s hard not to perceive ANOES2‘s in exactly the same way, rendering it largely worthless in terms of analysis.

ANOES2 is, ultimately, a less than successful horror in every aspect apart from its novel approach to representation of queer anxiety. This is, however, more than enough reason to watch it.

 

**1/2

The Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard, 2012)

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The genre film’s genesis – indeed, its very ontology – is, by many standards, some of the clearest and most compelling evidence of the dialectical process at work. The western, the musical, the gangster, the romcom, the horror are all formed and established in a system of dialogues between studios and spectators, manifesting as individual films and as cinema attendance/ticket sales/reviews. And yet, what sounds like a system of refinery holds many elements of inherent vice. Consider the Nightmare On Elm Street series: what began as a genuinely scary film inspired sequels which established a franchise. Franchisement made Freddy Krueger a recognisable household name, even to children far too young to watch the movies, which consequently quickly established the need for Freddy to become and increasingly comedic and even cuddly character, reliant on one-liners, and an ever further far cry from the vengeful ghost of a child rapist, acting as the manifestation of genealogical trauma.

The Cabin in the Woods is, first and foremost, a thinly veiled metaphor for just how hard it is to make a good horror film in the 21st Century. The “sacrifice” that appears to be effectively a standard horror film has at its core a triangle of tension, whose points are adherence to the pre-established generic formula, freshness and adaptability to change, and plausibility. We notice quickly how, in order to present a narrative supposedly more “relatable” to us, the complexity of humanity is coercively voided in favour of one-dimensional archetypes through psychotropic chemistry that would turn Curt (Chris Hemsworth) an eloquent Sociology major who happens to be sporty into a testosterone-fuelled jock who refers to his own friends as “eggheads.” The reliance on the kids’ “free will” and “choosing” is consistently re-mentioned by the senior technicians, and yet their hand is forced in ever-increasingly implausible ways.

Indeed, several of the deaths are distinctly unsatisfactory – not least of all Curt’s crashing into an invisible forcefield – indeed, into the second half, the Director seems content simply to send a SWAT team to shoot Marty (Fran Kranz), just to get the job done. This is effectively the problem with the genre format, as revealed by Cabin formulae being demanded inevitably leads to desensitisation, which leads to shortcuts, which leads to the formulae not being adhered to, after all. We may consider again the “free choice” given to the kids through various items put in the basement to invoke unwittingly one horror or another, all of whom we later encounter in the second half of the film. Save for the “Zombie Redneck Torture Family,” which of the other monsters would have actually made any sense at all in a cabin in the woods? Certainly not the giant cobra, the murderous clown, the buzzsaw-wielding robot straight out of Chopping Mall… The necessity for adherence to tropes as part of the sacrifice paints the process into a corner of reasonable plausibility, with a tragically untapped well of potential, as represented by senior technician Hadley (Bradley Whitford)’s constant disappointment at never seeing a merman.

It was with a similar disappointment that I responded to Cabin the first time I saw it but, with each rewatch, I am further impressed by the extent to which it acts as film-as-film-criticism. A significant development on Scream which simply employs a character to straight-up tell an audience the “rules” of being in a horror film, Cabin manages to lambast them. What it provides instead is, arguably, not all that much, which is why seeing it as I did most recently as the first film in a movie marathon (immediately followed by You’re Next, Get Out, Kill List, The Babadook and It Follows) was such a perfect way to experience it. Ultimately, Cabin‘s status as horror critique first and horror film second means it can never be perfect; it is, however, a legitimate, engaging and deeply funny set-up for what I consider to be the horror golden age we are currently experiencing.

 

****

The Snowman (Tomas Alfredson, 2017)

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Now I truly know what Freud meant by the unheimlich. I sat there, watching Michael Fassbender, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Toby Jones, Chlöe Sevigny and other people I know I’ve seen before, and yet the only reasonable explanation for The Snowman is that it was made by an entire cast and crew who not only have never made a film before, but have never encountered the very hypothetical concept of film before.

There is something bold, daring and courageous in the way that The Snowman genuinely never puts a foot right in its two glacial hours of disappointment. The acting is stilted and disjointed. The editing is ugly as sin. The characters are underdeveloped, their motivations at no point satisfactorily justified – least of all the killer’s – with a horrendous “nine years earlier” subplot, starring Val Kilmer impersonating Mark Kermode impersonating The Godfather, whose character was murdered by the killer for “getting too close to the truth,” not that the subplot is characterised or detailed in any way whatsoever for us to see that. Honestly, why don’t we just have the opening titles, followed by a note that says “some murders happened, but Michael Fassbender put a stop to the eventually,” if the film believes so strongly in telling, rather than showing?

Speaking of showing, the one thing a spectator might be able to hope for, considering the trailers which gleefully advertise a severed head, is some gratuitous violence, leading one to see the film in the hope of some tasteless fun – sadly, no such luck there, either. The murders are few and far between, and mostly all but completely obscured.

The Snowman, by employing an almost entirely British cast, decided that it would present an entirely British-accented Norway which, combined with the truly dreadful sound editing, gives the impression of a film awkwardly dubbed à la an unintentionally self-parodic 70s martial arts flick, but that tragically results in J.K Simmons, forcing himself into a British bourgeois accent, about as comfortably as he would force himself into Maggie Cheung’s outfit in Irma Vep. I want to blame the director or the producer, but a film this horribly put together should have encouraged riotous levels of resistance from every actor, every grip, every caterer and intern onset. Everyone involved should be held collectively responsible. feel somehow responsible. I could have, should have done more to stop this train wreck and, for that, I am truly sorry.

 

1/2

Multiple Maniacs (John Waters, 1970)

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A classic Dreamland production that somehow had managed to pass me by, Multiple Maniacs may just be Waters’ true masterpiece. Unlike Pink Flamingos or Female Trouble, where Divine’s characters are driven by perhaps overly-cartoonish grandiose ambitions of infamy and depravity, Maniacs‘ incarnation of Lady Divine has her pettiness and hyperbole balance one another out to the point that her motivations seem typically, dare I say, reasonable?

Early enough in Waters’ career for his influences still to shine through, the spectator is able – encouraged, even, to pick up on references to Jack Smith, Buñuel, Pasolini; the cinematography’s roaming imperfections, in relation to sporadic yet vital use of post-production overhead narration allows the aesthetic to range from genuine vérité to a semi-neorealist Flaming Creatures. Consequently perhaps, although Multiple Maniacs clearly intends to shock, disturb and disgust, its portrayal of sexuality borders at times on the legitimately erotic.

Coming closest therefore to addressing the Dreamlanders’ actual desires, it is unsurprising that Maniacs effectively represents their actual principles, too, before they become refracted into different characters in later films. At the heart of Multiple Maniacs‘ philosophy is the celebration of family, however alternative it may be, and, accordingly, that the greatest sin of all is betrayal. Pink Flamingos addresses the same issues of protection of an alternative family structure, but the threatening forces are external tribalist animosity. Polyester recognises the internal threat of betrayal, but within a bourgeois heteronormative nuclear family. Multiple Maniacs‘ power stems in many ways from its reflection on the need for unity within queer social relations, to such an extent that its prolonged jump-cut sequence between Divine and Mink’s “rosary job” and Jesus, first feeding the “5000,” and then being given the kiss of death by Judas, and his inevitable crucifixion, cannot be interpreted purely as simple sacrilege. Instead, this is Waters himself engaging with the parabolic.

Considering the motley crew of reprobates involved in this and practically all productions of Waters’, Multiple Maniacs is the perfect love letter to what was to come.

 

****1/2

mother! (Darren Aronofsky, 2017)

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I don’t really like Darren Aronofsky. Requiem For a Dream is a bad and manipulative film that doesn’t represent any aspect of the phenomenology of addiction well in the slightest, Black Swan is just… awful. The Wrestler is good, but that’s almost entirely based on its performances. So I was surprised to walk out of mother! thinking to myself “that was…pretty good!”

I went into the screening as cold as possible and I want to afford that same ability to readers who have not yet seen mother! so I’ll keep things vague as possible and avoid a synopsis and just dive right in.

Perhaps the most chronologically theological aspect of mother!is not the litany of (one might suggest rather too) legible parallels to some of the Bible’s greatest hits. Rather, it is the fact that, when we begin, we are continuously offended by His words and actions, but soon enough find ourselves increasingly offended, as the film progresses, by His passivity, His silence, and His absence. Indeed, when The Shit Starts Going Down, despite the fact it’s supposedly all for Him, He is largely nowhere to be found. This is not an accident, but a decidedly conscious, and surprisingly balanced, perspective on God’s place within religious violence: it is not His doing, and he cannot necessarily help how people respond to His works, but its continuation is His inaction and for that He can be blamed.

Is mother! a subtle film? No. Aronofsky is not a subtle man. Is mother! a clever film? Also no; he’s not much of a clever man, either. mother!‘s philosophy is ultimately entirely stunted by the fact it appeals to the affective horror of anthropocentrism via the means of anthropomorphism and, consequently, can only display its disgust at humanity by rendering Mother Earth human. Intellectually speaking, this is a fairly unforgivable gaffe that cannot help but hollow the foundation of the film’s premise, to an extent that many critics have ended up taking a surprisingly literal interpretation of the film. In which case, one may consider mother! to be a welcome take on heterosexual age-gap relationships which would never normally raise an eyebrow in any other Hollywood film. Trouble for certain other, more negative, reviews is: Lawrence and Aronofsky have a real-life relationship of exactly the same difference as she and Bardem. Trouble for me is: Javier Bardem is ridiculously hot and, even if I had a problem with age-gaps (which I don’t), I would put pretty much every principle on hold were he a legitimate candidate for my affections. Honestly, though, I think it’s pretty rich for right-on discourse lovers who preach constantly about “self-crit” to then turn around and sneer at what one might well consider to be self-crit in action.
The framing, composition, camera work, acting and editing manage to achieve effects that would typically be considered mutually exclusive: mother! comes across as finely tuned yet campy, nasty yet affecting, jagged yet smooth. Certainly there are nods to Aronofsky’s precious efforts: the giallo-deferent glamorous archetypal villainy of Black Swan, the pseudo-documentarian camera style of The Wrestler, obviously the Genesis meditation of Noah, but perhaps most strikingly the swift subjective-universal (there’s those oxymorons again) degeneration of Requiem For a Dream. And yet, it still feels new. Well, it feels new for Aronofsky; not for cinema. The swift degeneration makes me want to compare it favourably to High-Rise though, yet again, I am reminded of We are the Flesh and its absolute brilliance. The most affective personal and successful theological aspects make me want to watch it as the middle film in a triple film, following Queen of Earth and preceding Hard to Be a God, though I feel like that might only reveal mother!‘s flaws all the more starkly. Nevertheless, it’s pleasant to come out of a film by such a crushingly basic-ass underarm-serving chin-stroker as Aronofsky and think that he may have actually made something interesting for once in his damn life.

 

***1/2

In the Shadow of the Sun (Derek Jarman, 1981)

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(Screened at Cafe OTO with a live score performed by Psychic TV)

In the Shadow of the Sun exists essentially in the dead-centre of a triangle made of Lucifer Rising (Kenneth Anger, 1974), Begotten (E. Elias Merhige, 1991), and From the Pole to the Equator (Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi, 1987). As one might thus expect, it is an oneiric, haunting and paradoxically apocalyptic world-creation, wholly intoxicating in the well-established avant-garde-cinematic mode of queer orientalism and yet, in eschewing a good three-quarters of the campiness we would associate with Anger or Jack Smith, the contrast between skeletal ritual masks and race/class-signifying top hats allows Shadow to approach a slight critique of the colonial “magickal tourism” so often in play. Note I do say “approach,” rather than “reach,” however there is a notable absence of naiveté within the gaze of these blown-up 8mm images.

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The use of repetition and superimposition, as with Jarman’s earlier shorts (from which some of Shadow‘s footage is evidently lifted) invokes a particularly cabbalistic reading of montage – a visual praxis of solve et coagula – that demands numerous rewatching and reinterpretation. I certainly plan to oblige.

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The Mystery of the Leaping Fish (John Emerson and Christy Cabanne, 1916)

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An amusing, if not terribly funny, “cocaine comedy” with several big names (Douglas Fairbanks, Tod Browning and – allegedly – D.W. Griffith) tied to the production, the least surprising being Browning’s. The reasoning behind this two-reeler remains somewhat obscure, other than showcasing Fairbanks’ comedic abilities in the role of Sherlock spoof “Coke Ennyday” (such as they are) and perhaps as a parodical piggybacking onto the serious 1916 adaptation of The Valley of Fear, as does the plot, so The Mystery of the Leaping Fish‘s main selling point is as a piece of campy cult enjoyment to see narcotic abundance as yet unchallenged by Scarface, Party Monster or The Wolf of Wall Street, and for that abundance’s role as a signifier for the legal and social reflections on intoxication in 1916.

Certainly, Leaping Fish is useful therefore also as a retrospective barometer for the racism embroiled in such moral relativity – cocaine appearing an “American” drug, worthy of a hero, in contrast to the malignantly orientalist opium (implicated, as it ever was in this era, in the abduction of innocent white women), but it is not that we should thank Leaping Fish for an entryway into such analysis. There are plenty of other, better films which illustrate this.

Although it certainly gains points for its production design and its meta-textual twist, Leaping Fish would be entirely forgettable and entirely forgotten, were it not for its drugged absurdism theme, and I cannot help but watch this para-postmodernist Sherlock Holmes parody without thinking again and again of how much better in every way Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr. was, a mere four years down the line.

 

**1/2

La La Land (Damien Chazelle, 2016)

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I mean, let’s be clear: it is not necessary to hate La La Land in order to love Moonlight. It makes total sense that it was nominated in many categories throughout awards season, including the Oscars. Neither of those statements, however, speak to La La Land being a good film. It’s a fine film, eminently watchable once you get past the first couple of truly grating numbers, Ryan Gosling’s piano is impressive enough that we may forgive his singing, and it may have grabbed me at several moments, but it never once held me.

People are starting to find the postmodern genre flick, constantly referencing cult classics, increasingly obnoxious. Even I had to put my foot firmly down whilst watching The Hateful Eight, and I’ve given Tarantino pass after pass over the years. It surprises me, therefore, that La La Land‘s “love letter to Hollywood” schtick has been so celebrated. Considering its release during the Brexit/Trump era, I can’t help but think of the 1974 MGM musical compilation film That’s Entertainment! and its piteous tagline “Boy, do we need it now.” Certainly, there’s an affective seduction at the heart of La La Land but I do feel the need to stress the manipulative quality implicit in that observation. Tarantino’s own aesthetic at least allows for hidden gems: you will genuinely enjoy his films more if you do seek out the often semi-obscure B-movies being referenced with varying degrees of subtlety throughout. La La Land, on the other hand, makes unmistakeable-by-design nods towards exceptionally well-known and well-loved classics and yet never exploits their recognisability to the extent of entering into any depth of analysis.

Indeed, most cynically, Damien Chazelle & Co. seem to rely on the general audience’s lack of knowledge about either films or music, which brings us on to the question of jazz. Does La La Land have a racial problem with regard to jazz music and white saviourism? Undoubtedly it does. And yet, for my white, jazz loving money’s worth (which, admittedly, may not be worth much at all), it’s not something we need take all that seriously, because La La Land‘s relationship with jazz is so utterly surface-level, it doesn’t risk teaching anyone anything about it at all, either racist and incorrect, or gospel truth. Jazz is little more than the mcguffin for Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) to mansplain to Mia (Emma Stone) throughout the narrative. It could have been replaced with oldskool techno, heavy metal, opera, and the effect would have been precisely the same. It’s not, after all, like much of the score even has that much to do with jazz – certainly the type Sebastian is interested in – it really just, much like in Whiplash, acts as the catalyst for the extreme gender problem both films seem to reveal about their writer/director.

Jazz music is a serious white concern for serious white men who, for the sake of its continued existence, must not be distracted – let alone criticised – by any woman. Both films seemingly follow the logic of Foucault’s description of neoliberalism to the letter, stressing the need for ruthless micromanagement and the absolute discardability of personal relationships for the acquirement of human capital. Perhaps most interesting is Chazelle’s desire to have his cake and eat it too by also acknowledging the necessity for amoral situational adaptability in the quest for human capital (whether sustaining abuse in Whiplash or – at least temporarily – “selling out” in La La Land) whilst still romanticising the nature of integrity, left entirely abstract by the end of the film because being “principled” is more important as a general personality quirk is worth so much more to Chazelle than ever detailing what these principles are. It’s entirely reasonable for many people to state that, no, Keith (John Legend) is by no means a sell out; acid jazz etc etc is a generic tradition in its own right and has been since the 1980s – more or less the only thing Sebastian told us / Mia about jazz is that it has improvisation, and he clearly is allowed to improvise onstage with that band, too. If Sebastian truly is as horrified as he seems, the first time he sees The Messengers employing synthesizers in a jazz setting, he’s going to freak out when he learns about Herbie Hancock’s later work. Clearly, these concepts of “integrity” etc are decided by one person and one alone: Damien Chazelle. If you don’t agree with his worldview, your enjoyment of La La Land is instantly going to be limited.

“Integrity” and, indeed, “passion” are the codewords for – from the romantic perspective – that which allows you to “achieve your dreams” and – from the capitalist perspective – that which allows you the most easy access to human capital. “Integrity” and “passion” are codewords for individualism and whiteness. Despite the intersubjective, often democratic, nature of jazz performance, about which Sebastian speaks at length – the type of thing that allowed Thelonious Monk multiple times in concert to stop playing piano and just dance to the sound of his sidemen – Chazelle’s interpretation of jazz always has but one most important player and that player is always the protagonist. La La Land routinely made me think of Whiplash‘s ending, in which the protagonist, who has never once met the band before, high-jacks the entire performance for the sake of an alienating if impressive solo, after the more-or-less antagonist of the piece had moments before decided to ruin the show for all of them, just to humiliate him. The solipsistic – not to mention white – gall of that scene drives the whole of La La Land, no matter how much more subtly, and that strikes me as the crux of its white, capitalist cynicism.

Apparently, Chazelle’s desire when making La La Land was to “have something which had the magic of musicals, but also had the texture and the grit of real life.” So, just like Cabaret, Chicago, All That Jazz, New York New York, Rent… As I said, no matter how well put together this film is – and it certainly is – La La Land is a duplicitous exercise. It demands you praise its referential nature, whilst ignoring its unoriginality. It demands you praise its affect, whilst ignoring the working class / POC labour and genius upon which it depends. It demands you praise its romanticism, whilst ignoring its capitalism.

Huh, maybe it is a genuine love-letter to Hollywood and the music industry, after all…

**1/2