Review — La La Land (Opening Scene)

In the opening scene of La La Land (2016), hundreds of cars are parked on the freeway in a huge traffic jam. The camera pans across several open windows of varying types and genres of music playing, until one by one, people start getting out of their cars to start dancing and singing the same number.

This is the classic opening to a musical because it’s doing a number of things simultaneously, using the song to establish things like setting, premise, and characters. Musicals are interesting in that it can sometimes be difficult to tell whether or not the numbers are diegetic. Often I’m of the opinion that musical numbers aren’t diegetic, because it’s impossible to have so many strangers understand the same choreography, not to mention the absurdity of the situation. Obviously an entire band wouldn’t just be sitting in the back of a loading truck playing as the truck is rolling down the freeway, so these characters and situations can be seen as metaphorically expressing their thoughts and emotions. In a number like this, all the characters are expressing the same internal feeling, not just backing up and reinforcing the main character’s feelings. In fact, “Another Day of Sun” is meant to convey the struggle of staying happy in hard times, which is a core theme of the movie. The two lead roles in La La Land are also absent until after the song ends, even though they are also in this traffic jam. This helps to show that these two are no different from everyone else: nameless nobody’s just waiting for a break.

The camera panning across the freeway to feature skateboarders and dancers is iconic to the genre because musicals are all about spectacles. Watching crazy and awesome things happen in what would otherwise be totally normal situations, so the camera needs to capture every interesting thing. What’s more, most people in this dance number are wearing bright colors to help set the tone of the movie.

At the end of the number, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are both shown in this traffic jam. The audience might assume that they participated in the dance number, and are thus a part of the huge crowd of people that want to make something of themselves. If not, though, they can be seen as outcasts trying to live their lives without putting on a show. Their role in this scene helps snap the world back to reality (which adds credence to the dance number being a metaphor rather than an actual thing that happened in the movie), and it also establishes drama that the first interaction the two of them have is a negative one.

Overall, it’s a great opening scene. It establishes the world the characters are in very well and immediately gives the audience a good idea of what the main characters are striving towards, and I think the fact that the two stars are not in the opening number does a better job at setting this up than the alternative, because if they were also the “stars” of the dance number, then it would imply that they are destined to be something, which is the opposite of what the takeaway of this scene should be.

Review — Singin’ in the Rain

Singin’ in the Rain (1952) is one of my mom’s favorite movies, but the last time I had seen it was probably when I was five or younger. (The only two things I had retained from that age was the last scene and the “Moses Supposes” number). As such, I was pretty excited to see what I would think of it now, and even though I expected to like it, I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a great film, with one big exception I get to later.

I think the biggest reason I loved it was how natural the humor was, especially the back and forth between Don and Cosmo. (My favorite two lines include “Okay, you’re a cab” and “Hey, Joe! Get me a tarantula!”) There’s simply a chemistry there that is scarcely achieved in cinema.

Singin’ in the Rain does a lot of things simultaneously, and it uses sound to employ lots of them. One moment is the film’s asynchronous sound during the first premiere of Don’s talkie. The repetition of “no, no, no” and “yes, yes, yes” being voiced by the wrong actor is very comical for the audience (both in the film and the real life viewers. But it also sparks Cosmo’s idea to have Kathy lip sync for Lina’s role. It’s this duality of many scenes that truly make the movie shine.

What’s more, the title song “Singin’ in the Rain” expertly employs a great deal of action accompanying Don’s emotion. In this scene, both internal diegetic sound and external diegetic sound play key parts. This song is an entire musical number of one person, but in the reality of the movie, Don is singing alone in the pouring rain. None of the passersby can hear the music that is clearly in his head (as proven by the loud timpani synchronizing with Don’s stomping in the puddles). In this circumstance, the full orchestra actually is diegetic, it’s simply in Don’s head. Without the music, people might think he’s crazy, which is exactly what happens when the police officer approaches him with disapproval.

Lastly, one major part in many of the numbers, (especially the ones with Cosmo), is mixing. A lot of the energy put into these songs is placed in the very physical choreography, as shown by “Make them Laugh” and “Moses Supposes”. Without mixing the physical sound effects with the words being sung, these numbers would feel far less dynamic.

So what didn’t I like about the movie? Well, the entire ten-ish minute sequence of the proposed musical finish in The Dancing Cavalier. It has no context, little to no dialogue, three separate songs and three separate plot threads that don’t mean anything to the main directive of the film. I was honestly exhausted when I watched this movie, and had I known it was practically meaningless, I would have taken the chance to shut my eyes until it was over. There probably is a good reason for that sequence to be in the film, but it never would have made it through if I had produced it.

Overall, it’s a great movie. Rarely do I enjoy anything with important romantic plot narratives, but this one worked for me because it was neither overdramatic nor unrelatable. It depicted a very plausible relationship between two people, which was nice.