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Saturday, June 8, 2019

Jazz and La La Land (2016)

Last week I needed some background music to help me concentrate on work. Instead of going with piano tracks from Studio Ghibli movies, I made the mistake of picking La La Land. The music is pleasant enough, but it reminded me how much I despise the movie.

When I first saw La La Land in theaters 3 years ago, I was both amused and slightly uncomfortable about all the passionate talk about old-fashioned "pure" jazz by the male lead, played by Ryan Gosling.


You see, I, too, am a fan of old-fashioned, classical jazz from the 30s and 40s. I am not saying there is anything necessarily wrong with a white man "defending" and "saving" this "dying" art form --- Jazz belongs to everyone --- although I take exception to the tiresome claim that jazz is "dying" or "dead." (Change is not death!) But the scene in which he admonishes another jazz musician (played by John Legend, who is a pianist but NOT a jazz musician) for selling out to popular music is pretty juvenile and dick-ish.

While the character, who obviously speaks for the writer/director Damien Chazelle, lectures others sanctimoniously about the "purity" of old jazz, the music he creates and plays in the movie basically slaps himself in the face, because that is most certainly NOT old jazz. In fact there is no original, memorable jazz music on the entire soundtrack.

Again, I do not hate the movie's music, composed by Chazelle's Harvard classmate Justin Hurwitz. It's catchy, light, charming, typical French Bourgeois fluff. The real egg-on-the-face point is for the character to declare his love and admiration for Thelonious Monk and then play the syrupy theme. It's like Dan Brown declaring himself the one true heir to Shakespeare.

Far be it from me to decide what pure or good jazz is. Real jazz musicians have commented on how ignorant the movie is about jazz.

The cherry on top of all this self-inflicted damage is casting a (according to the American definition) black musician to be lectured by white boy pure-jazz savior. Well I guess an anti-obliviousness pill could do him some good.

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Jazz and La La Land (2016)

Last week I needed some background music to help me concentrate on work. Instead of going with piano tracks from Studio Ghibli movies, I mad...

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