Collyrium – Images and music in Damien Chazelle’s films

Andrea Jean Varraud · 2 years ago
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After the past article on the Korean’s Park Chan-Wook peculiar cinema, we’ll talk about an American director also very characteristic: Damien Chazelle.

Despite his young age and therefore the small number of works that bear his name under the heading “directed by”, Chazelle has already collected a very high number of very important prizes which have quickly led him to shine among the brightest Hollywood stars. Chazelle has collected these awards for many reasons, but amongst all because of his ability to revive the now a bit outdated musical genre. To call it a musical is perhaps a bit reductive and even inexact as most of his films, obviously, La La Land on top of all, are musical dramas rather than musicals. Music is in fact almost always the absolute protagonist in his films, sometimes in a clear and declared way, other times more disguised, but still very present. This analysis finds its basis, as we will discover in the following lines, in the biography of the director.

Damien Chazelle, was born in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1985 by a bourgeois Catholic family. Since his early years, the mother, a history teacher and an internationally renowned father, encouraged his intellect, which immediately took an interest in both the world of images and music. Little more than a teenager Damien began, in fact, playing drums which, despite his great passion and almost obsessive dedication, he abandoned to devote to the cinema. This happened because the young director did not feel at all inclined to professionally play an instrument rather than for lack of interest. Perhaps it is precisely for redemption, that his future works will be a cinematic hymn to music. Chazelle therefore, enrolled at Harvard to study cinema, feeds on classic cinema but never gives up his passion, so much so that for fun he often finds himself playing in an Indie Rock band featuring Justin Hurwitz as composer and partner in all his big screen projects.

This artistic association finds its first crowning in the production Chazelle uses as his graduation assay, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, a movie about a short but intense day of passion between 2 strangers, set in a hipster San Francisco, where Jazz, Chazelle’s passion, accompanies almost every movie frame.

This first effort of today’s so much talked about the filmmaker, thanks to its lightness, and to a huge portion of social and artistic commitment, was in a very short time able to find the massive distribution allowing him to win two prizes (at the Denver and Turin Festivals).

Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench is certainly an important first step for Chazelle who will allow a few years to go by before returning to the big screen with his second feature film. In fact, in these years of apparent pause, Chazelle moved to Los Angeles to start working on La La Land’s scenography, this atypical musical, as well as a tribute to the city of angels didn’t at first find interested producers. For this reason, the filmmaker abandons the script to focus on Whiplash, a film drawing considerable inspiration from his previous musical studies as Chazelle declares. Whiplash is not really a musical, despite the plot revolves around a young aspiring drummer. This second feature is rather the story of the troubled relationship between a student and his teacher, obviously interspersed by very elaborate Jazz interlacing. Whiplash was previewed in 2014 at Sundance being none other than the continuation of a short film presented at the same festival the year before. The launch in one of the most prestigious independent cinema competitions soon turns out to be only a starting point for this film. In fact, in 2015, the film received 139 nominations for awards spread across the globe, 90 of which were won, including 3 Oscars: best supporting actor to J.K Simmons, best editing and best sound.

As early as the next year is instead a moment of even greater success, by La La Land as the screenplay set aside earlier manages to take shape, played by an exceptional cast including Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.

The story, as said before, is set in a splendid ultra glossy Los Angeles where, without so many filters, a nostalgia for a Hollywood 50s shines through. It’s the story of two young artists, an actress, and a pianist, falling in love while pursuing their professional ambitions. Along with the vision of the film constantly accompanied by musical and choreographic intricacies of incredible artistic depth, we are absorbed by a story, which apart from despite the obvious romantic intricacies, of life and the roads that we all choose to follow, on the different ways of living and obviously also of love. La Land was distributed in 2016, from its absolute premiere at the Venice Film Festival and, as we all know, has over the years managed to earn multiple awards, starting from the Italian festival, where Emma Stone wins the prize for the best feminine interpretation, coming up to the Oscars where it collected 6 statuettes and a final gaffe that you can see below.

This latest film immediately launched Chazelle into absolute success, immediately turning him into a pop image and putting the director at the center of significant debates and comparisons. The next work is instead a radical change of direction for the cinema of the new Hollywood star. First Man, in fact, is none other than the film based on Neil Armstrong’s official biography, the first man landed who on the moon, written by James R. Hansen. Here there is no Jazz, there are no ballets and also love is scarce. However, despite such traits, the long-awaited feature film is still a notable success which triumphs again at the Oscars although with a special effects minor prize.

Although his latest work has earned (both economically and critically) a little less than Chazelle’s previous productions, Damien is still a leading director of American cinema, so much so that among the many projects in the pipeline The Eddy is of note, its miniseries of next release returning the director to care music, viewed through the eyes of a Parisian club owner.

Unfortunately, at the moment there are no further details of this latest small screen project. Be however assured it will be our duty to inform you accordingly without delay as soon as we know something more about The Eddy.

Collyrium – Images and music in Damien Chazelle’s films
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Collyrium – Images and music in Damien Chazelle’s films
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