Thursday, 19 January 2017

Lala Land: Nostalgia and Nationalism


This week I decided to face Blue Monday head-on and have a self-indulgent evening at the cinema watching La La Land. It was a lovely night, and its true to say the score from the film is still stuck with me 48 hours later. Watching the film has made me quite excited to see Los Angeles in real life in a few months time. I liked the nods to 'Singing in the Rain' and old school cinema; like 500 days of Summer, a romantic-comedy with a few plot-twists is enough for a Monday night's entertainment.

That said whilst I enjoyed it; for me it wasn't a knock-out, world-changer of a movie. Introducing multiple styles of narration at the end for the 'alternative future' epilogue sequence didn't fit the style of the film; and similarly the flying sequence at the Observatory was a bit weird. For me, the film was too long, lagging at about the 90 minute mark; and some of Sebastian's dialogue and actions made me feel a bit uncomfortable - he's a modern man with 50's values, in places.

Mine is a minority opinion among the chosen audience, Millennial women; the majority of whom do seem to think it is the best thing to hit the big screen in a long time. This got me thinking about why a film that channels so much old-fashioned nostalgia - for 'pure' jazz, 50's musicals, old-fashioned romance and pursuit of the dream goes down so well; I think it has a lot to do with the rise of nationalism and the fear of the future for Millennials.

There is a lot of fear going about right now in English speaking countries - the threat of terrorism, the rise of the far-right, concern about the erosion of human rights. With all this at stake it becomes politic to create a national identity from what might be a disparate whole, to bring 'us' together, so we can be different from 'them'.

In the Victorian era they looked to King Alfred the Great, and Elizabeth I as common ancestors, 'grandparents to us all'. They are not, and were not our common ancestors, but their statues started popping up everywhere as 'people we could all get behind'. The Saxons themselves looked to gods to combine the disparate lineages of their various kings into one genealogy. The writing of the Wagner cycle in the 1800's strikingly coincides with the creation of Modern Germany as one nation from many principalities; and was then celebrated by, to invoke Godwin's law, Nazi Germans in their rise to power.

I am not arguing that La la Land is propaganda, but I think there is a lot about La la Land that says, 'here is some harmless shared culture we can all get behind; located in a time and place you recognise'. I remain unconvinced that is a reasonable premise. The only person of colour to be given a major role is John Legend; and he plays a sell-out musician trying to persuade Sebastian to give up on the 'purity' of jazz. There is also a bit too much mansplaining from Seb to Mia for my liking. Maybe it is not such a harmless shared culture after all?

According to Strauss-Howe theory Millennials are civic heroes. I recognise this in me and my friends; primarily we are educated, Guardian reading people, we want to save the world one veg box at a time, with organic milk, in our hipster lattes. We are environmentally and socially conscious beings; keen that our money is invested ethically, and that there will be a world for the next generation to grow up in. But the nature of that world seems uncertain; and so there is a swing towards tradition, more people are getting married and looking to put down solid roots in their communities, investing in local projects often with only socio-ethical incentives. Part of this is due to the context we have grown up in, and part of it is due to the world we face; its big and scary, and not necessarily how we would have made it given half the chance.

La la land is not the only film offering Millennials a warm fluffy nostalgia blanket harking back to a kinder past; have you noticed how many Disney remakes have been released lately, and more to come with  Beauty and the Beast due to be released later this year? These films offer reassurance and solace to those of us facing adult challenges, who grew up with the original releases in the 90's when our only concerns were how to steal the popcorn from our friends and siblings.

Just to be clear...
If La La Land made you smile, if you enjoyed the romance of it all, if you forgot to worry about all your grown-up concerns for 2 hours, me too! I think I will still be humming along to the score into next week. But please, don't just enjoy the cosiness of La La Land, continue to fight for whatever passion project is in your heart; especially if it promotes inclusivity, and inter-generational kindnesses in an increasingly polarised world.


  1. A few years old now, but

  2. Interesting food for thought here. Enjoying the use of kitchenalgia. I was just terrified about being on the opposite side of the table to Martin Saunders...