Blah blah Land. Another film about glamorous and sunny California. All works fine. Your dream is possible. Everything is possible if you work hard. Even flying! Hollywood couldn’t be possibly be any more spurious and fabricated. The Oscar blunder are a gentle reminder of how phony and fallible it can be. When I think of Los Angeles, I picture its darkest, gloomy side and the long and winding roads. When I think of Los Angeles, I don’t think of the dreamy La La Land (Damien Chazelle, 2017). I remember the gloomy David Lynch classic Mulholland Drive (2002), which was voted the best film of the 21st century by a BBC Culture poll last year and has just been rereleased in cinemas across the country.
Lynch’s references to Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950) and the decadent film star have much more to do with reality than the unrealistic picture of stardom that we see in La La Land. I can relate to a character that doesn’t know who she is and picks a name from a picture, as Laura Harrindon does when she calls herself Rita (Hayworth). I cannot relate myself to a singer who thinks of her aunt during her audition. Emma Stone singing “here’s to the fools who dream” is an insult to me. I am a dreamer and I am not a fool!
Below I have contrasted the two films: the formulaic 2017 musical against the 2002 dirty cult film. In a nutshell, I think that Mulholland Drive is a filthy and subversive La La Land. Or the other way around: La La Land is a clean and sanitised version of Mulholland Drive. Here are the reasons why:
1. Complex mindset VS easy dream:
In both films, an actress is trying to break into Hollywood, yet they couldn’t be more different. In Mulholland Drive, Betty/Diane (Naomi Watts) arrives in town with high expectations. Her eyes look so fascinated by everything that surrounds her. She hopes her days of fame will soon begin, but what Lynch says to us is that there is more fantasy than reality in her aspirations. On the other hand, Mia (Emma Stone) of La La Land is a cafe waitress who goes from audition to audition seeking her role of dreams. She eventually succeeds.
In Lynch’s world, it’s the struggle in the mind of the actress that matters. Is Betty dreaming high? Does she have any talent? Can she compromise? In Chazelle’s fantasy land, what’s important is that if you try hard, you’ll be successful. It’s the fulfilling of the American dream. Dream on, little dreamer.
2. Real music VS fake music:
Mulholland Drive is not a musical, but the film is solidly built around musical numbers. There’s the song that appears in the audition Betty goes, which refers to Doris Day’s filmography. There’s also the beautiful and cathartic number on the Club Silencio. The songs reveal the transformation of the characters and link them to their inner self. The characters don’t lie to us when there is music around. They reveal themselves instead.
La La Land is entirely a musical, that supposedly celebrates jazz, as Ryan Gosling’s character (Sebastian) is a jazz musician. He claims he loves free jazz and is determined to show Mia what jazz truly is. Only that the main theme of the film is not a jazz composition. Seb can’t write jazz. In reality, it is a little waltz. (Yes, it is!) There is nothing jazzy and cool in La La Land. La La Land exploits jazz.
3. Strong women VS frail women:
Mulholland Drive is all about Betty and who she truly is. The unrelenting search for success has turned her into an invidious, jealous and mean woman. She cannot stand the fact that Camilla/Rita (Laura Harring) took her part in the musical. So she seduces her. It’s never clear though if she really gets that woman, or if it’s all part of her paranoia.
In La La Land, the plot is far less complicated. Mia doesn’t follow hard enough her ambitions. She almost gives up being an actress and returns to her parent’s house just because she broke up with Seb. On the second part of the film, she is more a mother than an artist. This is why Lynch is more edgy than Chazelle. Lynch’s women are stronger than Chazelle’s. They don’t function according to men’s desire.
4. Edifying diversity VS confused diversity
La La Land opening scene offers the diversity Chazelle wants to show, though Los Angeles consists of individuals from more than 140 nations, speaking 224 recognised languages. The Latins, Blacks, Whites and Asians are all at the same social level. They are all struck in a traffic jam, they all have cars. There is also a bad taste joke about Latin culture, revealing a confusion between Brazilian and Hispanic cultures. Sebastian’s favorite jazz club will be demolished and on its place there will be a “Samba Tapas Club”. Tapas don’t come from Brazil; and jazz is not superior to samba, they are just different.
In Mulholland Drive, Betty and Camilla are empathetic of Latin culture as they both fall into tears during the Spanish-language version of Roy Orbison’s Crying. The musical number contrasts truth and illusion. Here the diversity serves for the purpose of turning Americans into more sensitive human beings.
5. Non-linear narrative VS linear narrative
Lynch’s style of storytelling is non-linear. He comes and goes, mixes flashbacks with flashforwards, with some objects and characters suddenly reappearing in order to reveal a secret. It is as creative and unpredictable as life itself. La La Land tries to play a trick by faking a non-linear narrative. It shows a sequence which suggests what could have happened if Seb and Mia hadn’t broken up. In reality, this is just a breather, so viewers can resume dreaming of a happy ending shortly after.
6. Dirty sex VS sanitised sex
Let’s face it: you can’t get frisky with the love sequences between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. They are not even naked! Taste the lesbian flare of Naomi Watts and Laura Harring instead. They will get much closer to your sexual fantasies, rest assured. Here’s what Harring declared about filming the sequence: “Even though I was nervous, he [Lynch] does everything with class. He knows how to get people to react – and without any special effects”.