Musical Prodigy: The References in La La Land

Celebrate the film’s many, many Oscar noms with a look at its cinematic influences.

If you were paying attention to this morning’s Oscar nominations, then you know that Damien Chazelle and his film La La Land had a very, very good showing: the film scored 14 nods, which ties it with the record for most ever with Titanic and All About Eve. Not too shabby for a flick that’s essentially a hodgepodge of the greatest musical moments from movie history.

Now, now, before you start angry tweeting, I’m not suggesting that La La Land is derivative in any way in which it doesn’t mean to be, I just mean – and you have to admit – Chazelle has made an homage here, wrapped in an original concept and story, yes, but one that intentionally and openly wears its influences in plain sight on its sleeve. You don’t need to be well-versed in classic musicals going in to the theater, but whether you realize it or not, when you leave La La Land you’ve had a crash course. That’s because Chazelle thoughtfully mimicked certain scenes from certain films not for the sake of stealing an iconic moment, but to help infuse his modern-day film with a classical tone, to add the whimsy and sense of fantasy the best musicals imbue.

In the following video from Sara Preciado, the films and scenes that influenced La La Land have been placed side-by-side with Chazelle’s film to highlight how much the director borrowed and just how he tweaked what he took to fit his story and intentions. But it’s not all musicals: besides the usual suspects – Grease, Singin’ in the Rain, West Side Story, Les demoiselles de Rochefort – there are also some non-musical flicks that make the list, including Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights and Albert Lamorisse’s Le Ballon Rouge.

Film, like the rest of us, is doomed to repeat the past if it doesn’t acknowledge said past, and La La Land is the best example going of how to remember, harvest, and improve upon the past to create an award-worthy present. It’s also one more reminder that the best filmmakers are the most ardent film watchers.

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