I Don’t Like Musicals, So Why Did I Like La La Land So Much? A Self-Investigation. La La Land and the Year in Movies

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I’m almost embarrassed by how much I liked La La Land. On the surface it is the exact type of movie I should not like, i.e.—a sappy rom-com musical, based on an era I don’t particularly care about with ridiculously good looking actors who struggle for a period of time but then succeed beyond all expectations. Ugh.

But I liked it, a lot. And I’ve never ever been a musical guy. This means, along with Hamilton, the number of musicals I like has skyrocketed to two (!) in the last year alone. I mean, what. the. fuck. is happening to me? I told my photographer friend Mike (a fellow dark and cynical artist) that he needed to go see this movie called La La Land and he turned to me with a straight face and repeated the title: “You want me to go see a movie called Laa Laa Land?”

But yes, La La Land seduced me and cast me under its hypnotic, romantic, magical spell.
The music! (by Justin Hurwitz, good luck getting the songs out of your head).
The acting! (by the always excellent Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling).
The writing! The directing! (especially that freeway scene) by Damien Chazelle (who previously wrote and directed the taut and intense Whiplash).
Generally, films like Manchester by the Sea are more in line with my taste for movies. Casey Affleck, the main actor of the film, referred to Manchester when he hosted SNL as “a testament to how unbearably sad movies can be … funny, but crushingly sad.” That’s generally what I like. Crushingly sad movies. Or else weird, art-house flicks. Birdman was one of the only films in recent memory that I thought was absolutely brilliant and way too weird to win Best Picture, and yet did.

https://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/casey-affleck-christmas-monologue/3442501?snl=1

What’s even more telling, however, of how much I like La La Land, is that I still like the movie, even after the hype of winning seven Golden Globes and being nominated for FOURTEEN Oscars. Generally, once a movie wins awards, I pull that move pretentious music people do and say something about how “I was into that movie before it won all the awards.” La La Land is a great film, but I don’t think it’s great enough to sweep anything per say, which it nearly did. And the song “City of Stars” (which won a Golden Globe for Best Song) is good, but “Another Day of Sun” and “Someone in the Crowd,” happen to be great songs.

Still the question remains, why did I like this particular film so much? I don’t know. Maybe as a secret romantic, I’m just sucker. Perhaps it’s because I’m white, as it is undoubtedly, a very white movie.
I think though, more than anything, it is a movie that, as my cousin Dane put it (who I saw the film with in Hollywood while visiting), “sticks to its convictions.” It embraces its antiquated musical numbers, its tap dances, its sentimentality and romanticism and melancholy. Not to mention everything in the film, whatever you might think of the content itself, is crafted with perfection.

Why did other people like the movie then? is perhaps a better place to start.
I’m pretty sure a lot of people liked La La Land, consciously or not, specifically because it was based in Hollywood nostalgia, and people in Hollywood, i.e., people who make up the Academy and vote for awards, love movies about Hollywood, they love movies about movies, and films about films, and anything about how wonderful they and their industry are. I can almost imagine these people touching themselves as they watched La La Land. (There was even an SNL skit about a guy being arrested because he said La La Land “dragged in the middle.”)

http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/la-la-land-interrogation/3457925?snl=1

But also, because of the shit show 2016 was, maybe everyone just wanted to feel good for a couple hours.

Why I liked La La Land however, is not really a mystery. I knew immediately why I liked it so much and it was the ending. The sense of optimism and romanticism that begins the film, soon ends in two people who should be together, not being together. It is both tragic, simple, and in some way, a metaphor for how life goes awry and upends our expectations. I don’t know why, but that wrecked me. I wanted to grab Emma Stone through the screen and tell her to dump her shitty husband and run away with Gosling (though the husband actually seemed like a pretty decent guy).
La La Land did the thing all cliché movies do. It “touched a nerve” or “tugged at my heartstrings,” probably because I spend a lot of time in my head—in nostalgia or fantasy (not for some sort of “Golden Age” but pining for some sort of world or reality that never existed in the first place). I spend a lot of time thinking about what could have been versus what is, wondering if either one would make a difference in a sort of existential or universal sense, and I spend a lot of time thinking about what I don’t have and what my life could look like, even though I don’t particularly dislike my life as is. There’s something within me that can’t help think what if, which is essentially, what that whole montage with Emma Stone towards the end of the movie is about.
The ending is also, “surprising, yet inevitable” which, as writer and my previous Antioch mentor Peter Selgin says, is exactly what makes a great ending in fiction. The ending surprises you, but in a way that you say, “Of course, it couldn’t be any other way.” And it is in this “turn” at the ending where La La Land transforms from a 1930’s garish Hollywood musical into something else. A meditation on art, romance, relationships, love, nostalgia, and struggle (though, in typical Hollywood fashion, both of the leads are successful in their career pursuits, unlike, say, Don’t Think Twice).

Both Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight, Arrival, and even Hell or High Water are more profound, complicated, and richer films in many ways. Manchester and Moonlight especially deal with grief, tragedy, and often untouched or “unfilmed” emotions of unspeakable depth. Both films are generally the sort of stuff that is in direct contrast to business banking or even “award garnering” movies (and they are BY FAR the two best films). And yet, La La Land did indeed win me over. Even if it is to the dismay of my own sense of self and overall identity.

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No Other Loss Can Occur So Quietly

I’m pretty proud of this blog I did for Lunch Ticket at Antioch, where I’m getting my MFA. By far the most response I’ve ever gotten from a piece of writing on my Facebook. I’d stopped writing about faith issues a while ago as to not be pigeon-holed as a “Christian” writer but I think this shows how many people out there are in such a grey area of faith no one ever seems to talk about much.

Check it here if you’d like.

Now More Than Ever

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New blog up. Proud to be a part of Lunch Ticket and Antioch University Los Angeles MFA to be able to explore new ideas and get such great feedback from fellow peers on a topic I might normally attempt solo. I couldn’t have done this piece without them. Also shout out to Lidia Yuknavitch and Micah Bournes.

Now More Than Ever, Kendrick Lamar and Beyoncé

Thoughts on The Wire, Writing, and Perspective

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Here is another blog I did for my MFA programs lit journal, Lunch Ticket. Read it at your leisure or on your phone on the bus or on your computer at work while pretending to work. It’s about The Wire, writing, perspective, and how I’m mad I still don’t have a book published.

 

Salud,

Levi

 

Thoughts on The Wire, Writing, and Perspective

On Patience, Grief

This is a blog I’m pretty proud of. More to come. I wrote it for my MFA program’s lit journal Lunch Ticket: On Patience, Grief

Annotation-Behind the Beauitful Forever’s

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Hey Friends, (all three of you who ever look at this site)

If you want, read along with me as I parse my way through MFA program reading multiple books a month. I already have to write these annotations (metadata, comments, review, diagnostics) so may as well share some of my favorites. It’ll be like an online book club.

Most of the time, but not all, it will be a look at craft. How the writer accomplishes what they are doing on the page.

First up: Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Behind the Beautiful Forever’s is the first book by Katherine Boo, surprisingly. However, Boo’s work as an investigative journalist for the helped develop her highly detailed work as a writer and she’s written for both the Washington Post and The New Yorker covering themes of social justice. In other articles she’s explored the intellectually disabled, poverty, welfare, and marriage.

You could perhaps call Forever’s “Micro-focused.” This is both the main strength of the book and perhaps it’s main criticism. It touches briefly on the state of India’s economy, caste system, globalization, etc., but for the most part the book is a highly detailed account of a small group of people in a slum across from the Mumbai airport—a family of Muslim garbage pickers, a one-legged woman, a woman “mob” boss of the village with political aspirations (basically a smart woman who runs the village through bribes and money while also working with the local government and law enforcement), her educated daughter, and some tragic young men who do anything they can to make some money. It’s been hailed as the best book on India in twenty-five years.

What is remarkable is Boo’s attention to detail and the countless hours she spent researching and living with a particular group of people. We really go deep into characters lives which is often sorely missing in narrative nonfiction reporting on poverty. As Boo says in an interview with Guernica Magazine Boo:

“When I pick a story, I’m very much aware of the larger issues that it’s illuminating. But one of the things that I, as a writer, feel strongly about is that nobody is representative. That’s just narrative nonsense. People may be part of a larger story or structure or institution, but they’re still people. Making them representative loses sight of that. Which is why a lot of writing about low-income people makes them into saints, perfect in their suffering.”

This is the strength of Boo’s work. The nuance and delicacy and realness she doesn’t shy away from when detailing the lives of the people she’s chosen to follow. They’re complex humans, each with their own sense of morals, character, perspective, aspirations, and so on.

Boo’s book also sheds light on some of the broken and misleading truths with regards to NGO’s and nonprofits. There’s one scene in which the local leader of the village, pays people to come to the unveiling of a new well built by a NGO, so they can put on quite a show to the rich Americans and hopefully get some more money. The money and well were obtained, of course, through bribes and local corruption, as is the norm in India and many other developing countries.

However, while the book is a stunning and complex portrait of people living in poverty, many readers could be frustrated with Boo’s failure to bring in hardly any outside social commentary or, “So what?” factor. It’s a terrific portrayal of Mumbai slums and a look inside the thoughts and lives of people who live in them, but Forever’s leaves a bit of an empty feeling, which is perhaps Boo’s intent.

I Saw Another Rabbit Today

He was plump

brown and beautiful

chewing on a carrot

ears like pillows

from the Marriot

Bio

Sam Samson is a rabbit.

photo (5)

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A Coffee Triptych-Revolv Magazine

Words by Levi Rogers

Photos by Chad Kirkland

This is an article I wrote a little over two years ago for the wonderful Revolv Magazine. It no longer exists (for now) but it was great while it lasted and I owe a big thanks to them for letting me work on an article. Enjoy.

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