It was during college, during one of those rainy months, when I open the “unwatched” folder to venture into that one film that didn’t instantly seem interesting, that I came across Sweet and Lowdown. It was about a fictional jazz guitarist, Emmet Ray, calling himself to be the second best guitarist, his eccentric ways. The film had the usual Woody Allen sentimentality in relationships along with Sean Penn’s one-tonal way of a jazz musician’s characteristic reminiscent of the coke-sniffing character he played in Carlito’s Way. But what stood out was the gypsy-jazz music of Django that had seemingly inspired Allen and of course, Emmet. I had quickly made a copy of Django’s list of songs, a remastered version of sorts and from then on, the songs have been transferred from PCs to hard discs to travel bags to USBs to mobile phones, but never deleted. It is this ear of jazz I was familiar with.
It’s hard to describe jazz (once you begin to have an ear for it) without sounding like an annoying white-saviour like Sebastian in La La Land.
I was reduced to describing a track to a friend yesterday as maddening, delightful and all the time fun. Perhaps, it’s this inbuilt energy to render (tedium like) words useless that makes jazz a bit more alive (there you go again!). But then words can sometimes be relentless boomerangs that keep hitting your face from directions you don’t remember to have set them free. Or in this case da ba dee ba doo bappaaaba dee ba doo bapaa –
While watching La La Land, perhaps what mildly bothered me was that it wasn’t a black person playing the lead at the end. I found that it had much to say (rather Emma had much more to give) about Mia’s story, punctuated by richly creative “someone in the crowd” and “the fools who dream”. It was Mia who was consistent in sticking to her dream of telling stories, temporarily shook up, but never wavered. The scene outside the theatre after she realizes her play was a failure has enough say that this film is about her. Here’s where the suggestion of writing/enacting them becomes a way to seek creativity. Mia realizes her creative freedom by writing her own roles, but is (“waiting to be”) found via her acting on the stage. But later, the casting director calls out confidence on to her story telling. This inter-disciplinary and participative perspective of the creative process, (a larger story-telling process) from one-step behind, is what jazz inspires. Try listening (only listen) to Brazil (“Peche a la Mouche”) without bobbing your head. Django doesn’t want you listen without participation. A constant chance for one to be set entirely free to create. Perhaps her realisation seems to have come from Sebastian, but the entire career-conversation felt so casual that I felt Mia always knew what she wanted to do or perhaps Gosling never works for me, not more than a pretty Bollywood actress there to spit a few lines and be cutesy (seriously what’s up with Gosling’s hand-gestures, the way he holds a glass of water is unnecessarily exemplary).
Coming back to the black-rep, interestingly the black person who joins mid-way is the contemporary dialogue in the film, the innovator. In Hip-Hop’s context (Hip Hop Evolution), the West coast (LA) has always been innovative (Ice Cube & NWA, Dr. Dre) in their approach to music (or be anything) as compared to what originally began in an East coast basement. So perhaps it is more to do with LA, the place and it’s culture (Damien does suggest that from a whiny white jazz musician’s perspective, which was presumptuous) and it’s here where the reception of “The Messengers” that I found mildly troubling, like Damien was giving a message. The irony, if he’d land up an Oscar in this heavily self-conscious #OscarSoWhite Oscars, is not so glaring since La La Land is The Messenger just posing as Seb’s.
My favorite song in the film was “city of stars”. It was magic, being lost and found at the same time.