La La Land, 2016

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Here’s to the ones who dream, foolish as they may seem
Here’s to the hearts that ache, here’s to the mess we make.

A love song to LA and to old Hollywood (musicals), La La Land, directed by Damien Chazelle, transcends, reinvents the genre it so clearly adores. It’s familiar but it’s not a copy, not trying to be. It’s romantic and nostalgic, just like its main characters Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling). Magic, pure and simple.

The movie centres on Mia and Sebastian, an aspiring actress and a jazz pianist both living in Los Angeles. The film tracks their story as they meet, fall in love and follow their dreams.

I haven’t had a movie hit me this hard in a long time. I wrote this, nearly an hour after I left the cinema, and I still wanted to cry (did cry) from the sheer beauty and joy (and more than a little melancholy) of what I had just experienced. I didn’t want to step out of this film, come back to reality.

It was more than those feelings, though – it was also that I love musicals so much. They mean so much to me. And to see a movie that is basically an extended love song to them, to that classic period of (Hollywood) musicals, that is also a really beautiful, moving film on its own was overwhelming.

(In the car, on the way home, I am asked what’s wrong? And I say, through my blubbering, ‘I just liked the movie so much.’ (And I temper my words, I loved it, not liked it, because emotions embarrass me, but my tears tell another story).)

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The chemistry between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling is fantastic, they play off each other beautifully. The music, even in the ‘worst’ songs conveyed exactly what it needed to. It’s also one of the most magically beautiful movies my eyes have feasted on in some time. The costumes are perfect and it is photographed exquisitely. The observatory scene was whimsical and moving. The whole ending sequence took my breath away. I nearly couldn’t contain myself through it. A little sob escaped me.

Is this what audiences felt like in the 40s and 50s seeing the stars dance across the screen in technicolor? Those glorious sets and costumes and colours, more real, more beautiful, than reality, and all the better for it. To be whisked away to this magical place left me breathless. It’s not that other new movies don’t bring me joy or awe me but this was a whole other experience. I almost can’t articulate what it was. The feeling as I was writing this, the feeling I had watching the film. It filled me so that words could not capture it. Maybe music could. Maybe jazz could.

Also, I am more than ready for a musical renaissance. Surely the time for their resurrection has come! Not this dribbling of releases we get, but a full flood. Please.

La La Land opens in cinemas around Australia on Boxing Day.

Originally posted on letterboxd.

Further reading:

‘La La Land’ Makes Musicals Matter Again at The New York Times

Little Shop of Horrors, Director’s Cut

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They may offer you fortune and fame
Love and money and instant acclaim
But whatever they offer you,
Don’t feed the plants!

Little Shop of Horrors has been one of my favourite films for a long time but it was only recently seeing it onstage that gave me the kick in the pants I needed to finally watch the director’s cut with the original ending. I already knew about the ending and had seen clips but actually seeing it in the continuity of the film feels entirely different.

Because I’m discussing the ending there are, naturally, spoilers but my blog is never spoiler free really (except for new releases).

As much as I’m a sucker for happy endings (which I admit begrudgingly) the original ending for Little Shop of Horrors is just so much better. The workmanship alone is something to behold, recalling The War of the Worlds and other monster/alien fare from the 1950s with cities being demolished and citizens gobbled up. The army of Audrey II’s are menacing and the miniatures are perfectly constructed by Richard Conway.

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‘Finale Ultimo (Don’t Feed the Plants)’ is also a really great song, and a brilliant climax for the film – the entire sequence is just incredibly impressive in every way.

Technical achievements aside, it also makes more sense. There is a feeling of chaos building throughout the story as Seymour’s life spins out of his control, and the original ending, which is utter chaos and destruction, caps it off perfectly.

However, I also understand why test audiences reacted so badly. Aside from the fact that unhappy endings aren’t exactly par for the course in Hollywood, Audrey and Seymour are really likeable characters. We may laugh at them at times (“l’d put on…cheap and tasteless outfits, not nice ones like this.”) but we also feel a deep empathy for them (at least, I do). Audrey, especially, because Ellen Greene has a rare ability to be utterly camp while simultaneously imbuing the role with pathos.

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So seeing them consumed by a hungry plant that’s bent on world domination is a bit difficult to swallow (if you’ll pardon the pun). Seeing Orin and even Mr Mushnik being eaten makes us feel a certain vicious glee but Audrey and Seymour’s deaths are just truly tragic, if inevitable.

As it mentions here when you see this onstage there is not only a certain distance because of the lack of close-ups but the actors come out for the curtain call, and Audrey and Seymour are alive again (they also perform in ‘Finale Ultimo (Don’t Feed the Plants)’). But this doesn’t happen when we see a movie. They’re just…gone. It’s obvious, though, from what I’ve read that its fans (now) acknowledge that the original ending is superior and more fitting.

It would’ve been a terrible shame, a tragedy really, if the original ending, that so much love and work went into, was lost forever. I’m glad it’s not. And I’m glad I get to choose which ending I want, depending on how I feel. Do I want Seymour and Audrey to go ‘somewhere that’s green’ and live happily ever after? Or is the ‘somewhere that’s green’ they go to inside Audrey II?

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Designer Spotlight: Sandy Powell

Picture heavy post.

This post is even shorter again than the last; I had planned to post it in February but completely forgot to finish it, so it’s a little slapdash. It’s also formatted a little differently and I’ve left out so many of the films I’ve seen that she’s worked on, because I got a bit overwhelmed.

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The third post in my ‘Designer Spotlight’ series is focused on Sandy Powell OBE. Born in 1960, Powell is a British costume designer who has won three Academy Awards (for Shakespeare in Love, The Aviator and The Young Victoria) and worked with directors such as Derek Jarman (Caravaggio is her first film credit), Martin Scorsese and Todd Haynes.

Like Colleen Atwood, Powell often collaborates with one of my favourite directors – this time, with Todd Haynes. She designed the costumes for one of my all-time favourite movies, Velvet Goldmine, a glam-rock faux biopic which marries the career of David Bowie with the narrative structure of Citizen Kane. Naturally, the costumes are a vital element of the film, aiding in the construction of the central character Brian Slade and all those around him.

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This is my absolute favourite costume of the entire film. It’s like a fop and a glam-rock star had a baby. The contrasting textures and competing patterns should be overwhelming but they’re tied together with the colour palette, lilac being used as an anchor throughout. You can see the costume in action in this video.

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The feathered neck piece is so dramatic, which works perfectly for this scene: the ‘death’ of Brian Slade, which turns out to be a hoax. The silver bodysuit is the perfect colour to show up the bright red blood.

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Again, the contrasting textures are eye-catching and the costume recalls 18th and 19th century men’s fashions.

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This scene is a lot of fun and there are so many fabulous costumes in it. Mandy’s dress in the first screencap above is easily my favourite: I love all the colours, the oversized hat and the gorgeous platform sandals.

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I love how everyone in Brian’s entourage sort of has a theme with their costumes. Mandy has her leopard print for one, seen here in this magnificent skirt suit.

I apologise for the quality of the Velvet Goldmine screencaps. I have a really old copy of the movie and the resolution is clearly not that great.

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Designer Spotlight: Colleen Atwood

Picture heavy post.

Time for the (very overdue) second post in my designer spotlight series! This time I am focusing on Colleen Atwood. It was hard not to just post costumes from all the Tim Burton films she’s worked on, because their collaborations are always stunning, but I managed to pick just two Burton films for this post. I’ve mostly looked at one costume per film to keep it brief(ish). This post will be just as picture heavy, but may be a little lighter on text than the last one as I’m very tired today.

titleColleen Atwood, b. 1948 in Washington, has been working in movies since the early 1980s. She has been nominated eleven times for an Academy Award and has won three times, including for Chicago (2002), which is one of my personal favourites. Her filmography is extensive and includes many of my favourite film costume moments.

1ItW_04771ItW_00581ItW_0476I’m going to work backwards, chronologically, through the five films I’ve chosen, starting with Into the Woods. All of the costumes in Into the Woods are gorgeous and evocative but it’s no surprise that Little Red Riding Hood’s costume caught my eye the most. (I also love the wolf’s zoot suit, reminiscent of the wolves in Tex Avery cartoons). Red and light blue is one of my favourite colour combinations and the contrast between the puff-sleeved dress and cape is particularly striking (especially against the darkness of the woods). You can just see some of the details on the hood in the middle image, above, like the cutout designs and soft scalloping around the edge.

1ItW_05211ItW_0536I love the smocking and Peter Pan collar. It reminds me a lot of vintage little girls’ dresses from the 30s-50s, which I’ve always found to be very sweet and charming.

Snow_White_and_the_Huntsman_2012_EXTENDED_720p_BRRip_x264_AC3-JYK_0183Snow_White_and_the_Huntsman_2012_EXTENDED_720p_BRRip_x264_AC3-JYK_0172Snow_White_and_the_Huntsman_2012_EXTENDED_720p_BRRip_x264_AC3-JYK_0170Next is Snow White and the Huntsman. While I adore the redesign of Snow White’s look into something quite practical, it’s Ravenna (Charlize Theron) who wears the most elaborate and fun costumes. I absolutely adore her wedding gown, with the skeletal-like cage around her shoulders. While the costume is undoubtedly beautiful, I like that it’s not soft as we usually think wedding gowns should be. It hints at Ravenna’s journey and nature that we see revealed. In an interview, Atwood says ‘there’s always an element of trapped death in her costumes, such as the skeletal cage around her shoulders in her wedding costume.’
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Top 5 Thursday | Movie Musicals

I asked my twitter friends for suggestions for my ‘top 5’ lists and got some really great ideas. One was an idea I’d already had so I decided that, this week, I would do my top 5 movie musicals…made after 1970. Musicals are my favourite kind of movie so to do a definitive top 5 of all time would be just too difficult so I’m breaking it up. I’ve also not included the 3 musicals that appeared on my top 5 all-time favourites list. Even doing one for post-1970 (not sure why I picked that year) was very difficult! But I managed to make a list so here we go…(the write-ups are going to be a lot more brief this time as I’ve ‘real life’ things taking up my time.)

1. Cabaret directed by Bob Fosse, 1972

When did I first see Cabaret? I don’t even remember now but it is easily one of my favourite movies even if I now often skip all the bits that aren’t songs when I’m watching it. It’s all so great but sometimes I just want to watch Liza sing! Putting aside the fact that Liza’s Sally Bowles is one of the single most fabulous characters to ever grace the screen (that make-up! her hair! clothes! nail polish!) I love the blending of the seemingly carefree lives of the main characters (which we do know aren’t that carefree at all) and the world of the Kit Kat Klub contrasted with the progressively, well, scary situation of the world outside. Also, Bob Fosse. I just adore his choreography, as cliched as it may be by now. It was interesting when I finally watched I Am a Camera and then Christopher and his Kind and experiencing the very similar stories (obviously, as they are all based on Isherwood’s book) in different ways…and without the musical lens we view it all through in Cabaret.

2. Hedwig and the Angry Inch directed by John Cameron Mitchell, 2001

“It is clear that I must find my other half. But is it a he or a she? What does this person look like? Identical to me? Or somehow complementary? Does my other half have what I don’t? Did he get the looks? The luck? The love? Were we really separated forceably or did he just run off with the good stuff? Or did I? Will this person embarrass me? What about sex? Is that how we put ourselves back together again? Or can two people actually become one again?”


How do I sum up my feelings about this film? A high school friend urged me to see it but I think it took me far too long to get around to it (I was still in high school but he’d been insisting for a long time before I watched it). It’s such a gorgeous film and it’s funny and it’s serious and Origin of Love has to be one of the loveliest, most beautiful songs ever written. I honestly can’t think of anything else to write about it, at the moment.

3. Hairspray directed by Adam Shankman, 2007

This is the only film on the list of which I’ve also seen the stage production…twice. Once in New York and once in Melbourne – very different productions, but both thoroughly enjoyable. I’m also a huge John Waters fan so I’m familiar with the film the stage production is based on. Neither of these facts lessened my enthusiasm when I learnt a motion picture was in the works and I think I may have even seen the film the day it was released (with my mum). It’s such a visual feast and so beautifully filmed and designed (the sets, costumes, etc.) and I was pleasantly surprised by some of the casting (I certainly never realised James Marsden could sing) and just plain delighted by the rest (Michelle Pfeiffer, Queen Latifah, John Travolta, Christopher Walken et al)! And the cameos by John Waters, Ricki Lake, et al were a nice touch, too. My only disappointments were that some of my favourite songs from the stage production were cut: Cooties, Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now and It Takes Two, though all were recorded for the movie soundtrack. (I was also disappointed that the line ‘without love, life is like making out with Perry Como’ was cut from Without Love – I guess they thought kids wouldn’t get who Perry Como is? Or was it the previous line referring to Bromo-Seltzer? Oh well). I do love The New Girl in Town, which was written for the film and how the scene it is in is a nod to how many songs were re-recorded (ripped off, really) by white singing groups at the time. It may just have one of the best endings of a movie musical that I’ve seen. Oh, and Seaweed makes me swoon…sigh.

4. Little Shop of Horrors directed by Frank Oz, 1986

One thing that’s noticeable in stage to movie productions (well, in this case, movie to stage to movie) is that there is a conscious effort to tone down the theatricality (I noticed this in Chicago where many of the lines are delivered with more gravitas than I’d heard in some stage recordings) but that’s not something I feel with this film. From the acting style, many of the sets and the way scenes are choreographed it definitely feels a lot more like a stage musical than necessarily a movie musical, if that makes sense. The song Skid Row (Downtown) always gives me shivers which I usually only experience when I see musicals onstage. Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene are perfect as Seymour and Audrey, and Steve Martin as her jerk boyfriend is kind of genius. Oh and Bill Murray as the masochistic dentist patient?! But I think my favourite thing about this film is the chorus of three local girls named after ’60s girl groups: Crystal, Chiffon and Ronette.

5. 8 Femmes directed by François Ozon, 2002

It’s set in the 1950s. It’s a musical. It’s a murder-mystery. It stars Catherine Deneuve and Isabelle Huppert. I’m not sure I have to say a whole lot else about why I love this film, really. Each of the costumes was created around each character and I feel the songs have been treated in the same way, whilst still reflecting various kinds of French pop music from around the time the film is set. And I really don’t want to give anything away because I want anyone who hasn’t seen it to be able to (hopefully) react the same way I did. (I once wrote a post at my other blog about how much I love all of the costumes in the film.)

I had got to the end of my top 5 list when I realised that I’d made a horrible mistake because Xanadu was nowhere to be seen on it! As a way to rectify that, whilst still keeping the 5 films I originally wanted on the list, Xanadu gets an honourable mention for being one of the most amazing films I’ve ever seen. (As I’m writing this I’m thinking of all the other films I forgot while I was compiling the list…)

I doubt Xanadu is all that well thought of by critics (or, indeed, by many people on IMDB it seems) but I love anything campy, trashy, tacky, etc., and Xanadu kind of embodies a lot of that. It has Gene Kelly, Olivia Newton-John, roller-skating, bizarre costumes, a cartoon sequence I always forget about and incorporates Greek mythology. Yeah. But if you think Xanadu couldn’t get kitschier or more camp then you clearly haven’t seen the stage production.

Once again, I’d love to hear anyone else’s top 5 list for this theme. I’ll probably be debating my own list with myself but I will happily take recommendations of other musicals (even if you think I may have seen them) that fit the theme (i.e. made after 1970…we can keep others for my other lists!)