City of stars.

Last night, I went to see La La Land a second time after seeing it for the first time the day it came out in the UK last week (I had planned on seeing it for the first time yesterday, but I opted to see it the night it came out in an effort to kill time ahead of the Nintendo Switch event in Tokyo happening in the middle of the night).

I feel pretty confident at this point in saying that if it’s not in my top three films ever, La La Land is at the very least in my top five films ever now. As someone who is not a fan of musicals and who quite frankly even cringes at someone about to break into song on TV or films – needless to say, those who burst into song singing Let It Go unprovoked will be first against the wall when I take charge – it’s something I uncharacteristically loved a lot, moreso when you consider this was a movie I was actually looking forward to ahead of time.

What else can you say about Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling’s performances too? For me, it’s Stone who steals the show big time towards the end of the movie with her performance from her audition at the end of the movie (The Fools Who Dream) and it was something I paid a lot closer attention to when viewing the movie a second time (not that I wasn’t the first time).

But partway through the film, a thought occured to me about a romantic notion of Los Angeles in some of my favourite films ever and its something that I’ve been thinking about since seeing La La Land last night.

It seems that for my top three films ever (or at least three of my top five films ever), I have this romanticism for cities I like to go to: Lost in Translation, 500 Days of Summer and La La Land. But for the sake of this piece, lets stick to La La Land and 500 Days.

La La Land is a story of a struggling aspiring actress and a struggling piano player who come across one another and how their relationship unwinds over the course of a year. So boy meets girl essentially. 500 Days of Summer is a story of a greeting card writer/wanna be architect who falls for the new girl (hurrrrrrr) assistant at the card company and how their relationship unwinds over the course of just under a year-and-a-half. Again, boy meets girl (literally, the first line of the film from its narrator – Sully from Uncharted, by the way – is “this is the story of boy meets girl”).

On the surface, both films are romance movies. But look at it another way, La La Land and 500 Days also tell another romance story of sorts, at least from what I interpret of both films: the city of Los Angeles. 500 Days is a bit more subtle about it compared to La La Land’s poking you in the arm with a stick about it every few minutes.

But the way they do so is very different to one another. With La La Land, it’s about the motif of the glitz and glamour of yesteryear Los Angeles and Hollywood from the 1920s and early 1930s in a modern day LA – director and writer Damien Chazelle cited Manhatta from 1921 or Man With a Movie Camera from 1929 as inspirations. Chazelle also said La La Land’s other inspiration was his moving from the US East Coast out to LA after he graduated with preconceived notions that, he told the New York Times, “it was all just strip malls and freeways.”

For 500 Days of Summer, it’s something that doesn’t stick out immediately – like I said, it’s a lot more subtle – but it’s the architecture. That’s not exactly a shock, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s lead character Tom trained to be an architect which he picks up on again towards the end of the film.

The movie’s two key scenes for me, the bench at Angel’s Knoll on S Olive Street, becoming a popular tourist spot after the movie came out until it was closed in 2013 due to state budget cutbacks, with Tom and Summer’s tattoo (and later on when the two see each other for the first time in a while and after Tom’s depressive slump towards the end of the film) and the ending of the film in the Bradbury Building where Tom is interviewing for an architectural job and meets Autumn (Friday Night Lights’ Minka Kelly), to which Tom gives a slightly fourth-wall breaking ‘you got to be kidding me’ look at the camera, after asking her out.

(Sidenote: 99% Invisible has a fantastic episode where it talks about location scouting for films in Los Angeles, including the Bradbury Building)

Now you could say that’s just the sign of good location scouting, and it is, but tie that into Tom’s abandonment of becoming an architect before picking it up again towards the end of the film honestly strengthens the architecture link for me. That’s not to say La La Land doesn’t have those similar moments where location is key to its story – the Griffith Observatory in the middle of the film is the big one, along with the Los Angeles freeway for the movie-opening number – but for me, the two films ties to LA are remarkably different from one another at least in terms of the LA they’re trying to go for, even if their main love stories are very similar.

I think La La Land’s version of LA was summed up best by Hideo Kojima in a article on Glixel recently, calling it a “dreamland vision of LA” that fades from view as the movie progresses. And it pretty much is. So in turn, how do you sum up 500 Days of Summer’s telling of LA? That’s not an answer I don’t have forthcoming without watching the movie again (it has been a while). But how both movies choose to have different tellings of the city is one that is charming and something I really love. And I think those are why I have such strong pangs to go to Los Angeles after seeing either movie in the same way I do wanting to go to Toyko or Kyoto after seeing Lost in Translation.

My experience of Los Angeles is zero. I had planned to go in 2010 back when I was at VG247 to cover the multiplayer reveal for Call of Duty: Black Ops 1, but that was scarpered when I lost my passport somewhere in Cologne, Germany during gamescom that year.

Any experiences I hear of LA from people I know builds up every June most of my peers, friends or acquaintances in the games industry all bugger off for E3. Over the six-and-a-half years I’ve been in the games industry, I’ve seen people moan of Los Angeles – the traffic, the people, the Saddle Ranch (this one may be lost on those not in the UK games industry). But you know what? It’s still somewhere I want to go some day, be it personally or professionally.

If nothing else, I want to experience that “dreamland version” of Los Angeles from La La Land that Kojima cited in that Glixel article before it fades into something more real.

%d bloggers like this: