Interiors is an Online Publication about the space between Architecture and Film, published by Mehruss Jon Ahi and Armen Karaoghlanian. Interiors runs an exclusive column for ArchDaily that analyzes and diagrams films in terms of space.
Damien Chazelle’s La La Land (2016) is an ode to the Technicolor musicals of Hollywood by way of Jacques Demy and Paul Thomas Anderson. The film is less of a musical and more of a love story with music, as its rich color palette and Cinemascope presentation create an idealized world that strips away its artificiality over the course of its runtime, ultimately becoming more and more realistic.
La La Land uses its filmmaking—particularly its long, unbroken takes—to bring its audience into its world and its spaces. The opening sequence, for instance, where helpless drivers stuck in a traffic jam hop out of their cars and break into a synchronized dance number, was filmed on the 105/110 freeway interchange and was edited to appear as one take, ultimately resulting in an immersive experience that highlights the architecture of the scene.
La La Land’s interest in exploring space and time comes together in a four-minute scene in which Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) walk to their cars on a paved road in the hills of Griffith Park, after leaving a Hollywood party. In this scene, the two leads break into song and dance, as director Damien Chazelle and cinematographer Linus Sandgren film the entire scene in a long, unbroken take.
In this scene, Damien Chazelle subverts our expectations of the usual meet-cute often seen in romantic comedies. Mia and Sebastian are combative and proclaim their distaste for one another, but the surrounding space is made as romantic as possible. The colors of the sky, along with the city lights below them, almost demand romance. Mia and Sebastian’s conflicting attitudes create a contrast with what is shown visually in the architecture of the space. It’s no surprise, then, that this becomes the setting where the characters first fall in love. In addition, given the film’s relationship with Hollywood, it’s also interesting to note that the setting overlooks Burbank—a city whose deep-rooted history with the entertainment industry makes it arguably more Hollywood than Hollywood itself.
The setting of this scene is Cathy’s Corner in Griffith Park. The original location—which is usually far more sparse than what is seen in the film—was modified in an effort to create the look the filmmakers wanted to achieve. The original location, which didn’t have any lampposts, was outfitted with a row of custom lampposts, designed to evoke the nostalgic look which permeates the film’s design. The production also added the bench that kickstarts Mia and Sebastian’s dance number. In making these architectural additions and altering the existing space, the characters have objects to interact with, including Sebastian looping around the lamppost like Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain (1952), and Mia and Sebastian sitting on the bench together.
The bench becomes a focal point throughout their musical number, first bringing them together physically as they sit side by side, and later, becoming an integral part of their dance number as they interact with it. Midway through the dance number, the bench conspicuously connects the pair with the romantic setting: Mia and Sebastian run and leap to stand on top of the bench, and the camera zooms above their heads to allow the audience, albeit briefly, to take in the twinkling lights of the city alongside the couple.
The scene was extensively choreographed and rehearsed; because of the fact that the entire sequence is filmed in one take during magic hour, the characters (and camera crew) had to battle against time. This meant hitting the 27 marks the camera crew had for the scene, resetting immediately after each take, and leaving no room for error. The scene used in the final cut of the film is the last take filmed on the second (and last day of shooting in the location) at 7:30 pm.
Interiors has created a Site Plan of Cathy’s Corner in Los Angeles, California. The diagram depicts the entire 4-minute musical sequence between Mia and Sebastian. There are three specific moments that are highlighted on the diagram which represent the moment Sebastian begins to sing by the lamppost, the moment Mia and Sebastian begin their choreography on the bench, and the iconic dance move between the two characters seen in the movie’s advertising. These moments not only represent key points in the scene, but also show how the characters become progressively closer during this sequence.
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Architectural Drawings and Graphics were created by Interiors (www.INTJournal.com).
Interiors is an Online Publication about the space between Architecture and Film. It is run by Mehruss Jon Ahi and Armen Karaoghlanian. Check out their Website and Official Store and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.