Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): ODE TO BOSTON (video essay on Guy & Madeline on a Park Bench for Fandor Keyframe)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

ODE TO BOSTON (video essay on Guy & Madeline on a Park Bench for Fandor Keyframe)


My latest Fandor video essay, like my previous one, is inspired by a new release to look back at an earlier film. In this case, the new release is La La Land, Damien Chazelle's musical love letter to Los Angeles. Watching the trailer, it was clear this movie was screaming from the rooftops that it was an "L.A. Movie" with candy-colored photography of famous locations from the title metropolis. I was most struck by a shot of the Angel's Flight Railway, where the opening scene of my short film Class of 2002 took place. So there was a bit of personal resonance to these clips.

Likewise, when I watched Chazelle's feature debut, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench (I keep accidentally typing "Guy and Madeline Go Boating"), I was struck with a bit of geography-inspired nostalgia. But this time it was more subdued and subtle - despite fleeting shots of unmistakable landmarks early on, it actually took me a little while to realize the film was set in Boston. The locale was slightly disguised by the black-and-white imagery and an emphasis on handheld close-ups of the actors. Nonetheless, the city casts a spell over the film, and I decided to draw out that mood even further in my tribute to Guy and Madeline. I created a short musical montage to a city that I - and obviously Chazelle as well - have a great fondness for.


Here is the accompanying piece I wrote for Fandor:
ODE TO BOSTON In Damien Chazelle's newest film, the young director crafts a musical paean to Los Angeles. It's right there in the title - LA LA LAND (2016) - and is already apparent in the trailer, with its glamorous shots of iconic L.A. locations, and in the synopses of the film, which deals with actors and musicians struggling in the show biz capital. On the other hand, Chazelle's debut feature, GUY AND MADELINE ON A BENCH (2009), is more subtle about its location. The film is composed largely through close-ups of the actors, with black-and-white handheld camerawork cloaking the world of the film in a way that LA LA LAND's widescreen Technicolor palette exposes its own.

And yet Boston (or perhaps Greater Boston, including the surrounding cities) is a distinct character in the movie, its brownstones, monuments, and leafy avenues lending the movie a quiet, pleasant but melancholy atmosphere. New York City makes a brief appearance halfway through, but its fast-paced bustle marks a sharp contrast to the rest of the film. Throughout the film, Chazelle includes fleeting, evocative shots of statues, streets, subways, and skylines that key us in to Boston's unique vibe. Created soon after he graduated from Harvard University, GUY AND MADELINE often feels like Chazelle's love letter to this area, with the New England metropolis a distinct character in its own right.

The film closes with a powerful trumpet solo, shot in a single take, a close-up of the composer/performer playing the instrument as an expression of his love for Madeline. This video essay imagines - perhaps not so outlandishly - that the music is not only a tribute to her, but also to the city in which they fell in, out of, and perhaps back into love. Keeping Guy in a corner of the screen the whole time, I have stitched together a montage of the movie's many quick location shots - juxtaposing these images with a one-minute sample of Guy's sustained solo. This is a distillation of the film's subtle sense of place, and also a way to honor a city I personally have great affection for. Hidden in its corners, glimpsed for a few moments before we return to the actors' faces as our primary touchstone, Boston may still be to GUY AND MADELINE what L.A. is to LA LA LAND - a backdrop without which we can't imagine the central romance.


Uploaded to YouTube in 2018:


For my own personal recollections of Boston, visit my essay Boston, You're My Home, written the day of the Marathon bombing in 2013.

And you can also check out my film Class of 2002, which contains original and found footage from both Boston and Los Angeles:


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