The impact of COLOUR in the storytelling of 'La La Land'
"The Academy Award for 'Best Picture' goes to... La La Land!"
... "There's been a mistake!"
It's been nearly 4 years since this memorable Oscar mishap that saw the people behind 'La La Land' graciously hand over their Academy Award for 'Best Picture' to the creators of 'Moonlight' after mistakenly being announced as the winners. Still, those behind the 2016 Musical/Romance in no way returned home without a renowned bronze statuette under their arms - In fact, 'La La Land was merited with 5 Academy Awards at the 2017 Oscars, including 'Best Cinematography' which was presented to Swedish cinematographer Linus Sandgren (who also has the most immaculate hair might I add.) Having watched the film a number of times, I can say with little to no hesitation that 'La La Land' parades some of the best cinematography that the history of cinema has ever seen... there, I said it! In particular, its elite use of colour as a tool for narrative which compliments the personas of the pair of ambitious artists that we, as spectators, follow through the course of the film, as well as the lives they chose to lead. Following the theme of classical Hollywood-style musicals, Chazelle evidently uses a vibrant colour palette for his film. In particular, the prime colours of blue, red and yellow. Each of these colours symbolise varying things, and often appear whenever the thing of which they symbolise are relevant to the scene taking place. Call me a cinephile, but I am going to dissect the colours featured in director Damien Chazelle's frame in an attempt to discover the symbolism behind them. If you too would like to join me in this quest, please read on...
BLUE - Creativity, Control & Classical Hollywood
Blue is a colour used excessively in 'La La Land', and has connotations to creativity and control, as well as symbolising the fantasy of 'Classical Hollywood' that aspiring actors and actresses dream of becoming a part of. These themes are channelled through the protagonists of the plot, Mia & Sebastian (Emma Stone & Ryan Gosling - what a cast!), as we witness their desperate attempts to make their creative and ambitious dreams become a reality.
Charming pianist Sebastian tends to look very dapper, often wearing a blue suit when he is working his magic on the black and white keys. Hopelessly striving to keep classical jazz alive in the modern world, Seb is seen struggling to control the style and direction of which he wants his music to be going in. Yet, when he looses his job for playing "free jazz" rather than sticking to the strict "set list" that his boss provided him with, he appears to regain some sort of creative control, being set free from this creative prison of a "set list". Blue floods this scene. Not only does Seb fashion the colour, but as does Mia, who models a dress in a similar shade of blue, and has been, like the spectators, observing Seb erupt in a jazz frenzy in awe throughout.
Prior to this sequence, we watch Mia striving to enter into the world of stardom through countless amounts of unsuccessful auditions after her move to L.A., the apex predator renowned for its movie-making industry. However, for Mia, blue represents something else. Blue appears when Mia is seeking to become that 'Someone in the Crowd' of Hollywood hopefuls as she strives to get her acting career off the ground, symbolising her fantasy of Classical Hollywood. You can see this when she decides to go out with her friends, wearing a vibrant blue, setting her apart from everyone else.
Whenever we, the audience, need to be reminded of Mia's adoration for the Classical Hollywood style, blue makes an appearance. This is demonstrated when she and Seb go on a date to the cinema, and the blue beam protruding from the projector illuminates their faces as they watch in admiration. Another example is when they perform the famous Waltz in the Planetarium, replicating the routine from Classical Hollywood Musical 'Swing Time'.
Additionally, blue appears often for Seb as he demonstrates some creative control, such as the blue that glows onto the faces of Mia and Sebastian as they are at the Jazz Club, where he passionately explains jazz to her, or the blue spotlights that follow him as his creative juices flow when he plays classic jazz on the piano.
RED - Reality-Check
Though blue is very much used to exaggerate Mia and Seb's individual admiration's in their careers, it also has a fantasy element about it. Red is used in the opposite way - to display a return to reality away from the spectacle of their hopeful dreams. An example of this is at the pool party, where an embarrassed Seb, wearing a 'firefighter red' suit while playing a pathetic looking 'keytar' of the same colour, reunites with a revenge-seeking Mia. He tells Mia that he is only playing with the band, of which he has little to no respect for, only to "pay the bills". This isn't the gig that Seb had dreams about, but he needs to do it to maintain a stable income.
Similarly, red is also a symbol of a reality-check for Mia too, as her dreams of becoming a successful actress appear more and more unrealistic. Mia's opening night of her one woman play that she wrote is an example of this - a deep red fills the frame as she strides backstage with the knowledge that there is an underwhelming number of audience members expecting her. She also wears a fiery red jacket to an audition that does not go well at all, and afterwards she is seen tugging it off in fury, displaying her frustration with the reality of a rejection.
YELLOW - Change is Coming
Yellow is one of the colours that people identify with the film, being the colour of Mia's dress on the poster from the famous contemporary jazz routine that Mia and Seb perform as they show their first sign of attraction for one another. Having previously had a mutual disliking of each other, this moment is a trigger for change.
Another moment of change that is worth noting is when singer Keith is added into the mix, as he offers Seb a position in his new jazz-styled band. We are first introduced to him in the same jazz place that Seb poured his heart out to Mia, describing what jazz was. Here, Keith is wearing a mustard coloured jumper, indicating that change is coming in Mia and Seb's relationship because of Keith. And this is precisely what happens. When we witness Seb entering the rehearsal room for the first time with his new band in his trusty blue suit, the blue and neutral tones of the room are soon overpowered by the yellow of the band members instrument cases and the red of Keith's guitar. Seb joining Keith's band snowballs into him going off his roots and passion, and giving in to the fact that the classic jazz style that he oh so adores is a dying breed. This is something that Mia cannot understand of Seb. His passion for keeping jazz alive was one of the qualities about Seb that she admired most, so seeing this deteriorate is difficult for her to comprehend.
Another time yellow becomes the overriding colour in the frame is Seb's impromptu dinner date that he plans for Mia. Although candles at a dinner table are typically associated with romance, sparks flying and all that jazz, ironically, in the world of 'La La Land', it means the opposite. The yellow beam coming from the candle and illuminating their faces once again hints that something within their relationship is going to change, and, just as expected, it does. The yellow flame only adds to the heat of their argument as they discover that their careers are drawing them apart, and after this we scene, we witness their relationship gradually falling apart.
Additionally, the overwhelming green glow protruding from the backdrop of their dining area has implications that they are perhaps jealous of one another's achievements in their careers, adding to the swelling feeling of tension between the couple.
PURPLE - Balance
Purple is the primary colour of the 'La La Land poster', and could be argued to be the main colour of the entire film. Purple, the blend of blue and red, is maybe also a blend of what these two colours symbolise - Blue + Red = Purple / Fantasy + Reality = Balance. And that is really what the film is about, hence why purple is it's poster colour. It's about Mia and
Seb trying to balance the fantasy of their ideal career with a realistic view. It is also about them seeking to balance their careers with their relationship, and try and not make one overpower the other. This is why their relationship didn't work out - they lost that balance. Seb chose his work commitments over quality time with Mia, and this led Mia to pursue her career over spending time with Seb. The ending scene acts as a perfect example of this, as we see 'what could have been', if only they got the perfect balance between work and love, yet that perfect balance is an unrealistic expectation. When Mia is back into reality, watching her ex-partner, Sebastian, play 'their theme' on piano whilst sitting next to her now-husband, purple fills the frame. It is the colour that lights up Seb as he performs, and the colour that lights up her face as she watches him. Though it wasn't the 'Classical Hollywood ending' that many people would've wanted, I believe it is a perfect ending. It is a perfect ending to a film about truth, rejection, failure, disagreements as well as love, success, happiness, laughter - IT'S A FILM ABOUT LIFE.