LA LA LAND| 2016
Damien Chazelle’s bittersweet musical romance bucks the trend for dark and gritty reboots with a mission to prove that, sometimes, they can make ‘em like they used to, with enough references to Hollywood classics to distract any movie buff from the simple plot.
As Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said "You can’t have a better tourism brochure than this movie," – so let’s go.
The electrifying opening number, Another Day Of Sun, was filmed over a mere two days on the 105 Century Freeway/110 Harbor Freeway overpass, south of the city toward Compton. Both directions of the westbound carpool lane were taken over, with half of the cars facing backwards. The express lane freeway ramp is the same stretch of freeway used for the bus jump sequence from 1994's Speed.
The coffee shop on the Warner Bros lot in Burbank in which Mia (Emma Stone) works between acting auditions is a fiction created for the movie (would the studio have a real working coffee shop in the middle of a much-used set?). Yes, the window opposite really was used for the ‘Paris’ flashback in Casablanca and that inspired Chazelle to add the line about Mia’s love for the film.
You can see it on the wonderful Warner Bros VIP Studio Tour, 3400 West Riverside Drive, Burbank, along with the other famous sets you can glimpse in the film, including the pillared frontage of ‘city hall’. Needless to say, the coffee shop has since become a feature of the tour.
The pink stucco apartment Mia shares with her girlfriends is Rose Towers, 1728 East 3rd Street #2, just east of Gaviota Avenue, in the Alamitos Beach district of Long Beach, south LA.
It’s to the heart of Hollywood to find the exterior of ‘Lipton’s’, the restaurant into which Mia is drawn by the haunting piano music. It’s not a jazz – or any other kind of – club. This is simply the entrance to Muse LifeStyle group at 1648 Wilcox Avenue at Hollywood Boulevard, just to the right of the famous You Are The Star mural, which places the great stars of the Golden Age, including Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, James Dean, Burton and Taylor, in rows of movie theatre seats while you – the viewer – are the star.
The real club interior, where Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) begrudgingly plays a delightful Christmas melody under the beady eye of the manager (JK Simmons), is the SmokeHouse Restaurant, 4420 West Lakeside Drive, Burbank. It’s right across the street from the Warner Bros lot and therefore a bit of an industry hangout, as you can see in Ben Affleck’s Argo.
The much despised ‘Van Beek Samba and Tapas’ bar that Seb desperately wants to return to its former glory as a legendary jazz dive is the empty property at 4403 West Magnolia Boulevard at North Valley Street, also in Burbank. Almost opposite stands Retro Dairy Mart, which is where Seb sits in his car eyeing the property.
The pier on which Seb dances alone to City Of Lights at twilight is Hermosa Beach Pier, Pier Avenue in Hermosa Beach, a few miles down the coast from Venice Beach.
When Mia – shockingly – misses a Rebel Without A Cause reference and is obliged to admit she’s never seen the 1955 James Dean classic, Seb points out that it’s conveniently showing at the Rialto Theatre, 1023 South Fair Oaks Avenue in South Pasadena. Sadly you won’t currently be able to repeat the experience as the historic cinema closed its doors in 2007. Built in 1925 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, its future is uncertain.
The Rialto is something of a screen veteran, with a major role in Robert Altman’s The Player. It also provided the interior of the cinema showing Stab! In Scream 2 and the 'Feelaround' experience in John Landis’s The Kentucky Fried Movie.
Mia remembers too late that she already has a date with her boring boyfriend, at upscale, retro-modern Jar Restaurant, 8225 Beverly Boulevard at North Harper Avenue in Midtown. You might recognise this as the chophouse in which Pete (Paul Rudd) has an awkward bro-date with Doug in I Love You, Man.
When Mia comes to her senses, she scoots off to the Rialto.
One of the great advantages of living in LA is that, when the showing of Rebel Without A Cause is interrupted by the film breaking, Mia and Seb can simply head off to visit the film’s most famous location, the Griffith Observatory, 2800 East Observatory Road in Griffith Park.
Angelenos like to keep secret that the Observatory is left unlocked with all its lights on overnight, specifically for romantic couples (OK, I’m kidding, right?). The Observatory interior is real enough but the planetarium itself had to be recreated in the studio. The vintage Minolta projector at the centre of the set was rented from the Planetarium Projector Museum, Big Bear Lake. With 17 of the gigantic beasts, this is the largest, and possibly only, collection of planetarium projectors in the world.
Other films featuring the Observatory include the Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy Hollywood satire Bowfinger; Devil In A Blue Dress (again), Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle; the spoofy 1987 film of Dragnet – with Tom Hanks and Dan Aykroyd; The Rocketeer; and, of course, The Terminator.
The stretch of road overlooking the city where Mia and Sebastian tapdance to A Lovely Night is a bend called Cathy’s Corner on Mt Hollywood Drive, just north of Vista Del Valle Drive in Griffith Park. The Mulholland Drive-style street lamps – and the romantic bench – were added for the film.
As the Mia-Seb romance blossoms we get the inevitable montage of LA’s most charming spots for the lovestruck:
The green and shady Griffith Park Fern Dell, Western Canyon Road, in Griffith Park west of the Observatory. It’s accessed from Los Feliz Boulevard.
The rapidly gentrifying Grand Central Market, 317 South Broadway, across from the famous Bradbury Building, famous from Blade Runner (and many other films). Downtown LA's gentrified open-air market features Chinese and Mexican food, coffee shops, wine bars and gourmet treats.
The arched concrete span of the 1913 Colorado Street Bridge, 504 West Colorado Boulevard, carrying the Ventura Freeway across the Arroyo Seco between Eagle Rock and Pasadena.
Watts Towers – now grandly called Simon Rodia State Historic Park, 1765 East 107th Street. The unique collection of spindly, towering home-made monuments were made by Simon Rodia from scrap metal, concrete, tile and glass over 34 years from the 1920s to the 50s.
Even the old Angels Flight Railway, 351 South Hill Street, the short railway which ferried passengers up and down Bunker Hill, was briefly brought back to life for the film. After many years in storage, the old landmark was restored in 1996, but suspended again in 2013 after an accident.
When Mia expresses doubts about Seb’s beloved jazz, he takes her to hear live music at The Lighthouse Café, 30 Pier Avenue, back in in Hermosa Beach. Yes, this really is the places to catch authentic jazz, a traditional venue dating back to 1949.
Feeling pressured, Seb turns from jazz and compromises his principles by joining a band with old associate Keith (John Legend). Their band, The Messengers, get a wildly enthusiastic reception at a gig in the El Rey Theatre, 5515 Wilshire Boulevard, on Midtown’s Miracle Mile.
The theatre at which Mia follows her own star, performing her autobiographical one-woman show, So Long Boulder City, is Fais Do Do, 5257 West Adams Boulevard, at South Cloverdale Avenue, just south of Midtown LA. The same venue became a jazz club for Carl Franklin’s excellent 1995 private eye movie Devil In A Blue Dress, with Denzel Washington.
Time passes and successful actress Mia is staying at the legendary Chateau Marmont, 8221 Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, or so we’re supposed to believe.
The Chateau, providing a haven of privacy for stars, is rarely used for filming. The interior of Mia’s suite was filmed at the Orcutt Ranch, 23600 Roscoe Boulevard, Canoga Park in the San Fernando Valley, a Spanish-style adobe – and a popular wedding venue.
Seb too realises his dream, opening jazz club ‘Seb’s’, where the film winds up. The exterior of the club is Black, 6202 Santa Monica Boulevard at North El Centro Avenue, in Hollywood.
The club interior is actually The Blind Donkey, 149 Linden Avenue in Long Beach, a cool dive bar specialising in a range of whiskies.