Writer-director Damien Chazelle takes on the dream factory

Director Damien Chazelle © Vera Anderson/WireImage

We couldn’t be significantly additional from California. It is a chilly autumn day in London, the only singing emanates from the odd off-crucial busker and Damien Chazelle has the sniffles. How as opposed to the opening of La La Land, his Los Angeles-set musical about chasing dreams, and its toe-tapping first number “Another Day of Sun” in which gridlocked Angelinos climb atop their vehicles to sing and dance, and lovebirds Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone 1st lock eyes.

The outlook for Chazelle looks no much less sunny. At 31, the American writer-director already has one particular huge hit to his name — 2014’s Whiplash — and the new film seems set to surpass it. Ahead of our meeting, camera crews lie in wait for him and a publicist asks me to make myself scarce while he autographs posters. La La Land is expected to safe a raft of Oscar nominations this month, and is the bookies’ favourite to win leading gongs, including Ideal Picture and Greatest Director.

If any of this is going to Chazelle’s head, it does not show. He arrives wearing jeans, an olive green jumper and the faintest goatee, hunting somewhere among Ivy League grad (which he is), geek and hipster. His grin is frequent and infectious, his sense of humour appealingly goofy.

One particular gets the feeling that all the adulation hasn’t however fairly sunk in. Did the achievement of Whiplash take him by surprise? “A small bit,” he says. “I didn’t consider it would ever be a crowd-pleaser, I genuinely thought it would be a depressing movie that pummels you into pulp . . . But then I realised: of course, it’s a sports movie in a lot of techniques, and it follows that template.”

Whiplash, which followed the trials of an ambitious young drummer at the hands of a brutish conservatory teacher, provoked powerful audience reactions. After the screening I attended, a lot of folks emerged visibly shaken — it was more like the aftermath of a horror film, I inform him. “No 1 knew how terrifying jazz drumming could be,” Chazelle chuckles. “It was terrifying to me when I was a jazz drummer, so I was glad to attempt to impart some of that knowledge, perhaps somewhat sadistically.”

The cast of his new Oscar contender ‘La La Land’ © Dale Robinette

Music came before the films. Born in Rhode Island, Chazelle pursued drumming at school prior to studying film-making at Harvard, exactly where he met composer Justin Hurwitz, who has offered the scores for all his films so far. Whiplash, only Chazelle’s second film, took the leading prizes at the Sundance Film Festival and went on to scoop 3 Oscars — for sound mixing, editing, and for JK Simmons as Greatest Supporting Actor.

But Chazelle knew complete properly that numerous ascendant film-makers have seasoned whiplash of yet another type: seeing their careers take off only to be quickly rear-ended by the rapidly-moving and fickle movie enterprise. “Right right after Sundance, my producers and I in LA had been frantically setting up meetings for La La Land since you’re worried that the window is going to close any minute,” he recalls.

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It helped that Chazelle already had the script for La La Land in his pocket. In truth, while numerous assumed Whiplash to be his debut, he had already produced a single jazz-flavoured musical, his 2009 student film Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench.

That, nevertheless, had not been the easiest ride: “One time, I stepped into a theatre where you just sense the complete theatre, it’s about 300 folks, are just buzzing with vitriol, due to the fact they had been so angry with the film. You’d think I’d made torture porn or anything — it was a jazz musical.”

But it clearly wasn’t sufficient to put him off revisiting the genre, and La La Land is super-confident film-generating on a grand scale, with big, showstopping musical numbers, daring shifts in tone, sweeping camera moves and a dizzying final crescendo-montage.

Taking on a cherished genre such as the musical, especially 1 that self-consciously references MGM classics and Jacques Demy, brings with it inherent risks. Even in paying homage, Chazelle set himself up for comparisons. Was he ever nervous about that?

“Yes, but I’m convinced that the genre has so considerably to tell us now,” he says. “That this is not an outdated genre. That performing a musical of this ilk is not just an homage, that you can genuinely make a case for these tropes current right now, and in fact commenting on right now. That, to me, was what was thrilling about it.”

Miles Teller and JK Simmons in Chazelle’s ‘Whiplash’ (2014)

One of La La Land’s strengths is that, for all its old-fashioned flourishes, it inhabits an LA that is recognisably contemporary and at least partly grounded in reality. Chazelle himself lived the outsider knowledge of both Gosling and Stone’s characters: the struggling musician and the greenhorn with film-globe aspirations. “I moved to LA . . . played some drums and got fired from the band I was playing in. At the very same time, I was trying to turn out scripts, and none of them were going anyplace,” he recalls.

As a result the film captures the allure of LA but is not blind to its dead ends. “You create this partnership to the city at the time, and it was a tense relationship . . . an alternately inspiring and crushing experience.”

The identical could be stated of La La Land, which, though undeniably romantic, proves to be more of an emotional rollercoaster than some reviews might have you think. “Every time I make a film and I believe it’s a bummer, men and women say it’s happy,” Chazelle observes.

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I tell him that I worried halfway via that it may collapse into sentimental mush and was pleased that it took some unexpected turns. “The aliens attacking!” he exclaims. “I adore the surprise of that.” I didn’t see that coming, I admit. “I didn’t feel you would.” Nor the chainsaw massacre. “Well, the chainsaw, I was worried that that was predictable, but I think throwing in the aliens with the chainsaw and the zombie apocalypse — how can you anticipate that to occur in a musical?” How does he come up with this stuff, I ask. “I’m really creative, extremely forward-thinking,” he deadpans.

We may have to wait for the DVD for these out-requires, but even the theatrical version leads the public on a merry dance. “If you are trained to be smiling and laughing for the very first chunk of the movie . . . you don’t see the knife coming,” says Chazelle. But he insists that his true intention was to reflect the vicissitudes of life. “I felt like there was a way that the joy and the heartbreak could coexist.”

Right here, as well, Chazelle may have drawn on private encounter. He married his Harvard sweetheart Jasmine McGlade in 2010 but the couple divorced in 2014. In Whiplash the main protagonist breaks off a partnership that threatens to get in the way of his drumming, and in La La Land a single of the crucial dramatic moments entails a choice among pursuing expert or romantic dreams. Does he feel there has to be a trade-off?

“I’ve only recently been lucky enough to really feel like they don’t have to be mutually exclusive,” he says. “But I was, for a large part of my life, that kind of hermit, a little bit like Ryan’s character at the starting of the film: ‘Fuck the world, I’m going to stay in my space and write the next fantastic American screenplay’.”

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in a scene from the film © Dale Robinette

Surely he now seems to be living the Hollywood dream, working with the likes of Stone, Gosling and musician John Legend. Does he still get star-struck? “Yes, I do. I’m star-struck right now,” he says, referring to his audience with the FT. In that case, I say, he truly does have a low threshold. “I nevertheless get it very easily . . . I was talking with Ryan about another project just earlier nowadays, and in my head I pinched myself. I get to make movies with this guy? What?”

His intention was to reflect the vicissitudes of life, ‘a way that the joy and the heartbreak could coexist’

It’s refreshing to meet a director who nonetheless appears genuinely unjaded, even giddy, about getting able to explore his fantasies in the massive sandbox of Hollywood. But I wonder if his youth ever works against him.

“There are situations where I wasn’t taken seriously,” he says. But, offered Hollywood’s “obsession with the new and the young”, he reckons the impact is “net neutral”.

1 point that may assist, I recommend, would be possessing a Ideal Director or Greatest Picture Oscar under his belt. “To beat individuals with it physically?” he laughs. “It’s too heavy to do that with.” I’ve never ever held one particular, I inform him, but he might quickly. For a moment he appears unusually reticent. With La La Land the large Oscar favourite, surely he cannot avoid talking about it. “I attempt not to,” he says. Does he dare even believe about it? A pause. “Yes.”

‘La La Land’ is out in the US now and is released in the UK on January 13

Photographs: Vera Anderson/WireImage Dale Robinette

Section: Arts

Inside Raqib Shaw’s fantasy factory

The artist, whose work of ‘extravagant artifice’ marries eastern and western art, talks about life in his exotic studio

Shaw photographed in his studio earlier this month©Trent McMinn

Shaw photographed in his studio earlier this month

At the western end of Peckham Higher Street, the mobile phone shops and rapidly food give way to a bleak thoroughfare of boarded-up frontages. A single hoarding, topped with metal spikes, has a tiny gate. Pass through that low door and the cacophony of south London is stilled. Thousands of tulips shoot up from terracotta pots, abundant forsythia bloom vibrant yellow, waterfalls cascade in grottos there are ferns, azaleas, magnolias, plants climbing walls and tumbling from roof terraces.

“I consider the outdoors globe is a bit traumatising,” opens Raqib Shaw, owner of this urban Hanging Garden of Babylon. He acquired the derelict former sausage factory five years ago: “It was raining outside and inside SE15 wasn’t fancy then and, my dear, I got it for next to nothing at all. I by no means leave the studio. I said goodbye to my beautiful family in 1992: see you never! They are all filthy merchants, quite sophisticated, they realize. Almost everything has to be offered to art. Would you like a glass of champagne?”

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Short and slight, Shaw, in jeans below an orange sarong, tight-fitting cardigan and brown cap, saunters with darting elegance in between his roses. “These are grown at Highgrove, absolutely everyone knows the Prince of Wales is one of the ideal gardeners in the country. I wish I could say that of his water­colours, ha ha ha!”

With the faintest Indian accent and the odd stutter, Shaw speaks with the arch, self-mocking precision of Evelyn Waugh’s Anthony Blanche — until he laughs, when a shrieking hyena yell convulses his entire body.

I recognise his agile kind and almond-shaped face from current paintings such as“Self-Portrait in the Studio at Peckham”, shown last year in Paris and subject of a forthcoming White Cube exhibition. In these, decked out in ornamental kimono, head thrown back in ecstasy/prayer, surrounded by cavorting human/animal/mythical hybrids — skeleton-fairies, seahorse-devils — Shaw casts himself as an oriental, contemporary St Jerome, meditating on palaces and pagodas in compositions echoing Old Masters at the National Gallery: Antonello da Messina, Hendrick van Steenwyck the Younger.

“I utilized to reside in the National Gallery. I completely adore Holbein,” Shaw says.

Born in 1974, he grew up in Kashmir and dreamt of becoming an English literature teacher. In 1998, he arrived at Central Saint Martins, the London art college, “where they said, ‘Oh please, only art theory!’ Painting was the most unfashionable factor — we were lesser beings.”

When he reached 30, his erotic, fantastical, Bosch-inspired “Garden of Earthly Delights” paintings made his name New York’s Museum of Modern day Art acquired a 4-metre, crystal-and-rhinestone-bedecked example. Shaw’s paintings now fetch seven figures.

Raqib Shaw’s ‘Self-Portrait in the Study at Peckham, after Vincenzo Catena (Kashmir Version)’ (2015)©Raqib Shaw/White Cube

Raqib Shaw’s ‘Self-Portrait in the Study at Peckham, soon after Vincenzo Catena (Kashmir Version)’ (2015)

His most current project is an ambitious series, such as “Self-portrait as Bottom (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)” — Shaw with ass’s head, picnicking amongst snake-oozing hampers under grimacing trees — and “Act 3 in the Organ Area at Glyndebourne (Die Meister­singer)”, featuring a swan boat piloted by a mole-rat and Shaw as a turbaned baboon, for display at the Glyndebourne Festival.

It is fusion art of a international, moneyed age: the extravagant artifice of Shaw’s technique, which is primarily based on Indian miniatures and ancient Asian cloisonné — he paints with a porcupine quill and uses fine gold outlines — meets at operatic scale western traditions: Surrealism, Pop, Watteau’s fêtes galantes, Shakespeare, Britten, Wagner.

“As the planet becomes smaller sized, folks no longer come from a single culture or an additional,” Shaw muses. “This east-west blend: if I perform hard enough to the end, I hope something considerable or meaningful will come. You can never ever make a best painting — that’s why you make one more a single. We all have to believe in anything. I don’t know no matter whether the art is good. On my deathbed I will say that I gave these factors all I had, and if it’s not excellent enough . . . ” He sighs. “Shall we see my dwelling?”

A Jack Russell — also familiar it is represented alongside Shaw in each and every painting — bounds up as we enter the salon, a 25-metre space lined on one particular side with mirrors, on the other with dried hydrangeas. There are Persian carpets from “my ex-family”, hundreds of crimson candles in brass holders, plants trailing everywhere, a grand piano. I settle on a red-gold chaise longue the dog nestles up and sniffs my notebook — he bit the final interviewer — even though Shaw nods at a handsome youth playing Bach.

“May I introduce you to young Adam? Adam is how I utilised to be in 1999: totally penniless, slaving away, he’s Mr Poor, plays the piano all day. Art, it is a passion and a curse. What a life of suffering. Do not play for any person!”

To Adam: “Play for your self. If you want praise, go to Hollywood, or be a rent boy, ha ha ha! The greatest thing is to get away from society and mankind.”

But then again, “The worst point is living in the studio. I want to believe I can be in a relationship, that there’s hope!” He says he has not had sex for 18 years. “I have no buddies. Time passes quickly since each and every day is the exact same. All we speak about here is art. This is the closest to a genuine Renaissance atelier — except the children are not abused, ha ha ha!”

Assistants — “No, that is too pink, darling, it will be ice lolly,” he says to 1 mixing paint — fill the studio full-time gardeners are in and out of the terraces, salon and a conservatory incongruously overlooked by Peckham’s tower blocks. This boasts a bonsai forest — “Bonsais are the hardest issue ever. Hunting soon after them is harder than generating paintings 1 has to have a one-to-one particular relationship with them” — crab-apple trees crossed with plums, and purple orchids, “the Himalayan selection I never thought they would flower here”.

‘Self-portrait as Bottom (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)’ (2016)©Raqib Shaw/White Cube

‘Self-portrait as Bottom (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)’ (2016)

The Himalayas constitute Shaw’s temps perdu, informing every quill-mark. “I grew up in Kashmir. It was extremely beautiful. I’ll constantly miss it. When God created Kashmir, it was so extremely lovely that he didn’t know what to do — so he made the Kashmiris so they could fuck the place up, ha ha ha! My generation was the last to see Kashmir as it was ahead of the civil war.”

In one particular incomplete painting, in the studio, he has begun to obliterate a gorgeous frieze — “it has to go” — for a battle of crows, “like human beings devouring each and every other”. Terror and fundamentalism have replaced Kashmir’s Muslim-Hindu-Buddhist melting pot, and one particular reads Shaw’s wild, decadent dystopias, emblematic of hedonist consumption, also as claims to freedom, as well as photos of memory itself.

We finish at a crate containing his monumental painting “Paradise Lost”, locked away due to the fact “it will never be finished”, and a new “Self-Portrait in the Study at Peckham, following Vincenzo Catena (Kashmir Version)”, exactly where a downcast Shaw, leopard curled at his feet, cradles the Jack Russell ahead of a Himalayan vista.

“That is the view from Mummy’s window, and that is my school playground, and that is my grandfather’s carpet. If all you do is this, it is only all-natural that the studio seems — the studio to which my life has quite graciously decreased itself. [Art] extracts each and every bit of existence from you — that’s the promise of the divine.”

Raqib Shaw at Glyndebourne, May possibly 21-August 28, glyndebourne.com Raqib Shaw, White Cube, London, July 13-September 11, whitecube.com

Photographs: Trent McMinn Raqib Shaw/White Cube

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Section: Arts

Funny Girl, Menier Chocolate Factory, London — ‘Wonderful, but . . .’

Sheridan Smith, centre, in 'Funny Girl'. Photo: Marc Brenner©Marc Brenner

Sheridan Smith, centre, in ‘Funny Girl’. Photo: Marc Brenner

Sheridan Smith is already a British national treasure at the age of 34. A organic comedian on stage and tv and an outstanding musical actress, she has also won an Olivier award for her performance in Terence Rattigan’s Flare Path . She would seem a organic match for the function of Fanny Brice in this revival of the 1964 Jule Styne/Bob Merrill musical about the star of the Ziegfeld Follies and her relationship with gambler Nick Arnstein. But Smith, in Michael Mayer’s production at the Menier Chocolate Factory, somehow doesn’t get there.

It might be the inherent Jewishness of subject and remedy alike: Smith offers us pert when what is necessary is brash. It requires a specific sort of defiant Brooklyn sardonicism to get away with a lyric in a initial world war propaganda quantity like: “I’m by means of and by way of red, white and bluish/I speak this way due to the fact I’m . . . British.” The non-rhyme might be faux-coy, but the obvious “real” rhyme is wholly unapologetic. Similarly, impassioned argument scenes and numbers such as “Don’t Rain on my Parade” need to be belted out, not basically in fidelity to Barbra Streisand, who originated the part on each stage and screen, but since that’s what the material demands. Smith only begins to unleash her complete power on the final couple of bars of “Parade” and its reprise.


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The performers may possibly be reining in due to the fact of the intimate size of the Menier, just before unmuzzling themselves on the show’s transfer to the West Finish next year (which had been announced even ahead of this initial run began, promoting out inside a day). Likewise, it at times feels as if we are right here seeing only the bottom half of Michael Pavelka’s set style.

The show (original functioning title My Man, following one particular of Brice’s signature numbers) has a dual focus: it is about each Brice and Arnstein. It also whitewashes their history together: we see Brice sharing what is in effect her initial kiss with him, when in reality she was already divorced by then, and he is portrayed as a risky wheeler-dealer rather than an outright conman.

Darius Campbell (formerly Danesh) is marvellous at adorning a stage, but he nonetheless can not really act. As Arnstein, his voice is smooth as chocolate, but it is commercial chocolate that most likely wouldn’t meet the EU needs to carry the name. As for Smith, she is by no means much less than wonderful, but this time she’s not very the correct sort of wonderful.

To March five, menierchocolatefactory.com

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Section: Arts