Damien Chazelle: Shy mu­si­cian turned Hol­ly­wood dar­ling

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - ENTERTAINMENT - By FRANKIE TAG­GART in Los An­ge­les Agence France-Presse Show­girls,

For a man whose movies burst with bravado and swag­ger, Damien Chazelle is dis­arm­ingly shy, but the film­maker is find­ing him­self in­creas­ingly in the spot­light as the awards pile up.

The 31-year-old di­rec­tor’s lat­est movie La La Land, a sump­tu­ous mu­si­cal throw­back to the hal­cyon days of Old Hol­ly­wood, came away with seven stat­uettes at last Sun­day’s Golden Globes, more than any other film in the show’s his­tory.

Vet­eran film critic Anne Thomp­son, awards ed­i­tor for movie blog IndieWire, de­scribes the youngest ever re­cip­i­ent of the best di­rec­tor award as the kind of film­maker who is re­spected not just by re­view­ers but also by his peers in the in­dus­try.

“Damien Chazelle is a young ver­sion of Quentin Tarantino or Martin Scors­ese — a gifted film nerd, su­per smart, who knows the classics well enough to de­con­struct them and put them back to­gether again in fresh new ways,” Thomp­son says. “He’s not pre­ten­tious. He’s had to strug­gle to get where he is.”

It is likely to be a mem­o­rable year for Chazelle, as ev­ery Golden Globes best di­rec­tor over the last decade — with the lone ex­cep­tion of Ben Af­fleck in 2013 — has gone on to win the Os­car.

“It took six years to get the movie go­ing. All of this is just so sur­real. The dream come true was lit­er­ally the first day of shoot­ing. All of this is even more sur­real,” he told jour­nal­ists back­stage at the Globes.

Stage fright

A na­tive of Rhode Is­land, Chazelle was born to Celia Martin, a writer, and French-Amer­i­can Bernard Chazelle, a pi­o­neer­ing com­puter sci­en­tist and a huge jazz and blues fan.

In­spired at a very young age by Ed­ward Zwick’s epic civil war film Glory (1989), Chazelle had al­ways planned to be­come a film­maker but took up jazz drum­ming in high school, be­com­ing ob­sessed and prac­tic­ing up to eight hours a day.

It wasn’t un­til he started read­ing vis­ual stud­ies at Har­vard that he re­al­ized his true call­ing was film­mak­ing.

Chazelle wrote, pro­duced, co-shot and di­rected the lion’s share of his first fea­ture, jazz mu­si­cal Guy and Made­line on a Park Bench, while he was still an un­der­grad­u­ate.

He con­tin­ued play­ing the drums at Har­vard, where he was in a band with Justin Hur­witz, who would even­tu­ally join the crew of La La Land, win­ning the best orig­i­nal song Golden Globe for pen­ning the in­fec­tious City of Stars.

But Chazelle had al­ways suf­fered from crip­pling stage fright be­fore per­for­mances and came to ac­cept that his nerves would con­tinue to be an ob­sta­cle to a ca­reer in mu­sic.

“I couldn’t han­dle the par­tic­u­lar kind of ter­ror that came from per­form­ing on a stage or per­form­ing pe­riod,” he said at a re­cent round­table dis­cus­sion for di­rec­tors the Hol­ly­wood Re­porter.

Chazelle says he still gets ner­vous di­rect­ing, or even watch­ing screen­ings, and is “in awe of ac­tors” who are “bet­ter at han­dling it than I am.”

Nos­tal­gia

Nev­er­the­less, his ex­pe­ri­ences as an as­pir­ing drum­mer were the in­spi­ra­tion for his darkly comic sec­ond fea­ture Whiplash (2014) — the in­tense story of the stormy re­la­tion­ship be­tween a bul­ly­ing teacher and his jazz drum­ming stu­dent.

The movie swept up tro­phies on the film fes­ti­val cir­cuit and won three Os­cars, in­clud­ing for best sup­port­ing ac­tor for J.K. Sim­mons, and nom­i­na­tions for best pic­ture and for Chazelle’s screen­play.

All the while Chazelle, who has writ­ing cred­its for The Last Ex­or­cism Part II, Grand Piano (both 2013) and last year’s hit sci-fi thriller 10 Clover­field Lane, har­bored the am­bi­tion to make a mu­si­cal.

He said in an in­ter­view in 2014 of his nos­tal­gia for the golden age of cin­ema and mu­si­cal come­dies, per­formed by the likes of Jac­ques Demy, Ginger Rogers, Fred As­taire, and Gene Kelly.

“It was the last gen­er­a­tion who danced to jazz, just be­fore rock. The 1930s to the 1960s is an era which means a lot to me, not only cin­e­mat­i­cally but mu­si­cally,” he says.

Next up for Chazelle is First Man, a biopic on Neil Armstrong, with shoot­ing ex­pected to be­gin early this year and La La Land star Ryan Gosling due to play the iconic as­tro­naut.

He’s not pre­ten­tious. He’s had to strug­gle to get where he is.”

Anne Thomp­son, awards ed­i­tor for movie blog IndieWire

KEVIN WIN­TER / GETTY IMAGES / AFP

Ac­tress Olivia Hamil­ton and di­rec­tor Damien Chazelle at­tend the 74th An­nual Golden Globe Awards in Bev­erly Hills, Cal­i­for­nia.

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