While Damien Chazelle‘s La La Land wears its fondness for old school Hollywood productions proudly on its sleeve, his portrayal of present-day Los Angeles is hardly unflattering. It’s a movie so appealing to the eye it’s almost impossible to see nothing except beauty in La La Land, but it captures a genuinely lovely part of the city: it’s a place a lot of driven and passionate people move to every day.
After seeing the film a second time, it made me want to revisit a few movies set in Los Angeles, including Boogie Nights, The Graduate, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and a few others, which all feature some commentary tracks worth listening to.
Below, check out this January’s movie commentary recommendations.
Boogie Nights (featuring writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson )
Why Listen: “I think karate and porno is… how I wanna live my life.”
I would write this is “sadly” one of the only two audio commentaries Paul Thomas Anderson has ever done, but it’s impossible to complain after hearing his one for Boogie Nights. This commentary features a blunt, confident, sincere, and deeply passionate young Anderson discussing his epic sophomore effort. It’s obvious he’s enjoying reminiscing about the ensemble and days from the shoot. Anderson’s love for movies, moviemaking, and the experience of Boogie Nights is always palpable. It’s two and a half hours of listening to a brilliant and hilarious storyteller opening about his influences, sharing great stories about his dad, talking about growing up in the Valley and the porn industry, and much, much more.
What’s Said: With the camerawork, Anderson wasn’t afraid of getting a little flashy. “This is a good story for a lot of show-off moments, and hopefully I took advantage of every single one of them,” he says.
A Day on the Job: The shot of Dirk Diggler checking out during the “Jessie’s Girl” sequence was an unplanned shot and altered the scene, which was originally half as long. “That [shot] was something that just happened,” the director says.
It’s a funny thing, because we planned the whole fucking sequence out to music but I only planned it out to half of ‘Jessie’s Girl.’ I didn’t care about the second half because I knew we’d be out of the house by that point. It turns out, when we kept playing ‘Jessie’s Girl’ over this shot, it got to this wonderful bridge in the song for the whole shootout thing.’ I don’t know if I explained that well, but it was a massive fucking serendipity and coincidence of laying music into the movie, which I couldn’t have fucking planned. I was pretty good at planning the shots out, but not this fucking good.
Trivia: Paul Thomas Anderson’s favorite scene is where Rollergirl asks Amber, “Are you my mom?”
The Graduate (featuring director Mike Nichols and Steven Soderbergh)
Why Listen: Steven Soderbergh asks all the right questions. Mike Nichols tells so many funny, honest, and wonderful stories with the (now-out-of-retirement) director. This a rare commentary where it feels like you’re eavesdropping in on a conversation. It’s a wide-ranging discussion covering the extensive rehearsals, why Dustin Hoffman is a great movie actor, and even Nichols’ problems as a young, less patient filmmaker. You get to learn a tiny bit about the Nichols that made The Graduate and the Nichols that sat down with Soderbergh for this lovely conversation, which has a perfect ending. The Graduate director even knows exactly when to end a commentary on a high note.
What’s Said: When Soderbergh asks Nichols for his thoughts on expectations, and how they play a role in Benjamin and Diane’s lives, he responds with:
My experience of expectations in others and in myself has been that, people who expect wonderful things have serious problems and are truly out of touch with reality. The people that I know, including myself to some extent and you [Soderbergh], if I may, who get things done are people with very low expectations or people who fear the worst certainly of themselves and, to some extent, of the world.
I don’t know anybody of any significant talent that goes into something saying, ‘This is going to be great. I just know it.’ That’s already not an artist talking. The artist fears the worst, and for good reason. Every time the worst doesn’t happen it’s a miracle one more time, which I still believe. I mean, I love my life, and I’ve had the most amazing luck. I can never, ever get used to it. When I go home, I love my home and when I see my wife, who I love, every time I see her, every day I think — it sounds idiotic — why did I get so lucky? What did I ever do to deserve this happiness? It’s very, very hard, as you know, to have a high opinion of yourself, sometimes for moments about something you think that you did that’s okay, sometimes having to do with your kids that you didn’t mess it up completely. I mean, to have great expectations? I think even Dickens was speaking ironically.
A Day on the Job: Nichols credits his unconscious for the film’s final scene. The day he shot the scene, he acted poorly, which helped provoke the unforgettable expressions of horror on Benjamin and Diane’s faces.
For some reason I could not comprehend, I said, ‘Okay, listen, Dustin, Kathryn, we’ve stopped traffic for 20 blocks. You can’t fool around. You gotta get on that bus and laugh. I can’t do it over and over again because we’re not going to get a chance. Just be sure you laugh and you’re happy. They were terrified and deeply upset. I thought, I’m nuts. Why am I doing this to my own actors before the climax? And then when I saw the dailies I thought, Well, that’s why. It literally made itself. When we saw it the next day, we thought, Here it is, here’s the end of the picture. This terror that’s about to happen to them, that was me scaring the crap out of them before we did it. And I didn’t know what I was doing, but I did.
Trivia: Mike Nichols wasn’t a fan of the first song Paul Simon wrote for the film, so the director asked if he had another one he could use. Simon went away with Art Garfunkel and returned with “Mrs. Robinson,” a song originally called “Mrs. Roosevelt.”