The first scene in La La Land is an homage to Federico Fellini’s masterpiece 8½. In the first scene of 8½ the lead character Guido is stuck in a traffic jam and everyone is staring at him, creating a trapped feeling. Guido then begins to daydream of him flying until he is forced to snap back into reality. We see something very similar in La La Land, a traffic jam turns into a large musical number about the Hollywood dream and then it snaps back into reality. We see our lead character Mia and witness her reality, her frustrations and struggles. Like La La Land, 8½ is set in the movie business (in Italy though, not Hollywood).
La La Land also takes influence from the musical Sweet Charity, which is based off Federico Fellini’s 1957 realist film Nights of Cabiria. The number in La La Land “Someone in the Crowd” takes inspiration from the number “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This” in Sweet Charity. As you can see in the photo, Mia and her friends whip their colorful dresses around the same way Charity and her friends do in Sweet Charity.
Perhaps the film’s most obvious influence comes from the musicals of the French director Jacques Demy. Jacques Demy was one of the most prominent directors of the French New Wave, which is considered by most film historians, film critics and filmmakers as the most important film movement of all time. The French New Wave is known for its rule-breaking techniques and its post-modernist style, which is rather than trying to make the audience forget they are watching a film, it tries to remind them that they are. You can see this in La La Land in that while the characters emotions all feel real and we can relate to them and feel for them, it still never forgets that it is a musical and creates a world of its own.
The world that is made in La La Land is very much influenced by the world that Jacques Demy created in many of his films. The most obvious connection is the bright colors and buildings. In Jacques Demy’s magnum opus The Umbrellas of Cherbourg there are also titles telling us the time of year just like in La La Land. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg also has a bittersweet ending with the lovers split apart seeing each other for the first time in years.
Vincente Minnelli is the director of many classic musicals such as An American in Paris, Gigi, and Meet Me in St. Louis. La La Land borrows his style of surreal feeling song and dance sequences. The musical numbers feel as if they are stepping away from reality and when they end, they are going back into reality just like in La La Land. It borrows this as well as many visual references to An American in Paris.
Singin’ in the Rain:
The most obvious reference to Singin’ in the Rain is in the number “A Lovely Night” when Ryan Gosling’s character swings around a street light just like in the famous sequence in Singin’ in the Rain when Gene Kelly jumps up on a street light singing “Singing in the Rain”. Many of the scenes in the “Epilogue” are reminiscent of the “Broadway Melody” ballad in Singin’ in the Rain.
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers:
The best place to start watching the movies that influenced this film is with the films of Fred and Ginger. Damien Chazelle had the cast and crew of La La Land watch Top Hat before filming to understand what style he was going for. Chazelle also wanted to have the chemistry be like the chemistry between Fred and Ginger. Chazelle has also cited Fred and Ginger as an influence on the dance sequences in La La Land.
The films of Audrey Hepburn and West Side Story:
Damien Chazelle, the director of La La Land said that in many of his dance sequences he was going for a “Jerome Robbins-style”. Jerome Robbins is the director of West Side Story. Emma Stone follows a similar acting style to Audrey Hepburn. She also has a similar sounding voice to her. She did this to try to capture the 50s-60s musical feel more. Also in the “Epilogue” sequence the colorful balloons are reminiscent of the Audrey Hepburn musical Funny Face.