La La Land: A Sham?

By Grace Armstrong


La La Land is a 2016 musical-romantic-comedy-drama written and directed by Damien Chazelle, whose work includes 10 Cloverfield Lane and Whiplash. La La Land is the story of Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz musician, attempting to pursue their dreams in modern day Los Angles. They meet, fall in love and try to balance their lives with their dreams. La La Land has won a vast array of awards, some include: “Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy”, “Best Original Score – Motion Picture” and “Best Screenplay – Motion Picture”. Beyond its numerous awards, La La Land has managed to capture the hearts of many. But did it capture mine?

I saw La La Land not expecting much, contrary to many who go in to see it. I managed to avoid the vast advertising and overall hype of the movie. As a result, I had no real expectations going into the movie. I knew it was a musical that Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling were in, but that was about it.

To begin, the cinematography was overall very good, boarding on excellent. The color editing of the movie was absolutely beautiful, the movie felt alive. I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. The movie is clearly trying to capture the essence of 1950s musicals, and I believe that it, for the most part, captures this very well. The choreography is spot on and whimsical. The clothing popped out of the screen and the lighting was almost perfect in every scene. There are many fantastic dance scenes that are beautiful-like the observatory scene. And everyone who’s seen the movie agrees-the ending scene was a powerful mixture of visuals and music.

The actors are, of course, very talented. However, they both suffer from two problems: poor writing and mediocre singing. Mia’s and Sebastian’s romance is contrived and lacking chemistry. They fall in love because they are both failures in their respective art/profession. She uses him to make herself feel better and he uses her to rant about jazz. I personally only liked the moments where they didn’t speak and just danced in silence. Although I personally thought Mia’s character was fine, I was irritated by Sebastian. This jazz purist is just a lazy hipster jerk. He established early on that he wants to have his own jazz club, but he refuses to do any work that would allow him to get that money.

Third, but most importantly, the movie tries to balance the whimsy of a 1950’s musical and the recent trend in more realistic films. Once again, the movie looks fantastic; however, the realism cripples the musical parts. The second half of the movie is basically completely devoid of any musical parts, until Mia randomly bursts out into song. Granted, this may be an artistic choice, but to me, I just forgot it was a musical. Of course, there are many musical-to-film adaptations that are based in realism and have many songs (Les Miserables, Grease, etc.). Les Miserables had its actors sing on set like La La Land, and Les Miserables is oft criticized for its poor quality. However, Les Miserables’s cast are people who are suffering and underfed; its gritty and dark, its music is there to emphasize the pain of characters, the poor singing from suffering people makes sense. For Grease, which is a 1980s nostalgia for 1970s nostalgia for the 1950s, the exaggeration and silliness is to be expected. La La Land’s commitment to reality hurts the movie’s chance in capturing the whimsy aspect of a musical.

To answer my previous question, La La Land did not capture my heart like it did with so many others. It had so much potential, but it failed to balance reality and whimsy, and therefore failed to be the masterpiece it sought to be. This movie was not written with the story in mind, but the story was written around the visuals. Chazelle clearly had an aesthetic and ending in mind for La La Land, and the story was just put in as an excuse for the visuals. Although visuals are a big part of a movie, they alone cannot carry an entire musical, and unfortunately, it wasn’t enough for me.

Grace Armstrong is a first-year at Barnard and contributor for Barnard Bite.


An Evening at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe


By Allison Yeh


Last Friday at 10 o’clock in the evening, I joined my Spanish class in line outside the Nuyorican Poet’s Café on East 3rd between Avenue B and Avenue C. We huddled outside in the cold speaking a mix of English and elementary Spanish. Our teacher, in a black fur coat and boots, whipped a takeout box of French fries from her purse. “No tuvo tiempo para comer, queraís, alguién?” She said as she circled the box under our noses to entice us. I took one since I didn’t have time to eat either.

Inside the café, we were squished into a small box-like space, every inch taken up by a person in a puffy winter coat. It was uncomfortable, yet strangely comforting, knowing so many people had come together to watch the power of words be delivered. Our class split up, weaving our way through bodies towards the tiny stage. I stood on my tip toes, ready for the performance to begin.

The event we were attending was a poetry slam. However, to start the evening, a more well-known poet, Carlos Andrés Gómez, author of Man Up: Cracking the Code of Modern Manhood  came on stage to warm up the crowd with two poems. Gomez’s stage presence and delivery gave me the same chills I get when I hear a singer on the the Voice belting their lungs out (in all the best ways). His second poem, “What’s Genocide” hushed the audience like a graveyard. Once he finished, the crowd hollered, applauded and rushed to get in line for an autographed book.


The poetry slam itself was also inspiring. Three contestants each spoke from their own diverse backgrounds. One spoke of her experience as a black woman in a small town in North Carolina. One young man spoke of his Jewish heritage and his abhorrence of Hebrew school. The last participant (and ultimate winner of the slam) was of Dominican descent and spoke about his working as a public school teacher in Manhattan. The three performers each shared three poems that even though ranged in content, could be connected through the potency of their verbal communication. The poems were not only lyrical, but also advocated for something beyond the brick walls of the space.

To close the night, Whitney Greenaway (an award winning slam poet) recited a poem about how to be a lady, inspired by Jamaica Kincaid’s Girl. Earlier in the night she also performed this.

While the event ended at 2am, probably the longest and latest Spanish class I have ever attended, I left with a new sense of community, a sense of power of words, and a want to look up more slam poetry on Youtube.


Allison is a Sophomore at Barnard and Lead Features Editor of Barnard Bite.



Megachurch in Manhattan

By Ruby Samuels

Have you ever wanted to go to a Sunday mass off campus? Feel too awkward to visit a congregation that you aren’t part of and don’t intend to join? Maybe you aren’t even Christian. I’m certainly not. I was raised on the upper west side of Manhattan, infamous home to the Seinfeld jew. But And yet, I’ve always been curious about what Sunday mass is like. I I never had a real preference for what sort of mass I wanted to attend, whether it’s the kind of beautiful black gospel that Elvis claimed and crowned himself with, or the European type of service that I’ve only seen depicted in movies like Chocolat.

This past Sunday, at 3 in the afternoon, I finally found a mass to attend. I felt a bit awkward going in my beanie and flannel- as though people would say, “look at that secular Jewish girl let loose by herself in a church”- but when I arrived at the church doors I blended in.

In fact, I was more dressed up than many amidst the throngs of people waiting to enter. The sidewalk outside the Manhattan Center where the service would be held looked more like the line outside Stephen Colbert’s Late Show than a church. That’s because this was Hillsong Church, the pop music, purple disco lit, Evangelical megachurch of Manhattan.  

Hillsong’s website must be on some social media intern’s Pinterest board. There are faded Instagram-esque pictures of rock music stages, modern amplified cursive, advertisements for indie rock music records and books, plus several social media links. Hillsong was founded in 1998 in Sydney, Australia by Brian and Bobbie Houston, a couple who believe in Evangelical and Pentacostal Christianity. I was there to do research on a paper about the use of media in religion, so the blonde Australian models singing about Jesus’s blood on a stage that could be mistaken for any major pop music venue was perfect for me. Standing every ten feet were “hosts” dressed in all black, smiling enthusiastically and holding trays full of gold-foil wrapped chocolate eggs. The sermon was delivered by an Australian man with tattoo sleeves, plenty of alcohol-related joked and an African American partner who seemed to be there for to laugh, look very cool and bring diversity points to the Church admin.

To be standing amidst balconies full of people swaying and singing along to the Christian indie-rock was something else. There was an ongoing music video, projected onto a giant screen behind the stage, of guitars, rock-concert stages nature scenes and subtitles so that everyone could participate. At one point, the music video was interrupted with pictures of last year’s “Prom Remix” which is a major fundraising and community building event that happens every February (if you are interested in attending, this year’s Prom is on February 10th and tickets are $10 each).


After Heidi Klum and Chris Martin doppelgangers finished their indie Christian rock concert, a tattooed pastor told a story about his five year old son offering a quarter to his doctor after a regular check up, as a way of instilling moral common sense of giving and reciprocity in the congregation before asking the hosts to “pass those containers around.” He wasn’t what I expected from a pastor, and I realize that he is most likely not a pastor that most of my Christian friends and acquaintances would be familiar with either. He made jokes about day-drinking and references to rap songs. He seemed to be entertaining the congregation first and preaching second. However, he could be appealing to a young Christian population that might not otherwise practice their faith because of outdated church services that cannot compete with modern digital devices and entertainment venues. In any case, Hillsong Church is clearly drawing large crowds of diverse people who are happy and excited to be participating in their own form of modern, media-centric Christianity.

If you are curious, go to 311 W 34th St, New York, NY 10001 on any Sunday at 10am, 12 pm, or 3 pm.

Ruby Samuels is a junior at Barnard and Editor for Barnard Bite