The largely buoyant movie La La Land was enjoyable enough that I wasn't compelled to go all Jazz Police on it, as I was for writer-director Damien Chazelle's prior effort, the ridiculous Whiplash. But this disinclination is not shared by many in The Discourse, as my friend Tom Carson addresses here, and others address elsewhere that I'm too lazy to search and link to. But a lot of the complaint I've come across really make me nostalgic for the days of "it's only a movie."
To wit: Ryan Gosling's character Sebastian doesn't "save jazz" at the end of the movie. He opens a fucking club. This maybe HELPS save jazz, but does not save jazz in and of itself. But wait there's more, he's a White Man Who Saves Jazz. Having dispensed slightly with the notion that the mere opening of a club does not itself suffice to Save Jazz, well, it is simply a fact that lots of white folks, from Leo Gordon to those three wacky former schoolteachers who had a go at Sweet Basil (well do I remember one night in the early 90s when some German tourists talked loudly through a Jimmy Giuffre Trio set, thus killing jazz) have opened jazz clubs. But wait, Ryan Gosling as a white man should not be portraying a player of jazz at all, because cultural appropriation and all. Well. It's true that jazz is an African American creation, but it's also true that, much more so than with rhythm and blues or rock and roll, that whites, from Mezz Mezzrow to Bix Beiderbecke to the Boswell Sisters, were Present At Its Various Creations. It's kind of funny to read writers who wouldn't be able to make it through Side A of Monkey Pockie Boo get haughty about this. Not even Amiri Baraka was this doctrinaire; he didn't ask Roswell Rudd to leave the bandstand before getting up with the New York Art Quartet to read "Black Dada Nihilismus."
This state of affairs becomes even more befuddling when one remembers the infamous Buzzfeed "What's The Deal With Jazz" listicle, in which all the visual examples of jazz practitioners were white people, the writer cannily saving her desire to puke at Miles Davis and Charles Mingus for her prose-only coda.
In any event, as somebody once said to somebody else, "Lighten up. Smoke a joint."
Some of my critical colleagues have been expressing dismay in social media that some prominent commentators have blinded themselves to Martin Scorsese's magnificent Silence on the grounds of "Meh, religion," or, more strongly put, "Religion sucks," or, "Both sides do it so why doesn't the movie show the depredations of the Catholic Church." This is unfortunate but I think actually more unavoidable than the La La Land nonsense. The La La Land detractors ridiculously blow up the movie's "chase your dreams" metaphors; the anti-Silence folks pick nits that are either non-existent or entirely beside the point, conveniently skirting the fact that this is an adaptation of a Japanese novel. My opinion on this may be suspect because I was raised Catholic but for me the specifics of the apostasy took second place to larger and even more moving themes. That is, I eventually intuited something beyond Catholicism versus the shogunate and vice-versa. Past faith, I felt Silence addressing issues of will, free will, and whether there really is such a thing as human freedom. The questions it presents, I thought, were more moving and unsettling for the cinematic form in which they were presented. If you're looking at it and going down a list of the things you think it should be showing you because of the cultural baggage you want it to carry (and I'm not saying that the movie is inconsiderate of that cultural baggage—it's not), then you're not going to get it, and too bad.
A lot of people on my side of the fence insist that the concept of "virtue-signaling" is entirely reactionary but I'm not so sure.