Before writer-director Damien Chazelle embarked on the ambitious, starry-eyed, and Academy Award-winning La La Land (2016), which reinvigorated the modern movie musical, he put his own spin on 1950s classics with Guy And Madeline On A Park Bench (2009), a microbudget feature debut he assembled at just 24 years old. Shooting on 16mm black-and-white in Boston, Chazelle uses a narrative template about competing artistic aspirations comparable to the aforementioned film in the fading, short-term romance between titular trumpeter (actual jazz player Jason Palmer) and waitress/graduate student (Desiree Garcia). As the more assertive Elena (Sandha Khin) steals Guy's attention, the tone slips into something grittier and more elegiac of the lost love that coexists with the film's fantastic forays into symphonic and big band-fueled song and tap-dance numbers (composed by Justin Hurwitz of La La Land).
While the sketched quality of the characters may prove to be a point of criticism, Chazelle elevates their emotional responses and harnesses a distinct sense of spontaneity in the moment with vivacious homages to Shadows (1959) by American indie film legend John Cassavetes and the breadth of the French New Wave in Godard's Band Of Outsiders (1964) and Jacques Demy's The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg (1964). Guy And Madeline holds up as a lavishly modest production—intimate in its frequent handheld close-ups and naturally poetic observations of urban life, but also ecstatic for distinctive, inimitable expression through group choreography. This program, which highlights Chazelle's filmmaking roots, will commence with the original 18-minute Whiplash (2013) that inspired the feature, also starring J.K. Simmons. —Grant Phipps