Damien Chazelle loves music. Especially jazz. First there was his black-and-white debut, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench (2009) that reimagined the MGM musical tradition. He wrote 2013’s under-rated thriller Grand Piano starring Elijah Wood. Then came Whiplash (2014), the powerhouse feature about a gifted drummer and his sadistic mentor, followed by La La Land (2016) that took the musical genre and exploded it into an Oscar-scooping riot of colour and sound.
Now Chazelle has Jack Thorne’s Netflix series The Eddy, on which he directed the all-important first two episodes. It’s a long way from La La Land’s ingenues as he transposes us into the deep culture of the Parisian jazz scene where music is almost a religion and certainly the backdrop and soundtrack to the characters’ lives. As described by Variety, this is the part of Paris ‘where North African immigrants and descendants of France’s fraught colonial history are pushed into ugly high-rises on the wrong side of the tracks.’
It’s not just the club music on the soundtrack – Chazelle has a sensibility about sound that turns everything into a music score, from the staccato noise of traffic to the characters’ dialogue. The multicultural setting and the street and club locations add their own counterpoint rhythms. Chazelle also opted for a ‘riffing’ style of shoot where the camera weaves in and out of tight and loose closeups and the mise-en-scene is all dark streets and club interiors pumped for accent with glowing lights. In spite of the frequent loops back to club performances, the series is a drama about musicians rather than a musical per se.
It all comes down to how much you are into jazz and how far you can sympathise with the main character, Elliot, played with suppressed intensity by André Holland (Moonlight). He is a once famous and respected jazz master who now runs The Eddy, a struggling nightclub, and is desperate for a record deal for the club’s band. This puts pressure on everyone around him, including singer/girlfriend Maja (Joanna Kulig, so brilliant in Cold War) who he bullies with his perfectionism, to the daughter and ex-wife he has left behind in New York. The daughter’s arrival on his doorstep is an early and obvious pressure point.
His business partner Farid (A Prophet’s Tahar Rahim) is the affable counterpoint character, though we quickly discover his dealings aren’t all above board. In the end, we have to want Elliot’s redemption, as prickly and perverse as he is.
Glen Ballard, who helped Alanis Morissette win a Grammy for Jagged Little Pill and veteran cinema composer Randy Kerber bring a formidable original musical set with songs for The Eddy’s band to perform live throughout.
The script, which could have dropped into soap opera banality in less skilled hands, has the benefit of the hugely talented Jack Thorne (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and His Dark Materials).
Check out the first episode, you’ll soon know if Chazelle’s world is one you want to stay in. What’s certain is that he’s a writer/director who always gives everything to his projects, just as he did to his early music career. In an interview with FilmInk at the Whiplash premiere in Sundance, Chazelle said, “The film came from my experience as a drummer, and how I felt when suddenly music felt like life and death… I wanted the concert to feel the same way, as though you were really going to die in battle.”
And that’s jazz!
The Eddy premieres at 5pm on May 8, 2020