From blood sweat and tears to the theme of struggling artists trying to make their dreams come true, Damien Chazelle’s directorial signature on his films is hard to miss. The anxiety, intensity, and chaos of perfectionism when creating art keep us coming back to his films time and time again. Dodge College hosted a lovely Q&A with Chazelle along with a screening of his directorial feature debut Whiplash.

At the Q&A, when asked about which parent had a bigger push on his eventual entry into the film industry, he gave both parents equal credit for their influence. His mother, a medieval historian, was just as in love with movies as many film students at Dodge are. She was the one who introduced him to animated Disney films at a young age.

His father, a computer science professor at Princeton University, never liked movies; however, he is a passionate lover of American music — specifically jazz — and that helped to shape Chazelle’s love of jazz from an early age.

“I don’t really remember a time before wanting to make art of some kind. It didn’t matter to me if movies were ‘art’ or not, I wanted to do that.” 

I am a huge fan of La La Land. Something about Mia and Sebastian’s journey makes me feel alive. Their story makes me feel thankful to be human in a day and age where movies have the power to change the world. You can tell Damien Chazelle has been dreaming of a place like this for a very long time, and he finally has had the opportunity to create the world of Hollywood as he sees it.

This is why it was a shock to me and many viewers when we first saw Babylon. Side by side, you can see a clear shift in tone from a fairytale/dreamlike outlook from the “city of stars” to the gruesome depictions of how quickly the industry can raise artists up and tear them right back down. While some people were appalled at Chazelle’s tone in the film, I was impressed. It takes a lot of guts to criticize an industry that you work in, one that you consistently place at the center of your films, and one that you evidently love more than anything. It is brave, and his team executed his vision with such precision and perfection. No other director with such adoration and understanding for the craft could have made a film that is both so beautifully sewn together but also so profoundly dark. In this world, you have to be able to take in the good and the evil. Only some are willing to confront those demons head-on like the team in Babylon did.

Originally Chazelle was meant to join us last semester alongside his composer and creative partner, Justin Hurwitz, but he and his wife Olivia Hamilton welcomed their second child. He now has two jobs to balance: being one of Hollywood’s biggest directors and being a father. He says the latter is harder.

If you would like to read more about Babylon, click here to read about the advanced screening of Babylon last year at Dodge College along with a recap of the Q&A with Justin Hurwitz!

Keep an eye out for the rest of Dodge’s Master Classes this semester!