Born on January 19, 1985 in Providence, Rhode Island, Damien Chazelle is a Harvard-educated musician, director and screenwriter who made his feature film debut in 2009 with a jazz-inspired musical Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench. He received significant acclaim a few years later with Whiplash, a drama about a jazz drummer and his abusive teacher, which received several Oscar nominations. Then in 2016, Chazelle made a huge mark with the box office hit La La Land, a modern movie musical, which won seven Golden Globes, including a best director nod for Chazelle. The film was also nominated for a record 14 Oscars, earning Chazelle the Academy Award for Best Director, making him the youngest filmmaker to receive the prize at the age of 32,
Background and Education
Damien Chazelle was born on January 19, 1985 in Providence, Rhode Island. The child of university professors, Chazelle grew up in Princeton, New Jersey, and went on to attend the local high school, where he was a skilled jazz drummer in the school band. He later attended Harvard University, eventually choosing to focus on film and directing projects for the institution’s Department of Visual and Environmental Studies. Chazelle graduated in 2007 after taking time off.
Breakthrough With 'Whiplash'
As director/screenwriter, Chazelle made his feature length film debut with 2009’s Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, a musical shot in black and white that looked at the romance between a trumpeter and two women. Continuing to rely on jazz as a primary narrative thread, Chazelle’s next feature was the 2014 drama Whiplash, which, like Guy and Madeline, was originally created as a short. Based on some of Chazelle’s own experiences in high school, the film features a young conservatory drummer, portrayed by Miles Teller, who enters into an abusive working relationship with an unrelenting instructor, played by J.K. Simmons. The film was a critical hit and received five Academy Award nominations, winning three, including a supporting actor Oscar for Simmons.
'La La Land' Success
Chazelle spent several years making his next film La La Land, which became an unexpected hit at the box office. The film is an homage to old-school Hollywood musicals—particularly conveyed by an opening song and dance number that takes place on a Los Angeles freeway—as well as to the works of French director Jacques Demy, most notably The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) and The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967). In La La Land, Emma Stone portrays a struggling actress who becomes romantically involved with a jazz pianist devoted to purity of the genre, played by Ryan Gosling. The film co-stars Simmons as well as singer/songwriter John Legend, who also served as executive producer.
Though regarded as a risky prospect by studios, La La Land has proven to be highly popular, earning more than $340 million at the global box office as of late February 2017. (The movie earned significantly more abroad than it did in the U.S.) La La Land swept all of its categories and won a record seven Golden Globes in January 2017, including a best director prize for Chazelle, as well as best picture in the comedy/musical category. Yet even with the accolades, the film has faced significant cultural pushback, including criticisms over the lack of depth for the female lead, as well as the movie premise, and the positioning of a white male protagonist as the savior of jazz amid African-American musicians.
La La Land has received a record 14 Oscar nominations, tying for the most nominations with the films All About Eve (1950) and Titanic (1997). Chazelle won the Oscar for Best Director, making him the youngest filmmaker to receive the prize at the age of 32, beating out 1930s director Norman Taurog by a few months.
Chazelle married fellow filmmaker Jasmine McGlade in 2010 and they divorced in 2014. McGlade served as an executive producer on La La Land. Chazelle was later romantically linked to actress Olivia Hamilton, who has a small part in La La Land.
(Photo: Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)
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