Nostalgia and retro are phenomena of modernism and modernization that are currently booming. This goes for political decision-making processes as much as for popular culture where retro aesthetics is the dominant mode of design: Both appear driven by ‘longings for a time that never was.’ While research on nostalgia and retro abound, nostalgia still remains a vague and undertheorized concept seemingly identical with retro. Engaging the ways in which Damien Chazelle’s 2016 movie La La Land
and Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water
of 2017 produce and interrogate affects, this essay shows how film allows us to make distinctions that the proliferating research on nostalgia and retro often fail to deliver. As we zoom in on how both films reference iconic moments in film history, it becomes evident that retro aesthetics operates in distinctively diverse manners. While La La Land
interrogates cinema’s “nostalgia for nostalgia”, The Shape of Water
reclaims nostalgia as a mode of social bonding. In this way, both movies foreground how the dynamics of nostalgia, at best, moves forward, not back. Film studies, in turn, can shed considerable light on how both nostalgia and retro work—and why they sell so well.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited