Brad Pitt: “Eternity is not my quest”

“Babylon” is the crazy film of the Roaring Twenties. Sex, drugs and cinema in Hollywood in the 1920s and 1930s: frenetic then melancholy, Damien Chazelle’s film is a fine tribute to cinema.

Brad Pitt Eternity is not my quest
Damien Chazelle shot dazzling party sequences, in which the starlet Nellie LaRoy, played by the superb Margot Robbie (Paramount Pictures), stands out in particular.

“Babylon” (released January 18), a film by Damien Chazelle, begins with a gag: how to transport an elephant in the Californian desert? Later, the elephant will be the attraction of an unbridled, delirious, orgiastic, crazy party, in the luxurious residence of a movie mogul. We are in 1926, the “Babylon” of these modern times is Los Angeles, now cited “of lust and decadence”, and the new mythology is called cinema.

Filmmaker of the joyful musical “La La Land”, the musical “Whiplash”, and “First Man” (dedicated to Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon), Damien Chazelle tells this time “a great American epic », a world of pioneers who bustle in Hollywood in the years 1920-1930, in the crazy film of the Roaring Twenties, with dazzling sequences of parties and chaotic simultaneous shootings in cardboard sets. At first a frenetic fresco (more than three hours), “Babylon” is itself a “cinematographic madness”, abundant (a hundred roles, 250 actors, 7000 costumes…), a visual debauchery that sticks with the subject (sex , drugs and cinema), the spectacular reconstruction of an era, an energetic and wild whirlwind.
And in this whirlwind, a tornado: the superb Margot Robbie who puts on a real show in the skin of the exuberant Nellie La Roy, a young actress convinced of being a star even before becoming one, a brilliant star then fallen, a character inspired by starlet Clara Bow and Joan Crawford. Glories and tragedies, Nellie is one character among others in Los Babylon where destinies intersect as the cinema becomes talkative and “everything is going to change”: silent star, Jack Conrad (played by Brad Pitt) becomes old-fashioned, a Chinese actress and singer (Li Jun Li) disappears from the screens, a black musician (Jovan Adepo) becomes a star, a Mexican all-rounder (Diego Calva) and skilled in solving all problems is promoted to producer…

She who repeats that “life is a party”, Nellie suffers during the filming of her first sound scene, the party is over, and the aftermath of joy and euphoria give a migraine, the return to morality is announced. Then a small dusty city in flux, Los Angeles is also “the city of dreams that do not come true”, and “Babylon” is then melancholy, dramatic. Damien Chazelle’s film is a fine tribute to cinema, to those who make it and to those who watch it, to this formidable “storytelling machine”, which turns over and over again, because “The show must go on! “.


Brad Pitt: “We are more disposable today”

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Brad Pitt, cool, smiling, elegant, during a press conference at the Bristol, in Paris.

In “Babylon”, the star is a star. Fine mustache, slicked back hair, beguiling smile, Brad Pitt embodies Jack Conrad, a flamboyant actor in the time of silent cinema, who accumulates films, glasses of alcohol and failed marriages. “I knew very little about the era of silent cinema, but I found this beauty in silent film when I was doing this research for the character I’m portraying”, confided the actor, cool, smiling, elegant, during a press conference at the Bristol, in Paris.

“I didn’t know that era of the 1920s very well, I didn’t have a great understanding of it, there’s art history in all that, we were a bit in the Wild West, there was no there was nothing before in this area. I was inspired by John Gilbert, by Douglas Fairbanks, we then immerse ourselves in this work, in this world, and with Damien Chazelle’s screenplay, he really wanted to make people feel what the 1920s could have been like and we was a lot of fun”, says Brad Pitt, “In truth, at the time, there was this absence of rules, this freedom with all its excesses, everything that propels us, in the 20s as today we will always forward (…) When the code of morality came into force in the 1920s, it chained freedom of expression”.

During a long monologue, a Hollywood critic explains to Jack Conrad, that with the arrival of talkies, his time is over, that he will leave the screen, but that the cinema is “bigger” than him and that he will live forever through his films. “Eternity is not what I am looking for, it is not at all my quest”, assures Brad Pitt, “Hollywood is a colossal history, with all the artists, all the actors and actresses who have passed before us , we ultimately occupy only a tiny part of this story, we are only a beep on the timeline of time”.

“The community of artists excites me”

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With a small mustache and slicked back hair, Brad Pitt plays Jack Conrad, a flamboyant actor in the silent film era (Paramount Pictures).

“The passion is still there, more than ever, for stories and those who tell them, I really like what the younger generation is doing, in terms of cinematographic language”, continues the actor, “What surprises me when I I talk to twenty-somethings on set, it’s that few have seen those films from the 60s and 70s that were so important to me”. Whether it is a dream factory or a machine for destroying individuals, he compares Hollywood to a confrontation with a rattlesnake. “For me, it’s easy to say, when everything is done, that everything is done, that it’s going to be a peaceful outing, we don’t know in fact. I had a lot of trouble with the end of the film, I had a lot of discussions on this subject with Damien Chazelle. As the film industry progresses, my character is left aside, abandoned, he leaves his throne, and rather than feeling sorry for himself, we have to appreciate the time we spend here in the present. Our experience on this Earth is ephemeral and we must accept it; look at David Bowie, who left with such grace, it is for me a source of inspiration”, he confides.

Pushed out of film sets, “the most magical place in the world”, living only between action and cutting, Jack Conrad cannot survive his disgrace. “We are more disposable today,” says Brad Pitt, regretting that there are “too many smartphones today”. “Throughout our career, we report to those who fund our films, and ultimately we have to stay on the straight and narrow. There is so much talent, landing a role is also a matter of luck and compromise”, notes the actor, also a producer, whose enthusiasm is intact: “Artists feed artists, and so on, this what fascinates me is history, it’s the community of artists that excites me and is a source of joy for me”.

Damien Chazelle: “Avoid clichés about old Hollywood”

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Damien Chazelle on the set of “Babylon”: “The subject is Hollywood, and it’s made in Hollywood” (Paramount Pictures).

“It wasn’t always easy to convince people around me, but I was lucky because Brad Pitt was passionate about the subject like me, and that helped Paramount afterwards. All the shooting and all the production of the film, we felt that it was a little crazy, that we had a rather unique moment there of trying to do something different, ”says Damien Chazelle in French (his father is from of French origin), during a press conference at the Bristol. The filmmaker was well aware that “Babylon” would be an extraordinary project: “We had to give the impression that it’s a huge film when we didn’t have a huge budget, we had to plan everything so that every penny either on the screen.

“The subject is Hollywood, and it’s made in Hollywood”, says the director, “Fifteen years ago, I started living in Los Angeles, to see this city which was a little surreal, a little weird, I wanted to know where it comes from, why Los Angeles is like that, to try to understand its history, the beginning of Hollywood. It was also this specific moment of the transition from silent cinema to talking cinema that fascinated me, the story of the birth of a city, of an industry. I was very interested in the idea of ​​how technological changes can be in dialogue with social changes. The whole of society has changed, has become less free, less open, more limited; Hollywood went from a circus where almost anyone could do anything to a global industry, with Wall Street and Broadway actors coming with talkies, I think that’s why ‘we have lost this freedom, this diversity, which we found in silent cinema’.

“I started working on this subject fifteen years ago, at the very beginning the subject of the film was to tell the story of this transition in a tragic way, feeling the violence, the brutal side of this change in Hollywood, in that era”, says Damien Chazelle, “It’s the idea of ​​cinema as spectacle, the mixture of comedy and tragedy, absurdity, beauty, nightmare, I wanted it to be a film on the paradox of Hollywood, which is this mixture of extremes (…) The idea was to try to avoid clichés about old Hollywood, like a world that is still very clean, glamorous, lighter than today today, less hectic. We have forgotten how the 20s were years of transgression, almost anarchist, with a punk-rock spirit in the air. In Hollywood, because it was new, there was even more this spirit of delirium, of madness, of being able to do everything, and I think that we lost this vision of the 20s, of something more sordid, more transgressive, and more human”.

“Hollywood is very good at creating illusions”

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“Babylon” evokes the sometimes chaotic filming at the start of the Hollywood industry (Paramount Pictures).

For years, the filmmaker compiled events, stories, miscellaneous facts, which fed his screenplay: “Every time I found something that shocked me, I said to myself that it had to be put in the film, it is a bit of a collection of everything that surprised me, that was not part of the illusion of the 20s. Hollywood is very good at creating illusions, sometimes telling lies, there is a whole hidden story, it is where you find the anecdotes, the stories about sex, drugs, manners on film sets, all these things that are a little sordid, dark, less glamorous, that’s what interested me the most (… ) It’s the paradox of an industry that can create such divine works of art, when as soon as you know the machine behind these images and what was really happening, it’s shocking, it there were a lot of horrors at that time, and it still lasts, there is a nightmare side to the dream, this paradox continues to fascinate me er, it was the challenge of this film to show both sides”.

On the glamor side, Damien Chazelle shot long party sequences that will go down in Hollywood history: “It was almost like making a musical, I worked with the same choreographer as for ”La La Land” , we did rehearsals, it was very precise, we had the music on stage, but the challenge was to hide the choreography, to give the audience the impression that it was spontaneous, natural (…) was important to me that it be a little physical, that the spectators have the impression of being at the parties, that we can feel the sweat, the burning sun, the music that surrounds us, that it becomes sensual”. As with “La La Land” and “Whiplash”, the filmmaker entrusted the music for his film to his accomplice Justin Hurwitz: “Every time I finish the script, I give it to Justin and he starts working on the piano, we look for melodies. For me, music is time, emotion, it’s always a character for me, it helps me figure out how I’m going to shoot the film,” he says.

Interview by Patrick TARDIT

“Babylon”, a film by Damien Chazelle, with Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie (released on January 18).

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Brad Pitt: “Eternity is not my quest”