Director of Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, Whiplash: Music and obsession, La La Land, a love story Y The first man on the moon he filmed an ambitious epic about the Hollywood industry set between the end of the silent period and the beginning of the sound period.
Babylon (United States/2022). Script and direction: Damien Chazelle. Cast: Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Diego Calva, Jean Smart, Jovan Adepo, Li Jun Li, Samara Weaving, Max Minghella, Flea, Spike Jonze, Lukas Haas, Jeff Garlin, Tobey Maguire, Eric Roberts, and Olivia Wilde. Music: Justin Hurwitz. Photography: Linus Sandgren. Editing: Tom Cross. Production Design: Florence Martin. Distributor: UIP (Paramount). Duration: 189 minutes. Suitable for over 16 years.
Before writing this text I compared on Twitter the duration of Avatar: The Path of Water (192 minutes) with that of Babylon (189). Although James Cameron took three minutes more than Damien Chazelle, the truth is that that sequel has many more final credits, so the net time must be very similar.
Chazelle was introduced in 2009 with Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, which lasted a modest 82 minutes; in 2014 he was consecrated with Whiplash: Music and obsession, which reached 106; in 2016 he launched the multi-award winning La La Land, a love story, which lasted 128; two years later it was the turn of The first man on the moon, whose cut was at 141; and now presented Babylonwhich reaches the indicated 189. And its growing tendency to grandiloquence in all fields can also be seen in the budgets: Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench was made with 60,000 dollars and less than a decade ago he filmed Whiplash… with 3.3 million; Babylon it cost 110 million; that is, 1,833 times more than his debut.
Born in 1985 in Providence, Rhode Island, Chazelle won the Oscar for Best Director at age 32 and became Hollywood’s hottest “kid wonder” filmmaker. To BabylonIn addition to that generous budget that Paramount will never recover (in the United States, where it premiered almost a month ago, it raised just 15 million dollars), it featured stars like Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie, but also other figures like Jean Smart, Lukas Haas, Tobey Maguire, Max Minghella, Jeff Garlin, Eric Roberts, Samara Weaving, Spike Jonze and Olivia Wilde (in this case little more than a cameo).
It is clear that Chazelle wants to play in the big leagues of authors who work in Hollywood, such as Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Paul Thomas Anderson or the aforementioned Cameron, but with this megaproject he seems to have taken his first step in false.
Yes Babylon It’s an overly long and overpriced film, it’s also a story about the excesses of an industry Chazelle seems to love and loathe in equal measure. Set at the end of the 1920s, a time of the difficult transition from silent to talkies (there will be a coda that takes place in 1952), the three hours of the story aim to expose (almost) all the miseries and contradictions, the cynicism and hypocrisy from an industry and a time to pure glamor and lack of control: bacchanalia, orgies, vices, perversions, addictions and abuses.
Chazelle works the first half with pure delirium, black humor and self-confidence (the long opening sequence includes an elephant at a wild party wherever you look at it), while in the second (much less successful) she gives in to the temptation of wallowing in the miseries and the tragic fate that seems to persecute several of his characters with a tendency to judge and lower moralizing lines.
Everything that in La La Land It worked in the field of romance between Ryan Gosling’s Sebastian and Emma Stone’s Mia, here it looks much more forced, less fluid and convincing in the love story between the Mexican Manny Torres Diego Calva and Margot Robbie’s Nellie LaRoy. The two meet at the pharaonic opening party and later develop parallel paths (he as an assistant and then a producer; she as an actress) in the world of the big Hollywood studios.
Beyond that love story, Babylon It has a choral structure in which the third protagonist is the heartthrob Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt), the biggest star of the silent era, but who sees how his star begins to fade with the advent of sound. In this sense, there are characters who keep their real names (such as the producer Irving Thalberg played by Max Minghella), but many others appear with fictitious surnames, although with similarities to characters of the time. Conrad, for example, refers to Rodolfo Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks and John Gilbert; Nellie LaRoy is inspired by Clara Bow; trumpeter Sidney Palmer (Jovan Adepo) is a carbon copy of Louis Armstrong; Jean Smart’s Elinor St. John is an imitation of the famous and feared reporter Louella Parsons, owner of the most influential pen when it comes to propping up one career and the most ruthless when it comes to destroying another; Li Jun Li’s Lady Fay Zhu was based on lesbian artist Anna May Wong; Olivia Hamilton’s Ruth Adler has many elements in common with Dorothy Arzner, one of the first female directors in film history; while Spike Jonze’s Otto looks like a combination between Ernst Lubitsch, Erich von Stroheim and Josef von Sternberg (the whole sequence of his filming is very good).
Although Chazelle is listed as the sole writer, Babylon seems to have been “inspired” by many of the myths that Kenneth Anger reconstructed (did he exaggerate?, did he invent?) in his book hollywood babylon. And, in this sense, it should be noted that Chazelle is often more virtuous in terms of staging (prodigious sequence shots for filming a party or a shoot with thousands of extras) than when it comes to working on certain conflicts or certain dialogues that are anything but subtle.
Babylon I found it to be a film that was as fascinating at times as it was frustrating at others, as dazzling as it was irritating. This is how irregular its result is, how contradictory are the sensations it produces. If I had to define it, I would say that it is a film with as many airs as resources, but ultimately a failure because once it reaches its peak it tends to deflate and drift. In any case, although as a spectator one may distance oneself or even become angry with certain of Chazelle’s artistic decisions, I will always be a defender of those filmmakers who go beyond the formulas, who take risks, who are capable of, as in this case, always filming on the edge of the edge. abyss without fear of tripping and even falling.
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Critics: Criticism of “Babylon”, by Damien Chazelle, with Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie and Diego Calva