Babylon Destroys the Spirit of Early Hollywood

IIn a moment of reckless generosity, you could almost commend Damien Chazelle for caring enough about the final days of the silent film era to make a movie about him—if he showed any evidence that he did. Babylon it’s not a movie made with love, or even with any degree of precision; It pretends to be a movie about “loving movies,” but more than anything, it tries to reflect the glory of its creator. It advertises its supposed extravagance and splendor loudly and harshly, but it only looks tinny and cheap. Its main character is a narcissist without complexity, without internal contradictions – not even Margot Robbie, one of the most attractive actors we have, can play her. Writer-director Chazelle thinks she’s creating a vision of 1920s Hollywood, but no matter how much research she’s done, she’s never really listened to what these faces, these stories are telling her. He treats the people of this lost age like primitive creatures who don’t know any better. It does not capture the past; he just belittles.

Chazelle is an ambitious filmmaker and Babylon It is an ambitious picture. It begins in 1926, when silent films and their stars are still going strong, and ends in the early 1930s, when many former actors find themselves left behind by sound television; eon. This is a good topic, as it was during the research of Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green. singing in the rain, A movie that Chazelle often refers to. But Babylon It is a large chunk of film rather than a shaped film. (It takes more than three hours—three hours of aggressively loud, cheaply poignant.) You know what you’ll encounter in the first scene of the movie: an elephant brought in for a Hollywood mogul to squirt a large sindig squirt bullet directly into the camera lens. , like the starting glass: There’s dirt in your eye! The point is probably that these early Hollywood types were not classy, ​​good-natured people; they were selfish, rude, and needlessly wasteful. We’re invited to party with them and despise them at the same time – the best of both worlds.

Our guide to this universe of seductive debauchery is a foreigner desperately wanting to get in, by design the most likeable character in the movie: Manny Torres (Diego Calva), a longtime Los Angeles-enabled man who wants to break into the industry like everyone else. He knows he has to start from the bottom, even if it means grappling with incontinent elephants. He takes us to the king’s mansion, where we witness all manner of half-naked boys and girls dancing in desolation and doing supposedly unspeakable things to each other; out of some ho-hum girl-on-girl action). Streamers fly; champagne rings in the air; A jazz band of cool-looking Black musicians vibrate the brash, booming notes of Justin Hurwitz’s fervent, hummingly repetitive score. Chazelle and cinematographer Linus Sandgren draw us to this party with a long and sudden take. This is where if you’re with the wrong person, your date nudges you and says, “Look, this is one time!” Whatever you say about Chazelle and Sandgren, they know the love language of the movie very well, bro.

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Margot Robbie as Nellie LeRoy at the center of a very, very immoral party

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Love is in the air and on people’s noses at this party. As Manny tries to manage all the celebratory anarchy, he meets his dream daughter, Robbie’s Nellie LaRoy; a woman like a firecracker with a rebellious hair halo and a lot of inner chaos scattering around her like gleams from a burst bottle. She’s dressed in what looks like a long piece of silk wrapped around her torso several times, her feet in old-fashioned lace-up boots. (Chazelle noted that she didn’t want the boring 1920s clichés in her movie, and as a result there was some kind of deliberate fallacy that was neither creative nor evocative.) This one speaks for itself, and the star gets into the party. – dazed Manny helps out – and immediately creates a huge mountain of cocaine piled on a silver plate, with Chazelle and Sandgren shooting it too close, a mountain of cartoon sugary debauchery. Nellie is a woman with strong appetites and huge dreams, and Manny adores her right away – because the manic fairy dream girl wasn’t invented yesterday, you know.

At this point in the movie, you might be looking at your watch and thinking, “Oh, good, it’s almost done.” How wrong would you be! There’s more, much more: Brad Pitt plays Jack Conrad, a flirtatious but principled silent film superstar whose fan base rejects him when asked to speak on camera. Towards the inevitable end, he squints throughout the film, courting the pathetic with a mocking grin. There’s an endless, flamboyant episode in which Nellie, who has proven her natural in the wild, wild west of silent filmmaking, and has a crazy earthiness that baffles her audience, fails to perform on a soundstage. the numerous challenges of early sound recording. Having risen several steps in the movie industry with his wit and charm, Manny turns charismatic Black bandleader Sidney Palmer (Jovan Adepo) into a star, but that’s only temporarily. (Something Chazelle to do Being right is early Hollywood racism.) And Elinor St. from Jean Smart, a powerful gossip reporter. At one point, a rather depressed Jack gives Conrad a tinsel pep talk and basically tells him that even though his career is over, he has sealed his reputation in film history. With her silvery, trembling chuckle, she said, “But 100 years later, when we’re both long gone, when someone drives a movie frame through the cogwheel, you’ll be alive again.”

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Brad Pitt as Jack Conrad and Diego Calva as Manny Torres (Courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

Brad Pitt as Jack Conrad and Diego Calva as Manny Torres

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

It’s a “Give me the Oscar!” Although it makes no sense in the context of how the film was handled in the days before it succumbed to protection. It is estimated that at least 75 percent of silent films have been lost or destroyed; The people who made these films at the time saw them as a ephemeral, disposable entertainment almost as much as theatre. A real-life Elinor St. It’s unlikely that John (the character seems to model strong gossips like Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper, but their careers came later) had any faith in the film’s permanence. nice talk about Babylon‘s overarching theme is The Power of Movies, if you haven’t guessed it.

Meanwhile, Manny’s path only occasionally crosses with Nelly’s. While she only lives to dance, party and gamble, she selflessly cares for him in her love for him. It has no depth, only features. Dozens of other characters devious Babylon, many refer to real-life figures in vague or obvious ways. There is a grumpy, bullying director who most likely takes Erich von Stroheim as an example; A grotesquely portrayed actor who, although a jury acquitted him, clearly intended to allude to poor Fatty Arbuckle, whose career was ruined when she was wrongfully accused of raping and murdering the aspiring actress, young Virginia Rappe; probably modeled after Dorothy Arzner, boyish neckerchiefs plus a female director with four legs. The most captivating performance Babylon Coming from Li Jun Li, she plays a character named Lady Fay Zhu, an exposed lesbian and a jill of all trades, who makes a zowie entrance in a Marlene Dietrich-style tuxedo and sings a breezy, obscene little song. About a topic that rhymes with “kitty”. Too bad the whole movie isn’t about that He.

Li Jun Li as Lady Fay Zhu (Courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

Li Jun Li as Lady Fay Zhu

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

In its place, Babylon it’s just a manic spread that pretends to celebrate the cinema. It’s really about lust, a sense of stupidity, self-celebration, and willful ignorance of history. Ambition is a good thing in filmmakers – there’s no progress without it, especially as big screen projects become increasingly difficult to edit. If Chazelle LaLa Land broad and imperfect, at least it felt like an open-hearted undertaking. And first man, Chazelle’s biography of notorious private astronaut Neil Armstrong may have clogged its airspace with too much flamboyant psychoanalysis, but it also sought to capture the sense of joy that can be found in science. Babylon something else and nothing better. The closing sequence contains a quick REM selection of great cinematic footage—Daffy Duck’s crazy face, Chaplin’s woefully puzzled expression, the lightning flash of transcendence known as Falconetti—finally mixed with flashbacks from the movie. Babylon itself. Cinema! Great except when it’s scary. At the end of the film, a reptilian gangster played by Tobey Maguire summons guests to an evil haven with the words “Welcome to the scum of Los Angeles.” Considering where this movie begins, we’ve been almost there for the past three hours.

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