Babylon Review

Babylon Review

Babylon Review

Damien Chazelle’s hyperventilating splashboard portrait of early Hollywood, an elephant waltzes explosively straight across the screen, covering us in a veritable sewage farm of muddy feces.

Over the next three hours (trust me, it takes longer), we’ll be treated to a man kissing live rats in the bowels of hell, a giant crocodile to Aba’s monkey/chimpanzee on the heels of underground revelers jumps up.

Dabba the Honeymoon, a rattlesnake sinks its fangs into Margot Robbie’s neck before chopping off her head with a knife.

We’ll also see an actor urinating on a Fatty Arbuckle-style partygoer (“Playtime with potty time!”) and Robbie puke on someone’s nice suit, extravagantly destroying a clico rug in the process.

It’s all delivered in screaming, hyperactive vocals that make hawks Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! Looks like one of the slow works of the Hungarian author Béla wire. Subtle it is not. Nor is it good.

The story (if that word can be used to describe a succession of hyper-choreographed set pieces, linked together by interstitial date markers and bouts of screaming) is a silver-screen dreamer’s manual” Manny” Torres (Diego Calva ) and Nellie LaRoy (Robbie).

 Nellie wants to be a star (“You don’t get to be a star, honey. You either are or you’re not”).

At the same time, Manny yearns to be in the film-making business in some capacity, shoveling glitter parties, becoming a fixer for matinee idol Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt), and taking a precarious position in a studio (when asked if he is a “producer,” he replies that he is an “executive”) as they climb the smooth pole to stardom in the foundational days of motion pictures.

As the pair’s fortunes change, so does the world they have sold their souls for, with films shifting from silent to sound as the Wild West chaos of the unregulated emerging industry ( Immortalized in Kenneth Anger’s apocryphal tome Hollywood Babylon, for which Chazelle’s title alludes)) gives way to something more corporate.

With almost awe-inspiring audacity, Chazelle imagines Babylon as a kind of origin story for ‘Singin’ in the Rain,’ nodding clumsily to the 1952 classic before she picks up the clip we remember.

Reminds me of how much better Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly were at doing this themselves. -referenced Hollywood shtick.

For all its flicks of film-history and self-aware carnivals of bodily fluids and glamorous excess, Babylon is tiresomely obscure fare – hysterical rather than historical, derivative rather than inventive.

A sequence in which Manny meets a laughing gangster (a clown-faced Tobey Maguire) is lifted heavily from a scene in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1997 film Madness Boogie Nights Better Story featuring Alfred Molina, the secret sidekick is just below the one that keeps making random explosive noises (swap cherry bombs for coughs).

Then there are the inevitable jazz subplots that serve as a continuing apology for the whitewashing criticisms against Chazelle’s La La Land while suggesting that his 2020 Netflix miniseries format The Eddie should be adapted from the film. It might be better suited for this giant mess.

Jean Smart’s gossip columnist Elinor St. John to Spike Jonze’s German director Otto von Strassburger, the performances oscillate between pastiche and pantomime.

However, bored audiences can watch the celebrity cipher play for hours. Max Minghella may be specifically named as “Boy Wonder” creator Irving Thalberg, but is Pitt meant to be silent-film star John Gilbert? How much is Clara Bow in Nellie LaRoy? Of course, Lee Joon Lee’s villainous Lady Fai Zhu is just a thinly disguised Anna May Wong, a formidable Chinese American star.

Justin Hurwitz’s overworked score (recipient of multiple awards), Florencia Martin’s gorgeous production design, and Linus Sandgren’s endlessly swirling cinematography add to the overcooked tenor.

Finally, we arrive at an extreme car-crash cross between Cinema Paradiso and the Stargate sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey – a ridiculous showreel that time-jumps through decades of movie magic, but that tow- Curling resembles multiplex commercials.

They play before the main feature, persuading customers not to watch movies on the small screen. On this evidence, I would happily stay home.


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