December 15, 2022

CINEMA | 'Babylon' Revisits Hollywood's Golden Age of Depravity

"They're no worse than movie people."
Brad Pitt Margot Robbie Diego Calva Damien Chazelle | Babylon
Paramount Pictures
Celebrated cinematic wunderkind Damien Chazelle has made one of the most debaucherously extravagant studio pictures ever produced. Babylon, set during film's transition from the silent film era leading into the early Golden Age of Hollywood talkies of the jazz-filled 1930s, explores the sheer depravity and corrupting power of show business while simultaneously showcasing the magic of movies.

Relative newcomer Diego Calva stars as a low-level production assistant who rises up the ranks of Tinseltown's elite just as the film industry and American society are changing with the influence of moving pictures over popular culture. His wide-eyed obsession with showbiz's intoxicating influence provides a suitable audience surrogate to follow the insanely elaborate shenanigans Chazelle choreographs on screen.

Superstars Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie appear as analogues of tragic figures from film history past. Their rise and fall track with the rapid changes to the studio system. Both deliver fearless performances highlighted by several opulent party sequences with crazy dance and drug-induced sex acts happening in the background set to composer Justin Hurwitz's vibrant musical score.

There are so many roles in the sprawling three-hour-plus running time. However, comedian Rory Scovel's small but key performance as a sleazy on-set drug dealer throughout the film is so damn funny every time he shows up. Chazelle surrounds his all-star cast with some amusing extended cameos from fellow filmmaker Spike Jonze as a manic German director to Tobey Maguire (also an executive producer) in a truly unhinged role as a clown-like criminal figure.

Babylon is a wildly maximalist fever dream epic of bravura filmmaking in fictionalizing much of Hollywood history's truly decadent past. Chazelle films this like it's the last movie ever made and put he puts every idea he has on the screen. It's an extreme response to the nostalgic themes of La La Land to the extreme. Its biggest flaw is also its chief aim in a commitment to over-the-top theatrics fuelled by lurid excess (and tons of cocaine).

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