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Babylon

Period comedy/drama about a number of people caught in the chaos of Hollywood moving from silent to sound film. Some rise, some fall but most of them party.

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An elephant shits on camera. Margot Robbie pukes on a carpet, at the feet of Hollywood bigwigs. Damien Chazelle does not scrimp on drastic scenes, bodily fluids, and excrement. Yet certain elements from the template – Kenneth Anger‘s gossipy scandal book “Hollywood Babylon“ (1965), which Anger himself said was researched with the use of “telepathy“ - are definitely sanitized. In one scene a young woman dies of a cocaine overdose while having sex with the fat comic Fatty Arbuckle. In reality, in 1922 Arbuckle raped actress Virginia Rappe so brutally that she died of a burst bladder. Chazelle‘s sex scenes remain harmless, probably because of the international censorship practices. But there are drugs, alcohol, parties, nervous breakdowns, and deaths – and digressions about the “magic“ of film that are some of BABYLON‘s best scenes.

Chazelle films the late years of early Hollywood as a cutthroat chaos machine as it transitions from silent films to talkies between 1921 and 1922. After a roaring orgy, the film shifts focus to three characters: young Manni Torres (Diego Calva), who starts as a kind of production assistant and produces the first jazz films as a director in a small studio – which is not entirely historically correct. The first jazz films with Black musicians (ST. LOUIS BLUES with Bessie Smith and BLACK AND TAN FANTASY with Duke Ellington) were made in 1929. But Chazelle clearly didn‘t want to make a historical film, which becomes clear with his second character. Margot Robbie plays a young actress whose story is inspired by the “It Girl“ and flapper idol Clara Bow. Robbie‘s character Nellie LeRoy seems to be from another era. Her hairstyle and mannerisms are reminiscent of Kim Basinger in 9 ½ WEEKS, her outfits are like those in the strip shows on early cable TV. The third character is silent film star Jack Conrad, which Brad Pitt plays with focused understatement. During the first hour of this almost three hour movie the film seems to only have three modes: loud, drunk and coked up chaos, short dialogues, and ultra-short scenes where the products of this chaos can be seen: beautiful silent film scenes with perfect lighting. The bright California light which was used in the silent era in order to shoot films outside, seems like the summer sun on a hungover Sunday in the “real scenes.“ But it creates fantastic stilent film images. One scene: Brad Pitt‘s film star is completely drunk and can‘t stay on his feet for a love scene. But after this comic scene of the shoot, Chazelle shows how the silent film camera saw the scene: without any audio, perfectly lit, and precisely framed. The short moment is breath-takingly beautiful. Margot Robbie‘s Nellie seems permanently antsy but she can cry on command, which she explains using Clara Bow‘s words “I just think of home.“ Her tears seem like a gimmick in the shoot, but in the short black and white silent film scene, which Chazelle shows after, lit as if it was done by Joseph von Sternberg, the tears appear staggeringly beautiful.

With the talkies, the stillness of the film studios ends, and the downfall begins in BABYLON. In a long scene, a film shoot escalates because something keeps going wrong with the audio: a slip, the slightly off position of the actor, a crackling cable, a door that suddenly opens. The whole situation explodes and in the end there are deaths. The scene is like the escalating destructive orgies in the films of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, but it also sets the stage for the last third of the film: all those who can‘t save themselves are going to hell, which includes a journey to the literal underground in which – how could it be otherwise – there are S&M rituals and little people bustling around. The orgies have become dark and evil.

BABYLON has little to do with Kenneth Anger‘s message, which chiefly wanted to show the Hollywood moral watchdogs as ethically degenerate hypocrites. Chazelle is clearly uninterested in the conflict. Chazelle‘s film is about the end of a party, the loss of uncontrolled creativity, the vengeance of reality. Perhaps this is why BABYLON isn‘t a historical film, maybe this is why Margot Robbie has to keep putting her arms up and scream out the “Millenial-Whoop“ which can be heard in James Cameron‘s new AVATAR film during ever flight scene. The end of the party is now and yet the film ends with a dazzling montage of film scenes from Bunuel‘s L‘AGE D‘OR to, well, AVATAR. There is hope, even if it‘s only in film.

Tom Dorow (INDIEKINO MAGAZIN)

Translation: Elinor Lewy

Credits

Original title: Babylon
USA 2022, 189 min
Genre: Drama
Director: Damien Chazelle
Author: Damien Chazelle
DOP: Linus Sandgren
Montage: Tom Cross
Music: Justin Hurwitz
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Cast: Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Tobey Maguire, Samara Weaving, Flea, Olivia Wilde, Jean Smart, Spike Jonze, Katherine Waterston, Max Minghella
FSK: 12
Release: 19.01.2023

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Babylon

(Babylon) | USA 2022 | Drama | R: Damien Chazelle | FSK: 12

Period comedy/drama about a number of people caught in the chaos of Hollywood moving from silent to sound film. Some rise, some fall but most of them party.

Screenings

Charlottenburg

Delphi LUX

TODAY

OmU15:45

OmU19:45

Wednesday 01.02.

OmU15:45

OmU19:45

Friedrichshain

b-ware! ladenkino

TODAY

TicketsBuy Tickets OmU11:00

TODAY

TicketsBuy Tickets OmU19:30

Wednesday 01.02.

TicketsBuy Tickets OmU19:30

Filmtheater am Friedrichshain

TODAY

OmU19:30

Wednesday 01.02.

OmU19:30

Mitte

Central Hackescher Markt

TODAY

OmU20:00

Wednesday 01.02.

OmU20:00

Hackesche Höfe Kino

TODAY

TicketsBuy Tickets OmU16:45

TicketsBuy Tickets OmU20:15

Wednesday 01.02.

TicketsBuy Tickets OmU16:45

TicketsBuy Tickets OmU20:15

Neukölln

Passage

TODAY

OmU16:20

OmU20:15

Wednesday 01.02.

OmU16:20

OmU20:15

Rollberg

TODAY

OmU19:40

Wednesday 01.02.

OmU19:40

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