Babylon Review: Director Damien Chazelle is consumed by a maniacal need to achieve absolute perfection, no matter the cost. His films showcase protagonists who are willing to undergo physical & emotional pain in order to achieve their goals. Be it finding an ideal tempo, rocketing into space, or becoming famous in Hollywood. “Babylon” seems like a deliberate rebuttal to the accusations leveled about “La La Land,” which was his starry-eyed.
It's a glitzy 1920s piece that explores how the seemingly magical sights of the silver screen are often the result of years of hard effort, dashed hopes & a healthy dose of luck. Whether it's a large group of extras waiting around until a camera is obtained or the painstaking perfection required while recording sound, “Babylon” features multiple sequences that show how much effort is put into just two seconds of film. Despite appearances, none of this is simple, as demonstrated by those two outstanding scenes.
In the 1980s Brixton, a young man named Blue who was born in Jamaica is the center of attention as he hangs out with his friends, leads a dub sound system, gets fired from his job & deals with family troubles. A young guy named Blue, originally from Jamaica but now residing in Brixton, England, in the year 1980, recounts his experiences as he hangs out with his friends, leads a dub sound system, loses his job, struggles with family troubles, & encounters bigotry and discrimination.
In the first half hour of “Babylon,” the major characters are introduced during a wild party scene. Hollywood A-lister Jack Conrad, lowly assistant Manny Torres,& bubbling young actress Nellie LaRoy all live in the same building during the silent film period. She claims, “You ain't become a celebrity, you either are or ain't.” Indeed, I am. It's 1926 & the revelry shows no signs of stopping. The spoiler is that “it doesn't.”
The imminent arrival of talkies will instantly reshape Hollywood's norms & rebalance the city's political power structure. Who cares if there's a little noise? To blonde bombshell Nellie, whose New Jersey accent won't go away, it's everything; to a crew that hasn't yet figured out how to capture sound & keep ambient noise out of the mix, it's hell. The film's structure is nearly identical to that of Paul Thomas Anderson's “Boogie Nights,” & it also has that film's bold, risk-taking visual style & flair. While “Babylon” is Chazelle's 4th film.
It is approached with the same wide-eyed, all-or-nothing abandon as Anderson's 2nd film, “Boogie Nights,” & produces similarly disorienting consequences. A gossip columnist who observes the action from a safe distance, a trumpet player who must negotiate the industry's murky racial politics, a creepy mob boss who leads the characters, quite literally, into LA' seedy underworld & a dozen other players round out Chazelle's Tinsel Town tapestry. It's a tale of rise & fall full of tales of rise & collapse, a microcosm of the forces at work & the chess pieces that drive the Hollywood machine.
Is Babylon a Good Movie?
The film cares more about how you feel than whether or not it's factually accurate. The film's British debut took place in November 1980 & its protagonists had to overcome both poverty & prejudice. Perhaps the story was too true to life. In the UK, the picture was given an X rating, which is equivalent to an R rating in the US. The young black people, whom the film “Babylon” was intended for, would not be able to see the film.
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