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Babylon is so bad it gives you a headache – Elaine Jones

January 21, 2023 08:56

Babylonthe director’s latest film Damien Chazelle (first manAnd La La LandAnd injury), so disgusted me that after three hours and eight minutes, it finally stopped assaulting my senses, and I couldn’t get out of the cinema immediately.

Not because the depiction of the decadence of the 1920s film industry that Chazelle tried to pin in our faces is horrible. It’s not like that: the director adopts the tone of a small-town idiot who’s just discovered Hollywood parties can get a little too wild to beat. I sat in the theater because Chazelle made a movie so incompetent that it gives you a headache trying to understand it.

The work is so ugly that it fails to convey anything of the Southern California of the period, a paradise softened by ocean and perfumed by orange trees which inspired Buster Keaton’s comic genius of the 1920s—not at all prone to poetic language—to say respectfully: “It was California air is like wine.”

Two opposite opinions
Many portraits of young Keaton and the movie stars of the 1920s—Gloria Swanson, Rudolph Valentino, Clara Bow, John Gilbert, Douglas Fairbanks, Louise Brooks—show not only the charismatic youth, exuberant clothing, and exoticism of the time, but also the euphoria of sudden wealth and ease. and sexual freedom in sunny landscapes and open vistas. A hundred years later, these images still carry a sexual charge.

Chazelle’s anti-sensuality is so bizarrely insistent on opposing qualities that at first it seems intended to stick to its Hollywood origins as accurately as possible. The first scene—featuring a lumbering elephant delivery as bizarre entertainment during an orgy-like party at a producer’s hilltop mansion, which culminates in a terrified animal defecating directly on camera—seemed subtly alluding to that intent. Once at the party, a young star urinates on a naked, obese actor—perhaps referring to comedian Fatty Arbuckle, who laughs in a childish way that “tickles him”—explaining that the party, which is supposed to be sexy, will no longer be fun to look at. It’s all very unpleasant.

Chazelle certainly doesn’t have the talent to capture the magic of the best silent movies

Although Margot Robbie, as Nelly LeRoy (a hipster actress with a history of extreme poverty, clearly inspired by Clara Bow), wriggles with all her might into a crowd of equally seedy revelers, it’s exciting to watch as a young Christian Society workout group. Also in this case, the shots that follow the protagonists of the entertainment world dancing and writhing like monsters in the heat, seem to want to emphasize that it is not an interesting environment at all. but while Babylon Sound continues to appear, destroying many professions and making the turbulent atmosphere of the film more tense and disciplined, insisting on silent Hollywood as “the most magical place ever,” as Jack Conrad, a famous actor played by Brad Pitt, makes it difficult to understand where it is taking us. Chazelle. We must be thinking “Yeah, it’s really magical!” or “But was that really it?” Or maybe you feel torn between the two options, or what else?

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Chazelle certainly doesn’t have the talent to capture the magic of the best silent movies. In contrast to the more successful cinema of the 1920s, its shots are pathetic and the lighting hazy. The passionate embrace between a character played by Jack Conrad and an idealized woman, which in theory should represent the culmination of the effect created by silent cinema when divas appear to us in the midst of romance, is depicted so ineptly that I once again wondered if Chazelle’s casting wasn’t a choice to make. The characters in the film who display an almost religious zeal for cinema look stupid.

Even worse, Chazelle neglects an obvious way to accurately evoke the magic of silent cinema: the silver nitrates in old films, making them so dangerous as they are easily flammable, also made the images sparkle and glow, giving them an incredible fantasy beauty that the director absolutely failed to capture. He probably does not know that it is possible to imitate almost any cinematic atmosphere with a modern tool called a computer.

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The absence of charm also makes it difficult to empathize with the sweet and naive Manny Torres (Diego Calva), the unassuming Hollywood delivery boy who helped deliver the elephant. No matter how much shit squirts around, Manny still looks down on Hollywood with loving eyes. He is a Mexican American outsider who dreams of being a part of something big, like cinema, and when he demands to be able to work in any capacity on set, he is answered with disdain: “You already have the place you deserve.”

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But in the chaotic atmosphere of Hollywood parties, which also dominate the harsh environment of the group, anything is possible, including – in Manny’s case – suddenly becoming friends with Conrad, the superstar, and taking him home after the opening ceremony sequence. LeRoy makes his big break at the same gig and the two begin their parallel rise to the heights of Hollywood, Manny as a film producer and director, and Nellie as the “wild child”, based on the excesses of liveur Which will eventually destroy her.

Then other functions are traced, albeit very briefly. Li Jun Li plays Lady Fay Zhu, a mix between Chinese-American film star Anna May Wong and Marlene Dietrich, whose performances in the homoerotic thriller of the 1920s were hailed and abandoned in the increasingly moralistic 1930s. Jovan Adepo plays Sydney Palmer, a black trumpeter in a jazz band that plays at wild Hollywood parties, and as Torres attempts to produce a first-voice period musical, he tells him, “I think you’ve pointed the camera in the wrong direction.” Palmer becomes a star in the musical, until widespread racism makes the movie industry unbearable for him.

Jean Smart is a welcome addition as gossip columnist Elinor St. John, clearly inspired by novelist and screenwriter Elinor Glenn. St. John is one of the “crickets” who manage to hide in the shadows, as she puts it, and survive the cultural upheaval and industrial changes that cause the stars to fall. Indeed, Smart evokes the style and rhetoric of the ’20s, unlike most of the cast in the film (even if Brad Pitt proves once again that he can convey the manhood of that time quite well). But it’s not their fault: Chazelle likely deliberately made sure nearly all of the other characters looked and acted contemporary, leaving the opening credits to announce the historical period they’re meant to be represented. Margot Robbie, in particular, has the hair, clothes, and mannerisms of a 2022 woman in what must be the year 1926. Again, I have no idea what Chazelle is trying to achieve: the director claims he documented a lot about the time, watched a lot of old movies, and looked at a lot of Old photos, so this is likely all part of his confusing scheme.

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journalist David SimsAttempting to understand whether or not Chazelle gave birth to a masterpiece, he writes that the point of the film is: “The spectacle of the elephant defecating on camera, full of gorgeous and horrific imagery, takes too long. It perfectly sets the tone for Chazelle’s dastardly discourse to Hollywood’s silent era,” a three-hour glamor and more of debauchery, generic filth, and excess cinematic charm that sets the industry on fire and invites audiences to dance around the fire.For a major production company to propose such a project nowadays is a bold move, given that big budgets are usually awarded to superheroes. , and the grandiose concession of superheroes. Babylon It will probably put off a lot of viewers. But Chazelle tries to confront us with the fact that, behind the scenes, the magic of cinema has always gone hand in hand with exploitation, abuse and vilification.

To say such a simple and obvious truth, however, there is no need to waste large sums of money, waste everyone’s time and make such a mess. Send a tweet, for God’s sake, or a drunk text to your most forgiving friends.

Eventually it becomes clear that in fact Chazelle is trying to extol the greatness of cinema, even if, in his view, cinema grows like a showy flower on top of a gigantic compost pile. And it brings to life what is arguably the ugliest, under-paced, and most emotionally numbing montage in cinema history, a hodgepodge of clips from much-loved films, edited together for no apparent reason or logic. Then it turns into flashes of light and swirling colours, to represent the essence of movies as such, I think. It’s a really awkward stunt in film school that you want to pass for avant-garde cinematic depth.

This movie is so unforgivable that I really hope Damien Chazelle made it to the pinnacle of Hollywood’s ascent and fell so steeply down the gutter of his career that he never signs another movie again. After, after BabylonIt will just be punishment.

(translated by David Musso)

This article was originally published in The American Review Jacobins.