2022 | rated R | starring Margot Robbie, Brad Pitt, Diego Calva, Jovan Adepa, Jean Smart | written & directed by Damien Chazelle | 3h 9m |

{Season 7 Finale}

In Damien Chazelle’s epic Babylon, 1920s Hollywood was the wild west of creative freedom. Where the next blockbuster star can be discovered and gossip rags can tear them down. Where movies were put together in a state of chaos and luck and the after-parties were drug-fueled debauchery. But a new creative gimmick is enthralling audiences and threatens to blow in and change everything: sound. Threatened by this is silent Hollywood leading man Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt), up and coming new starlet Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie), jazz musician Sidney Palmer (Jovan Adepa) and young Manny Torres (Diego Calva) who orbits all of them and rises in the ranks behind the camera through desperate perseverance.

Damien Chazelle has had an interesting career. He’s made some movies that are immediately and almost universally accepted – Whiplash and La La Land – and then puts out something equally ambitious and artistic to complete audience rejection – First Man and Babylon. This movie I get. It’s defiantly not for everyone. It is an over 3 hour odyssey that inundates the senses. Excessive, absurd and indulgent. A chaotic Hollywood epic about old Hollywood chaotic epics. It’s also unusually scatological. Before it’s over our main characters (and the camera) will be shat on, piss themselves, projectile vomit, eat animals and be publicly humiliated. Normally this kind of stuff turns me off, but here that’s all part of the excess and it never feels crass or ugly. Chazelle has created something here that’s bigger than the sum of each set piece. It’s a bold, ambitious film, but more than that it’s just highly, incredibly, entertaining.

Chazelle’s approach here is like early Paul Thomas Anderson, Boogie Nights and Magnolia. And given that Boogie Nights itself is a twist on the Hollywood rise-and-fall story we’ve come full circle. The film is cut together through a series of frantic montages that work themselves into an increasingly intense fever before breaking and resetting. And it doesn’t stop. One of my issues with Magnolia is how the film randomly cuts back and forth across it’s stories to what’s happening at the, but without wrapping it into a common theme. Why are we cutting back and forth between these 4 things except to relate a connection between them? Babylon does that. It groups our heroes trajectory under common themes and we see them rise and fall together.

Even more interesting, Babylon seems like a full cinematic cannon shot at the 1952 Gene Kelly classic Singin’ in the Rain. Where La La Land celebrated the myth of the old Hollywood dance movie, Babylon recasts Hollywood in the 20s as far from the polite, sophisticated, artistic image that it’s screwball comedies perpetuated. Chazelle’s old Hollywood is a chaotic, sexist, racist, disorganized, debaucherous frat party not to be revered. As if to say, if you think it’s bad now, it always was. Movies were built around broken sets, actor’s injuries and the leading man’s hangovers. Where directors came in from all over the world and slapped movies together with a massive crew that burned through money. In the movie’s first big endearing sequence, Manny races back to the studio to rent a camera because the other 14 have been destroyed and then back before the film crew loses the light.

The camera rental set piece is just the first of several great set pieces the movie parks at and explores, where the actors get the chew up the scenery and Chazelle gets go as weird as possible with – apparently – nobody at the studio saying no to anything. Robbie gets to go full-tilt wacko at a high society party, Tobey Maguire makes a cameo is a sleazy producer looking to show Manny the town’s underbelly and the film takes on numerous lengthy side-quests such as when the crew gets drunk, drives out into the desert to watch Leroy’s dad (Eric Roberts) fight a snake. Chazelle doesn’t stop the film dead for these asides, but continually works the levers, pulling back or hitting the gas on the pace based on what the scene requires and where we are in the story. The film is long, but with a surprise or new concoction around every corner that keeps it from feeling so. I could have watched it all day.

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