Sunday, July 30, 2023

Babylon dazzles with early Hollywood excess

It took me about five nights to watch Babylon, an epic three-plus-hour 2022 film starring Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie. Barbie, this is not. It’s more like a hot mess in the best-possible way, combining Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut and Quentin Tarantino’s Gimp scene from Pulp Fiction, this movie is an entertaining ride tour de force for those who love Hollywood history.

The debauchery of early Los Angeles dreamed up here by writer and director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash and La La Land) couldn’t have possibly been this extreme in the days when the silents were morphing into moving pictures with sound. I suppose it’s possible, but while this is a lot to take for the faint-at-heart, the amount of memorable scenes, which are often like short contained films all on their own, gives viewers a pretty high rate of bang for the buck.

Babylon was scheduled to have a major theater release but then was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which ended up losing the studio a ton of money on the flick.

Robbie, perhaps most decadent of all, plays Nellie LaRoy and is loosely based on Clara Bow, a famous silent film actress. Pitt plays Jack Conrad, loosely based on John Gilbert, a famous silent film actor who struggled to make the transition to sound films.

By the end, nearly every character has been exploited and riven by the drugs, sex, and violence of the time and place. Alongside Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, and Ryan Murphy’s Netflix show simply titled Hollywood, an argument could be made that we are in a golden era of exploring L.A.’s fascinating movie history.

5 out of 5 stars

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