Director Damien Chazelle is writing a love letter to cinema with Babylon starring Margot Robbie, Diego Calva and Brad Pitt.
Towards the middle of the 1920s, three Tinseltown residents: Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt), the handsome young man of Hollywood cinema, Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie), a young country woman who wants to be a star, and Manny Torres (Diego) that an excited film assistant. Chazelle tells an early Hollywood story with these three characters during 1920s, when only silent movies were made in Hollywood. However, Babylon is great and resplendent.
Building his story on these three characters, Chazelle takes the audience on a journey to the Hollywood of the 1920s. The film begins with a grand party held at the home of one of Hollywood’s leading producers. Music, dance, drugs, lots of sex and recording: “Cinema is great, what about Hollywood?” This grand house party is perhaps one of the most dynamic scenes in the movie. We see Nellie, a young country woman who dreams of becoming a star while seeing the charisma and dominance of Jack, who is now middle-aged, in Hollywood, and Manny, who will do “whatever” in the cinema and we see his eyes shining brightly into this magical world. Although the window through which Chazelle looks at Hollywood with its cinematographically acclaimed party scene with its fast-paced sequences and resplendent dances may be seen as a hysterical perspective by some, the director is embellishing the cinema from the opening scene. Nellie and Manny both want to be in this magical world, maybe to do something useful or be part of the party. At the end of the night, both Nellie and Manny will step into Hollywood.
In the continuation of the movie, we see a lot of Hollywood sets. The first of these is the epic set, where Nellie and Manny take their first steps into Hollywood, and a medieval war story is told: A Hollywood set in the mid-1920s, with two fronts made up of hundreds of soldiers and its director trying to frame the film’s lovers in the most romantic way without missing the sunset… With this epic battle scene, Chazelle compliments Hollywood’s passion for cinema with a Yeşilçam-like feeling and says, “If there is no cinema, this is great. What’s the meaning of sunset?” he asks. Chazelle continues to drag the audience from this romantic and warm scene, where two lovers kiss against the sunset in a valley, to scenes with high tempo.
With this first movie, Nellie’s star shone, and Manny had a place for himself on the sets, but not long after, an era in Hollywood is closing and a new page is opening, and we see the first dialogue movie The Jazz Singer (1927) on the big screen. Fascinated by the movie, Manny leaves the movie theater and rushes to the phone booth, calling his co-producer and saying: “Something is about to change.” In Babylon, where dance, music and sometimes action-packed scenes flow one after the other, Chazelle likes to sprinkle lyrical or sharp lines about Hollywood and cinema, sometimes in calmer scenes. This scene, which is the harbinger of change, is one of them. Maybe these lines are getting away from being a cliché at times, due to the rushing pace of the movie, or the excitement of the audience who likes to fall in love with the nostalgic magic of the cinema.
The story continues and Chazelle framed the transition to sound films and Hollywood, which was in a kind of labor pain; Jack tries to feed Nellie and Manny’s personal stories into his narrative. Indeed, all three characters tell a story from the Hollywood of that day: Jack is reminiscent of the famous actor John Gilbert, Nellie is a representation of female stars like Clara Bow, and Manny is just one of the Mexican immigrants trying to exist in Hollywood. We should not forget the black musician Sidney Palmer, brought to life by Jovan Adepo (and I would also like to open parenthesis for Elinor St. John, the journalist who keeps the pulse of Hollywood in her column and interviews the actors, like the other cinema workers Chazelle hats off. journalists are also mentioned). With this aspect, Babylon offers a panoramic view of the emerging Hollywood.
Chazelle, who tries to frame Hollywood in motion and the invisible face of the community, the three main characters who were the symbols of Hollywood at that time, and many components of the cinema in the 1920s-30s, tells a long Hollywood story that exceeds three hours. “Babylon” is neither a Hollywood critique with its sex and drug-filled parties, nor is it a film that aims to tell the story of three different filmmakers. Maybe it’s just a Hollywood movie written to celebrate his passion for cinema in a Hollywood style.
In my opinion, Babylon can be watched only in order to go to a movie theater and feel how fascinating the cinema is in that dark hall where dozens of people come together these days, when movies are being transferred to digital platforms, and just to get out of the moment.