March 24, 2023 culture

Babylon’s storytelling of early Hollywood failed to hit the mark - it instead made me gag

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Margot Robbie in Babylon

Picture by: Scott Garfield | Paramount Pictures

A love letter to the film industry and a hate letter to Hollywood, or is it?

While I am not a particular fan of graphic and aggressive movies, I was excited for Babylon. Damien Chazelle was a big contributor to my overall excitement, because his famous works include Whiplash and La la land.

Both of these movies won numerous awards, including ‘Best achievement in directing’, which Damien got for La La land, becoming the youngest director to win this nomination in the history of the Oscars. So obviously, my expectations were high, and I decided to throw away my initial biases against Babylon and its gruesomeness. 

So what did this three-hour long extravaganza provide me with? Nothing but disappointment.

This cacophony of excess, traces the repeated rises and falls of three different characters, who lived at the time Hollywood transitioned to talkies in the 1920s and the death of the silent movie era.

It follows Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie) – an upcoming Hollywood starlet, who sneaked her way into parties and got into the industry with her amazing talent of being able to cry on cue. Manuel “Manny” Torres (Diego Calva) – a young man with big dreams, astonished by the magical world of cinema. And Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt) – the number one man in Hollywood, who had already made his success as an actor in silent films.

The cast of thousands, the hectares of locations, the costumes, even the score, all suggest what outsized ambition everything in this movie has. There’s too much happening in every shot and what’s supposed to feel like three hours, felt like three days. The story consists of nothing, there’s no plot.

The third act with Tobey Maguire comes out of nowhere and what’s even more important, no-one needs it. Unnecessary scenes such as a man eating a whole rat in a network of underground tunnels only shows the film’s excessive nature.

The movie argues that cinema is Art, with a capital A, and that the actors live on forever in the eternal legacy they create, though they commit crimes, they don’t care about themselves or others. And that the movie sets are “the most magical places of all”, or so they are supposed to be according to Conrad. But in this instance it was also the most nasty, unorganised and disgusting place of all.

I get that it was commentary on the duality of Hollywood, but the alleged ‘research’ made by the director and the crew should’ve shown them that that’s not how the movie industry worked at that time. All of this is posed as a quirky little joke, something to make the audience giggle. 

While making fun of people dying on set, it also made a mockery of the very thing they are trying to write a “love letter” to – the film industry. So all the gags about extras, camera men, crew dying on set only made me gag.

And I’m not the only one left underwhelmed. It is a flop, a box-office disappointment grossing  $63.4 million, with a production budget of around $80 million.

Written by:

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Sofia Radysh

Science Section Editor

Animal welfare correspondent

Kyiv, Ukraine | London, United Kingdom

Born in 2005, Sofia lived in Kyiv, but now, because of the war, is a refugee in London. She is interested in animal welfare and how current events and social media impact the lives of our four-legged friends, and writes about this in Harbingers’ Magazine.

In 2022, she took over from Isaac Kadas as the second editor-in-chief of Harbingers’ Magazine.

In her free time, she does dog training and film-making. She likes getting out of her comfort zone and trying new things out.

Sofia speaks Ukrainian, English, Russian and a bit of German.

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