By Adam Freed
In 2014 writer / director Damien Chazelle’s career sprang to life with his blister rupturing ode to artistic pursuit in Whiplash. Only two years later he penned and helmed his Oscar darling and landmark of Hollywood heartbreak, La La Land. Chazelle’s newest offering, Babylon, seems to be the dark offspring of those prior works.
Initially set in the oft romanticized silent era of Hollywood, Babylon opens like an endorphin spiked fever dream, lapping Baz Luhrmann’s generationally equivalent Gatsby film in almost every form of debauchery imaginable. This is not a celebration of the golden era, but rather an illumination of the broken morality that has, and seemingly always will lurk in the dark shadows of the Hollywood hills.
Babylon is a stark reminder that to truly love anyone or anything requires an acceptance of the less glamorous realities of life. Chazelle illustrates to perfection the chaos and cost of capturing the perfect backlit kiss, silhouetting its stars in sunset. A frozen moment of perfection, impossible without hours of unpleasantness.
The inevitable evolution from the silent film era to Al Jolson’s historically problematic Jazz Singer, presents as particularly treacherous for stars Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt) and Nellie LaRoy, played by the limitlessly talented Margot Robbie. The arrival of the talkie era heart wrenchingly acted as Darwin to so many silent era Hollywood careers, and tragically this film’s antihero and heroine are no exception.
Babylon reminds audiences that the movie machine will always be superior to the cogs who historically shine and inevitably fade. But, in a rare sentimental nod, allows that those cogs, captured permanently in silver frames will survive eternity, Forever etched in time, void of the self destruction going on just beyond the cameras reach.
Those who embrace a romantic notion pertaining to the power of film are in for a wake up call. Although bloated at times, Chazelle’s film is equal parts love letter to the high art of cinema and condemnation of the collateral damage left in the wake of its creation.