In 1926, a Mexican immigrant Manuel ‘Manny’ Torres gets involved with Nellie LaRoy in a wild crazy party run by a film studio executive. Soon, Manny gets a job in the studio and Nellie becomes a star. But fates begin to change when the golden silence meets its voice and the pictures go talkie.
Babylon is a time traveler to America where the booming period of the silent era was soon meeting its end. By that time, many actors and filmmakers had found success and earned a lot of money because watching silent films across America was still fresh. I am talking about feature films in America that began in 1915 when ‘The Birth of a Nation‘ was released.
So this film is not based on a real-life event but is inspired by a few stories of that period. Director Damien Chazelle briefed the audience and puzzled into a story. The purpose is to show that many successful artists and production companies of the silent era couldn’t make it and got liquidated. They lost their way, got vanished. Some tried to work in other business lines, some began to work hard for bread and butter, and some committed suicide.
The film tries to settle the audience in a mesmerizing dramatization of shooting a war scene and the struggle behind arranging the camera and managing the crew in a broad daylight. Shooting a film one hundred years ago was tormenting.
I particularly liked the sequence where Nellie had to shoot in a studio where something repeatedly messes up and has to improve in retakes without any certainty of any error in extreme heat.
PICTURING THE HISTORIC MOMENT
A scene where Manny is shocked to witness the audience going berserk in joy about a talkie scene was accurate to the actual footage Damien Chazelle used here. A few of you may have gotten the idea but let me tell you that this was a historic moment during the proceedings of the 1927 film ‘The Jazz Singer‘ when Al Jolson said “Wait a minute, wait a minute, you ain’t heard nothin’ yet”. These were the first spoken words in any feature film. And that marked the end of the silent era.
It was extremely important to show this moment to the audience and I believe it was a fabulous shot.
BACCHANALIA AT THE START
Were the parties that wild as depicted in the opening sequence? Not sure to what level of craziness can bewilder into assuming it is accurate. It was like The Great Gatsby meets The Wolf of Wall Street one hot evening. I was just lost in a marvelous production and costume designing, and heavily detailed choreography.
Another vital fact from the 1920s Babylon captures is the controversial ‘Blackface‘. It was a kind of makeup to portray a caricature of a black person. Jazz trumpeter Sidney Palmer is requested to use blackface to make his skin further dark for the Southern audience. It was heartbreaking to see Sidney’s reaction. It was an insult and who knows, how often this happened in those times.
Amongst all the performances, Margot Robbie has the standout performance. That display of incredible body language, and mental breakdown, she is a beautiful and exceptional actress. And I feel sorry for her. She deserved the nomination for Best Actress at the Oscars but couldn’t make it perhaps because the film failed at the box office. And this is what I do not like. If the film flops, so goes the chance of getting nominated.
Babylon was financed at nearly $80 million dollars but grossed only $50 million, not domestically but worldwide. This is an outrageous business.
Now, why the film failed at the box office? Screen time is the biggest reason that clocks around 190 minutes! Three hours and ten minutes of showing the audience the transition from silent to sound and how the main characters begin to fade. I am sorry but that is kind of lazy writing that will bore the audience to death.
Damien Chazelle was lost in presenting to us his visual artistry and his idea for glamour, sexuality, hedonism, and a few more. There were many scenes that were needless. The whole Tobey Maguire segment was a waste of time and contributed nothing to the story. In fact, what is the story of Babylon? Maybe I was lost in gazing at Margot Robbie that I didn’t question the story to myself.
Babylon is a beautiful distraction. Perhaps, the film works better if it is rewritten as a musical. Deservingly nominated for both costume and production design. Should have also been nominated for Best Editing. It is a massive blunder!
Babylon wants us the see the shining stars falling from the sky and fading in the proceeding. It is like our lives; we will gloom once we age. It also shows that if you do not keep it with the world, you will lose the path. The acceptance will diminish. The remembrance will suffer amnesia.
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