Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle screened “Babylon,” his epic love letter to Hollywood, for the first time on Monday (Nov. 14) in advance of its Christmas Day release. His 3-hour plus picture from Paramount chronicles the turbulent transition from the silent era to the talkies.
Chazelle has crafted a story that blends fact with fiction as it follows the journeys of two newcomers to Tinseltown: would-be starlet Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie) and filmmaker Manny Torres (Diego Calva). The supporting cast is led by Oscar champ Brad Pitt as matinee idol Jack Conrad and Emmy darling Jean Smart as the tart-tongued Elinor St. John.
In the post-screening Q&A, Pitt spoke about collaborating with Chazelle on creating his larger-than-life character, who is in the vein of screen legends Douglas Fairbanks and John Gilbert. Pitt readily conceded that he had been dismissive of their style of acting for being too over-the-top and admitted, “it wasn’t until I sat down and saw some of the films at Damien’s urging that you find a real charm in them, and a warmth in them.”
Robbie observed that the decadence depicted in the film is far removed from the reality of Hollywood today, “where there’s way less drugs now.” Indeed moviemaking a century ago was, in the words of Pitt, like working in the “wild wild West.”
Chazelle has spoken of hoping to make a movie that paid tribute to a trio of cinema classics: Federico Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita,” Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather” and Robert Altman’s “Nashville.” The tag line for “Babylon,” which accompanies the trailer above, promises all that and more: ” A tale of outsized ambition and outrageous excess, it traces the rise and fall of multiple characters during an era of unbridled decadence and depravity in early Hollywood.”
Behind-the scenes, the writer/director reunited with lenser Linus Sandgren, and composer Justin Hurwitz who won Oscars for their work on “La La Land” plus that film’s cutter Tom Cross. who had prevailed with the academy for Chazelle’s first film “Whiplash.”
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