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Damien Chazelle Fatuously Takes the Piss Out of Old Hollywood
Barely a minute into Babylon, Damien Chazelle’s manic blend of poison pen and love letter to Old Hollywood, an elephant takes a massive projectile dump, its pulsing anus spewing sludgy excrement in extreme close-up. Both the characters and the camera lens get drenched (read whatever meta-meaning you’d like into that), and the next three-plus hours do their darndest to live down to the expectations set by this scat-shooting opening salvo.
Chazelle’s Kenneth Anger-like proposal is that the silent-era dream factory was a demented and depraved abyss, yet hellishly fun as long as one remained in freefall. He lays out this jaundiced thesis via the frenetically staged introductory set piece, a raucous all-night party at an estate on the outskirts of Los Angeles, circa 1926, to which that poor pachyderm is delivered for, ahem, shits and giggles. Everyone in attendance is suggestive of a real-life figure, though the names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent, as well as, presumably, to avert libel suits.
…Babylon is all exclamation points. Chazelle adores delirium and the calamitously grand gestures of obsessive people, be they fucboi jazz aficionados or, as in First Man, Neil Armstrong. Here, LaRoy, Conrad, and Torres represent an unholy trinity of film-world fanatics, each addicted to the hectic magic of moviemaking, and it must be said that Robbie, Pitt, and Calva at least fully commit to realizing Chazelle’s vision, dimwitted as it finally proves to be.
…Chazelle appears to be saying that there are no original stories left to be told, and that the progenitors of those tales were unrepentant hedonists anyway, so we might as well just wallow in the excess like a pig in filth. His torturously glib cynicism is quite the attitude around which to build an epic boondoggle of this sort.
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