Babylon: Damien Chazelle has brought forth this star-studded film with much fanfare and Oscar hype to tell a fictional story (loosely based on fact) regarding Hollywood as it transitions in the 1920s from silent films to talkies. Chazelle is known for films such as Whiplash, La La Land and First Man. As the film opens, there is an outrageous party taking place which the Margot Robbie character crashes. Attending would be the superstar actor of the time played by Brad Pitt.
There is a jazz band playing and Margot does her level best to make herself the centre of attention in the hopes of catching someone’s attention, since in her mind she is star material. She is successful as she gets a small part in a western cowboy movie where she steals the scene, set in a tavern. Told in much the same way as Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, the story follows a number of the main characters including the black trumpet player of the jazz band at that party. I mention his race because there is a critical scene for him when he is working in a sound film as he is meant to build on the success of Al Jolson.
This movie is 3 hours and 9 mins long. It should be about two and a half. It becomes overly cumbersome in its own stories. There is a cameo by Tobey McGuire which could have been removed in its entirety. I am thankful that I didn’t watch this in a theatre,and pay good money for it. Is it a big screen film, in the same way that Top Gun Maverick or Avatar is? Absolutely not. The overall theme is the shifting of skills from silent films, where facial expression and physical abilities are paramount, versus in speaking films where the voice and delivering a line becomes the primary skill. So if you had an offensive speaking voice, you could get away with it in silent films. No more. Voice coaches, accents and delivering lines that had to be memorized is crucial. Yet despite this the stories which get recycled from silent films and show these new skills are very popular, just with different stars. Hollywood is a fickle place. One day you are at the top, then someone younger or prettier or eloquent arrives to take your place. Or the local Hollywood reporter picks up stories about you and writes about you to impact the overall perception about you. No matter what the era in Hollywood there will always be the allure of sex,drugs,alcohol, gambling and other vices. That is a constant. It impacts people in different ways, and the consequences are predictable. So is this movie. The stories are not really that unique. Even though these stories aren’t “real” they can be a composite of other people from the time like the Robbie character who has some similar traits as Clara Bow. The Oscar voters also were not impressed by this rather depressing tale. It garnered three nominations for Production Design, Score and Costume Design. No acting nods.
I will admit that I not a real Margot Robbie fan. The Aussie actress seems to play very similar roles as the somewhat wacky woman looks to her sex appeal to make up for a lot of ordinary traits in her. Apparently Emma Stone was considered for the role of Robbie and ended up turning it down. I shudder to think what Stone would have done with this, since she doesn’t have the looks of a Robbie (not in my mind anyway). But Chazelle used her in La La Land and maybe he wanted to continue the relationship. Overall I found this film to be an over indulgence with scenes that were too busy, bombarding the senses visually making it difficult to concentrate. There is too much excess. I am sure that this reflects the reality, but is disturbing as you can see someone self-destructing. I cannot recommend. There were some pretty pictures and scenes but just not worth the time invested.
Pleasure: This is a 2021 movie that I stumbled upon looking at the movies available on Crave. I had never heard of it before, which makes sense because it really isn’t a mainstream film with known actors. In many ways though it mirrors some of the themes in the better hyped Babylon. Much like the Margot Robbie character, Sofia Kappel plays a young Swedish woman, called Bella Cherry, looking to make her mark and become famous. She targets being a porn actress as opposed to mainstream silent films. But the approach is the same.
Bella has ambition and is determined to make something of herself, and will do virtually anything to become known. She takes criticisms and suggestions about her current state to heart and will, to her credit, act on them to move forward towards her goal. She wants to be the top porn actress. What were boundaries which she initially had, wash away in the desire to gain notoriety, followers on social media and becoming popular with those who have the power in that industry. She takes part in scenes that are uncomfortable to watch and I am certain to perform in. If the viewer has any illusions that this industry is about pleasure, the curtains will be pulled to the side and a clear window into it will be shown.
Much like Robbie, she sells her soul for the golden chalice. She had some friends that she lived with, a couple of who had some modest success in the business, she Bella wants more. To that end she will betray those around her to get ahead. Friendship be damned, her singular mission doesn’t have time to stop and be sympathetic. To her credit, Bella is take charge and doesn’t wait for others to create opportunities for her. Robbie the same. They both make things happen, and make the best of circumstances as they present themselves in the moment. For Bella, it can be attending a convention where she is just one of many “talent” on the floor and then making herself front and centre upstaging the better known star. The underlying theme is “be careful what you ask for, you might just get it”. In the same way that Tony Montana in Scarface wanted to be a King of the World, unbridled ambition can leave the soul crumbling, with no one there to be beside you to enjoy it. Despite the uncomfortable scenes, I think Kappel has a magnetism, with a presence on screen. We’ll see what else she can be doing in the future. No matter what the industry, whether main stream films, porn or any other, when one digs deeper into the power and people involved, you can have your eyes opened to the reality of it.
Gladiator 2: Alison shared this news item with me that I wanted to share. The title of course is a little surprising since in the original Gladiator the Russell Crowe character Maximus dies on the floor of the Coliseum, along with Caesar. But apparently, the 85yo Ridley Scott is looking to have a sequel to Gladiator telling the story of young Lucius, who was the son of Lucilla, the daughter of Marcus Aurelius
The Aftersun actor Paul Mescal will play Lucius. The rest of the details are unknown except a release date scheduled for 2024. I am not sure how to feel about this. I like Gladiator, certainly the Hans Zimmer score was excellent, I hated the CGI especially of the Coliseum, but the story and Russell Crowe was really good. The film won Best Film and Best Actor for Crowe in 2001. Ridley Scott is also one of my favourite directors. So we will see what he can come up with. Like Clint Eastwood, he keeps cranking out movies and working. There is apparently no retirement age in Hollywood, and especially directors.