All year, as we approached award season, Babylon was the one people were leaving room for. This happens often – a film set for a Christmas release, by an award-winning director, with a star-studded cast… there were expectations, there were predictions. Now that Babylon has started screening, first in LA last week and then in New York, we’re finally getting a sense of whether or not it can live up to the hype.
Damien Chazelle broke out with Whiplash, followed that up with La La Land, and then First Man, establishing himself as an Academy favourite, anointing him as Hollywood’s new “auteur”. It was time, then, for Damien to make a film about Hollywood – and the title alone tells you what kind of Hollywood he’s trying to illuminate. You don’t call your movie Babylon if you’re telling a story about restraint. In the Bible, Babylon was the city of excess, corruption, and immorality – words that also describe Hollywood, and not necessarily the Hollywood of Damien’s La La Land. Where La La Land might have been an earnest portrait about what is lost in pursuit of the Hollywood dream, Hollywood in Babylon is about the cost of that dream, and apparently the coke of that dream. Because that’s the word that keeps coming up in early reaction to the film. “Coke-fueled”, “coke binge”, cocaine everywhere:
every babylon reaction is just a paragraph about coke that in no way indicates if they enjoyed the movie or not.— emily (@jenjoliesoscar) November 17, 2022
There have been comparisons to Scorsese, only instead of criminals getting high and doing some f-cked up sh-t, it’s celebrities getting high and doing some f-cked up sh-t. It is polarising and it will be controversial, which means everybody will be fighting over it in a few weeks, not unlike last year’s Don’t Look Up, as Nate Jones pointed out, which will only add to the buzz? Will the buzz bring nominations though? It did for Don’t Look Up and we know the Academy loves Hollywood movies about Hollywood.
Babylon is the Hollywood that people fantasise about – parties and big egos, sex, drugs, glitter, wild nights and rough mornings; illusions and regret. It’s the Hollywood that a lot of people get nostalgic about, even those who are supposed to know better. Because that’s the power of celebrity, that’s the lifestyle that Hollywood itself immortalised as the ultimate inspiration. That’s why YouTubers, Instagram influencers, and TikTokkers who have more followers than most movie stars still want to “make it” by traditional measure of success. They’ll want to live in this movie and make this movie real life.
That said, Babylon is contending alongside Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans, also a love letter to movies but with a much different tone. Damien Chazelle’s love letter to the movie business is evidently dripping in coke, while Spielberg’s is soaked in family melodrama – an escape of a different sort, and probably a lot cleaner. The juxtaposition between the two will be interesting.
Right now, Margot seems to be the face of Babylon, involved in most of the promotional activity and the one who’s being talked about as a Best Actress nominee. Here she is with Damien in London yesterday in what is probably not a Chanel outfit, which is why she looks so great in it. And those shoes!