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Babylon review – Brad Pitt suaves through a grand hymn to golden age Hollywood

Pitt and Margot Robbie, and many razzle dazzle setpieces, help lift a story in no hurry to engage with the true-life nastiness of its era Damien Chazelle returns to that la la land in which he made his big breakthrough, with a turbocharged but heavy-handed epic about the secret chaos and excess of 1920s silent-era Hollywood on the verge of talkie extinction, inspired by some well-known anecdotes and further embellishing the apocryphal rumours and tales. It’s a love letter to the movies, inevitably, though I remember Chazelle’s previous films being love letters to actual human beings. There are preemptive references to Singin’ in the Rain and it climaxes with a swoony-solemn Oscar-telecast-type montage including clips from Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon and James Cameron’s Terminator 2. Funny though Babylon often is, in all its frantic melodrama it is weirdly without the gentle romantic sweetness and believable human frailty in his Oscar-winning film La La Land (although there are musical echoes of that earlier picture and the same message that jazz is where integrity is to be found in showbusiness). Chazelle is also concerned to restore some of the minorities who have been erased in Hollywood’s history, as well as be more candid about the sordid realities, but he fudges the new #MeToo conversation about the Hollywood golden age: all the raunchy sex here is very much consensual. Pundits have cited silent movie historian and evangelist Kevin Brownlow in relation to this film, but the debt is obviously more to Kenneth Anger, author of Hollywood Babylon – and frankly even more to Baz Luhrmann than either. The outrageous party scenes, with the mandatory overhead shots showing the ecstatically unclothed women crowd-surfing face-up are so much like Luhrmann he should be getting a royalty cheque. Continue reading...

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