margot Robbie, Brad Pitt and Diego Calva are the protagonists of Babylon, the new film by Damien Chazelle set in Los Angeles in the 1920s. Expected in Italy in January, it promises to conquer everyone with its mix of drama, music and biographical references.
comes the January 19th at the cinema, distributed by Eagle Pictures, Babylonthe awaited new film by Damien Chazelle. After the global success of La La LandChazell directs an epic set in 1920s Los Angeles with Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie and Diego Calva leading an ensemble cast that includes Jean Smart, Jovan Adepo and Li Jun Li.
A story of ambition beyond all limits and outrageous excesses, the film Babylon traces the rise and fall of multiple characters during an era of wanton decadence and depravity in the early days of Hollywood.
The price of ambition
For the screenwriter and director Damien Chazellethe screenplay of the film Babylon is the result of 15 years of research and insights. “I wanted to put the early days of cinema under the microscope, the early days of a new art form and an industry that was still trying to settle down,” said the director. “On a deeper level, I liked the idea of observing a changing society. Hollywood underwent a series of rapid and sometimes seemingly disastrous changes in the 1920s. Some people survived, some didn’t. Telling what happened to them reflects well what cost that ambition that at that moment attracted so many people to Los Angeles had”.
The background against which the film moves Babylon it is that of the 1920s, a period in which cinema went through a strong period of transition. Not only for the advent of sound but also for a whole series of new moral guidelines that would culminate in the Thirties in the Hays Code. It is the same period in which Los Angeles from an almost desert western city is transformed into one of the major megalopolises of the world: new skyscrapers and soundstages arose from the ashes of the old houses, also paying a high human cost.
Between the fall of 2018 and the spring of 2019, to get the right inspiration for the blockbuster he had in mind, Chazelle began to see again on the big screen (together with the other producers) 35mm films shot in various periods, such as Intolerance, Wings, The rule of the game, Nashville, The Leopard, The hunter, The sweet life, Fourth power, The Godfather – Part II, Apocalypse Now, Boogie Nights and Those good guys. But what was at first a short list of titles soon turned into a long list of films that also includes Barry Lindon, The gates of heaven, In the Mood for Love and The conformist.
“It was important for us to see those films again on the big screen,” commented the producer Matthew Pouffle. “It served to remind us of what it is like to witness a work whose ambition goes beyond the conventions of the time in which it was made. With BabylonOur goal is to bring audiences an ambitious film about the early years of Hollywood.”
Welcome to Babylon: the main characters
Babylon like any great epic features several characters moving in the background of the film. However, it is first and foremost the story of Nellie LaRoy, a young and unknown actress who is trying to seize her big break to make it into the world of cinema. Though inspired by a myriad of characters who have moved into the background of silent cinema (starting with Joan Crawford), Nellie has the biggest reference of her in real-life actress Clara Bow.
“Clara Bow probably had the worst childhood I’ve heard so far,” he explained Margot Robbie, the actress chosen for the role of Nellie. “Her parents didn’t even declare her birth: they had already lost two other children before her and they were certain that the same fate would befall her”.
“Nellie is a force of nature who crashes into everything in her path,” Damien Chazelle pointed out. “There’s something magical about her that turns her into a star but that also causes her to encounter many problems. However, she is the perfect symbol of an age where every old rule is about to be broken”.
Also trying to enter the world of Hollywood and the business that revolves around it is the young dreamer Manny Torres, a role entrusted to the almost unknown Diego Calva, recruited after 18 months of tryouts and auditions. “Manny is from Mexico and is trying to make it in Hollywood but there are many obstacles to overcome,” specified Margot Robbie. “He and Nellie find each other because they’re both outsiders and they recognize each other. They meet during a party in the villa of the tycoon Don Wallach, where Nellie has arrived without an invitation and with not exactly peaceful intentions”.
Inspired by several real-life figures, Manny has his greatest reference in Rene Cardona, a Cuban immigrant who in 1920s Hollywood rose through the ranks to become the youngest Los Angeles film studio executive before becoming a pioneer of the age of Mexican cinema gold.
Along the way, both Nellie and Manny find themselves dealing with Jack Conrad, a silent film star at the peak of his career, with the face of Brad Pitt. We meet Jack for the first time when he arrives at Wallach’s party in the company of his future ex-wife Ina (Olivia Wilde) and we immediately realize that he evokes myths such as John Gilbert, Douglas Fairbaks and Rudolph Valentino, absolute myths of silent cinema.
“Jack is the top-grossing filmmaker of all time,” said Damien Chazelle. “He became a star at a time when the word star was completely new, something we hardly understand today. Yet when he arrives at the party, Jack knows enough about everyone in the room to address everyone and make them feel special.”
To get into Jack’s shoes, Brad Pitt did his research and watched numerous silent films. “Silent films have no dialogue to rely on – the actors were acting totally different than they are now,” Pitt recalled.
Babylon: The character posters
The other characters
The film Babylon then introduces other characters more or less important to the story. The first is gossip columnist Elinor St. John who, played by Jean Smart, is able with his words to make or break a career in Hollywood out of thin air. But there is also trumpeter Sidney Palmer who, brought on stage by Jovan Adeponever misses a party and who, with the introduction of sound in films, will see his life go towards a sensational turning point.
Ji Jun Li impersonates Lady Fay Zhu, a young woman who, unable to pass from a performance a la Marlene Dietrich helps her father in the family laundromat, with her oriental traits she adapts to any situation just to work in the cinema. Toby Maguire instead he plays James McKay, the owner of a casino who could perfectly well be a psychopath, to whom Manny and Nellie turn for a debt incurred by the girl. Olivia Hamiltonactress and producer wife of Chazelle, finally supports the role of director Ruth Adler, one of the first people to see the potential of Nellie as an actress.
There are also many actors who appear in small roles in the film Babylon: Olivia Wilde (Ina, one of Jack Conrad’s wives); Max Minghella (Irving Thalber, MGM executive); Katherine Waterston (Estelle Conrad, Jack’s other wife); Flea (Bob Levine); PJ Byrne (Max, Ruth’s assistant director); Lukas Haas (George Munn, Jack’s best friend); Rory Scovel (“the Earl,” aspiring actor); Eric Robers (Robert, Nellie’s overbearing father); Jeff Garlin (tycoon Don Wallach); Ethan Suplee (Wilson, one of James McKay’s lackeys); and Samara Weaving (Constance Moore, silent film star).
Babylon: Stills from the film