Chazelle: with Babylon, I recount the follies and transgressions of an era

from Stefania Ulivi

The director, Oscar with «La la land», talks about the new film with Margot Robbi and Brad Pitt on the excessive Hollywood of the beginning. «My homage to a group of pioneers»

«To prepare myself, I have re-watched many films, such as Intolerance by Griffith, Fourth power by Orson Welles, Nashville of Altman, but also The Godfather And Apocalypse now of Coppola and yours The leopard of Visconti and The sweet life by Fellini. The latter especially for the ability to start from a story to tell a whole world. To say, the party scenes: Italian cinema has taught us to tell them, they are not just parties but social cross-sections, they tell us the way in which a society is changing». Oscar winner Damien Chazelle worked for over fifteen years on his fifth film, Babylon, and now that he’s about to entrust it to the public (in the US it comes out on December 23rd, here on January 19th with Eagle Pictures), he mixes trepidation with a touch of disbelief for having completed the project. A tribute to the Hollywood of the pioneers, in the twenties of the last century, almost the flip side of La la land. In both cases it begins with a wild dance. But there was the promise of another day of sun. Here reality immediately shows its cracks, it is the deconstruction of the myth. So far, says the director al Courierlittle told.

«The thing that prompted me to start this journey already in 2009, at the time of my first film, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, was realizing that, beyond the Hollywood myth we all feed on, I too knew so little about that group of pioneers. There was the potential to go beyond glamour, to investigate as much as there outrageous, dangerous, insane, reckless and wild. They built an industry from scratch that fed on a strange combination of creativity, sex, drugs, music, something unique». Which, he says, left casualties in the field. «I have always been interested in the human cost of things, collateral damage is often forgotten and only the result is looked at. In this case the transition from silent cinema to sound, as if it had been an effortless transition. Instead the cost was brutal and left behind so many people». Like some of its protagonists. Babylon is a choral tale: there is the Mexican boy of high hopes and splendid appearance, Manny Torres (Diego Calva), the dreaded socialite Elinor St. John (Jean Smart), the trumpet virtuoso, Sidney Palmer (Jovan Adepo) , black musician admitted by virtue of his talent in a world led by whites, the underworld James McKay (Tobey Maguire, also producer), film enthusiast as well as psychopathic and depraved. There is also the little fixer Bob Levine, entrusted to Flea, bassist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Above all, there are the two protagonists. Nelly LaRoy, a Margot Robbie, a splendid wannabe, with a very beautiful mother behind her and an out of the ordinary human energy. And Jack Conrad, Hollywood’s highest-paid silent star, who just snaps his fingers to get it all. Until the advent of sound that threatens to push him onto the avenue of sunset. «I’m the luckiest director in the world – admits Chazelle -, with such a crazy cast: I can’t name them all but everyone gave their best. Brad and Margot were very brave, they are not easy characters». He needed two stars, he explains, to play two stars. “Like a meta story. I’m not saying that they played themselves giving life to Nelly and Jack, but they put their own to make them believable, to perceive, under the patina of myth, the fragility and tenderness of real people». For both a wedding invitation, which puts them at the forefront of the radar of the race to the Oscars. Pitt also prepared a lot. «I studied silent stars, like Douglas Fairbanks and Rudolph Valentino. There was charm in their performances, they couldn’t use dialogue, it was different». The attention to detail to recreate the Hollywood of a hundred years ago borders on obsession. Chazelle shot on 35mm, used the studios built by Charlie Chaplin. For the soundtrack, the accomplice of all time, Justin Hurwitz, his trademark since Whiplash and La la land. Now it’s up to the public. That of the hall, for Chazelle there is no doubt. “It’s our fight.”

December 16, 2022 (change December 16, 2022 | 00:13)

Chazelle: with Babylon, I recount the follies and transgressions of an era