Opens December 22 @ SIFF Egyptian and other cinemas around Seattle
Sure, making a movie or miniseries takes forever and ideas come from everywhere, but there’s been a recent glut of them that I’d call “I just listened to a really great season of Karina Longworth’s You Must Remember This,” the delightful podcast about Hollywood’s first century. Projects I’d include under this umbrella include Ryan Murphy’s Feud (“Six Degrees of Joan Crawford”), the Kristen Stewart-starring Seberg (“Jean and Jane”), and Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (“Charles Manson’s Hollywood”). And now writer/director Damien Chazelle (La La Land, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench) has Babylon, which intentionally or not pairs beautifully with Longworth’s Fake News: Fact Checking Hollywood Babylon miniseries on Kenneth Anger’s infamous 1959 book of salacious gossip.
Chazelle is taking a big swing with this film, a three-hour epic of bacchanalia that applies a propulsive Scorsese Goodfellas touch to the history of early Tinseltown. (Paul Thomas Anderson would also successfully employ this style for Boogie Nights.) It was a time of rampant drug use, open bisexuality, bombastic parties, and the feeling that anything was possible. So of course the government would crack down on this so-called depravity, believing that these films and filmmakers were wreaking havoc on the country’s morality, and thus the Motion Picture Production Code of 1934 was born, heavily censoring American-made movies all the way to the late-1960s.
Perhaps not an ode to the era so much as a roller coaster through it as experienced by a Mexican American production assistant (relative newcomer Diego Calva), Babylon co-stars Margot Robbie, Brad Pitt, Jean Smart, and Tobey Maguire as barely disguised approximations of 1920s A-listers who rose, fell, and imbibed all sorts of illegal concoctions. Happy New Year.