Review of “Babylon”: the Harsh Reality of the Hollywood Industry

Hollywood has remained in the collective imagination as the Mecca of cinema, a magical and perfect place, but this film portrays without censorship, with humor and rhythm, the other side of that world. Here is our review of "Babylon" .

Still from the movie Babylon

Photo: Paramount Pictures

LatinAmerican Post | Jose Arnold López Hernández

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Leer en español: Reseña de “Babylon”: la cruda realidad de la industria de Hollywood

In the last years, American cinema has questioned itself, with nostalgia, about the film industry at different times. Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, David Robert Mitchell and Steven Spielberg have resorted to stories that reflect the feelings that the industrial and technological advancement of cinema provokes.

The industrialization of cinema and its constant evolution is a process that has been masterfully portrayed in the classic "Singin' in The Rain". Decades after this film, Damien Chazelle made "La La Land" in the same spirit, with the focus this time on the protagonists and not on the industry, one of the most touching modern musicals. The film showed in a magical and special way (only as the cinema can do) the rise of two stars and their sacrifices.

Now with "Babylon", Chazelle surprises with the antithesis of his previous film. The plot is charged with the same love of cinema, but from a mature and existentialist vision. Is it an empty story that praises Hollywood, or does it have something to say about the current state of affairs? A little of both. We tell you in our review of "Babylon".

From the Circus Without Law and Order to Conservative Hegemony.

"Babylon" is from its conception an ambitious, raw, funny and ironic film with everything it wants to encompass. In it, we see several stories that are intertwined to show the change in status, the hypocrisy of the powerful and the difficulty of change. Does that complicate the narrative and its intent? Not at all.

The main story is about Manuel "Manny" Torres, a dreamer looking for his chance to enter this chaotic and magical world of the Hollywood industry. To do this, his first assignment is to bring an elephant to the mansion of the eccentric Jack Conrad for his party. And it is in this place where his destiny will begin to intersect with Nellie LaRoy, a rising actress, Lady Fay Zhu, an ambitious singer with design skills, and Sidney Palmer, an African-American trumpeter committed to his music.

From its first minutes, the unhealthy commitment of the industry to capture attention and ecstasy is shown, both the creator and his audience. The film does not stop at any point to show how extreme, vibrant and treacherous the industrial system that makes movies. It uses time jumps that mark the rise and fall of each character.

How cruel can this change be? “Babylon” is not afraid to show the continuous cycle of admiration, contempt, and oblivion suffered by the entire chain of people needed to make a film. For them and for the viewer, the world changes just to please an ideal. Those who inhabit this world have forgotten the reason they started making movies, so they cut all emotional or ethical ties. The industry changes the characters to such an extent that it leaves them unrecognizable, they hate what happened to them, but they love the art of which they were a part.

Read also: These Are the 5 Great Absentees of the Oscar 2023 Nominees

A Cyclical Party, Without Rest and Without End

The unbridled rhythm, which stems mainly from the crazy and glamorous life of its characters, reaches the images it projects, its music and its environment. In the same way, the mental, ethical, moral and social deterioration is growing, reinforced by the performances of a brilliant and charismatic group, led by a Margot Robbie that will leave more than one breathless.

Despite going completely over-the-top in its first half, then going slightly more subdued in the second, the film manages to strike a balance between melodrama and comedy over its three-hour run. Excessive its duration and its intentions? Perhaps, but the sincerity and passion of “Babylon” constitute an irony: Hollywood madness cannot be separated from the passion of its stars.

The cinema has been criticized and analyzed as entertainment and as art. The power relationship, seen from those on camera proposing ideas and catching the magic, is what makes it hard to watch. The audience gives power to the stars, the images, and the sound. It becomes a business that owes nothing to anyone, even when part of that magic happens from excessive pleasure.

To conclude, "Babylon" may feel like an excessive film in all its aspects, but it is a stance committed to reflecting that excess on screen, at any cost. It is not only entertaining, bold, grotesque, and melancholic at the same time, but also a reflection on the people who helped make the industry only to be forgotten. "Babylon" is about the relationship between creator, art and viewer, which, from his perspective, can be just as bad and just as beautiful. You can still see it in theaters.

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