Babylon is a movie that has certainly caused a stir and has been nominated in many categories at the up-and-coming Oscars, which is rather ironic as it’s a film about the overblown egos of Hollywood. It follows the career of one Manny Torres, an aspiring filmmaker from Mexico who meets up with fellow aspiring starlet Nelly LaRoy at a Bacchanalian party in 1920s Los Angeles.
The film also focuses upon several other characters who are at the same party, these include movie star Jack Conrad, cabaret performer Fay Zhu, journalist Elinor St. John, and a musician Sidney Palmer. It follows them as they rise and inevitably fall in their careers in a time period that spans the demise of silent films and the revolution that was to be known as the talkie. Each of these individuals’ cross paths throughout the movie as they navigate the unpredictable business of Hollywood.
The movie has an impressive and memorable opening scene with a wild an party sequence that is more like a full on orgy that perfectly encapsulates the mad and devil may care spirit of roaring twenties Hollywood. It sets a visual high that is not going to be easy to rise above, even though I have to say there are there are a number of fantastic sequences throughout the film that do come very close. This party sequence where each of the characters are introduced/first intervene is, without a doubt key to remainder of the movie and is the highlight of the film.
Director Damien Chazelle bars no holds and does not soften any punches in this full-on tale of decadence, unrestrained behavior and sleazy yet mesmerizing goings on. It’s like the opposite of the directors La La Land, being dark, licentious, way overboard and unrestrained rather than over the top cheesy and sugary. It indulges in the extreme and comes out the other side even more outrageous, having to it a glittery and tinsel town persona, but with an underlying mood that oozes with scandalous at times offensive content.
At times I was reminded of The Day of the Locust and to a certain extent the more recent version of The Great Gatsby. It’s an impressive first hour or so, but after this I felt the director lost sight of where he wanted to go with the storyline, with sections of the script being surplus to requirement to be totally honest.
Composer Justin Hurwitz re-unites with director Chazelle to provide the movie with a wonderfully upbeat and thematic score. Providing foot tapping dance numbers that to be honest would go down a storm on contemporary dance floors in the many night clubs around the world.
The music at times contains little nods back to the composer’s score for La La Land, that shine through momentarily supporting, enhancing, underlining, punctuating, and becoming part of the scenarios on screen as well as being an extension of the characters. Hurwitz is in my mind a genius and can turn his hand and adapt his style to most genres, in this case his musical mind delivers flashes and glimpses that can only be described as brilliant.
The photography is excellent, and the costumes are superb, with a storyline that is for the most part just as compelling. The score, which is built on a fairly simple but effective eight note core theme adds much to the proceedings, and I can understand why it has been nominated for best score at the Oscars.
The composer employs saxophone, jazz sounds, big band passages, risqué and sexy sounding vocals and unusual but at the same time gorgeous melodies. With the occasional Golden age sounding sumptuous compositions such as Gold Coast Sunset, entering the musical arena with lush strings, tantalizing brass and thundering percussion sounding like Max Steiner or Erich Wolfgang Korngold. There is also a rendition of Singing in the Rain, which I suppose is a homage to the Hollywood musical as we of a certain age remember it, and Singing in the Rain the movie as that too was about the face of Hollywood that we don’t often see (but told in a simpler and more innocent fashion).
The score for Babylon is a delight to listen to, from beginning to end it is a rollercoaster ride of sounds, styles, and highly inventive and affecting musical fare. In fact, I listened to it I think four times on loop and each time found something fresh. It is just intoxicating to the point of the obsessive. Upbeat, infectious, and just so good. Recommended…………