Both a love letter to film and a raucous, unflinching look at the hard-living culture of the Hollywood of the time, Damien Chazelle's Babylon features a sprawling ensemble cast and an epic run time as it follows a number of characters through a crucial period of change: 1930s Los Angeles. And Chazelle certainly doesn’t hold back when it comes to portraying the wild abandon of the parties of the era.
Largely fictionalized – albeit with real-life references and inspirations – Babylon stars Margot Robbie as rising star Nellie LaRoy and Brad Pitt as silent era icon Jack Conrad (loosely inspired by John Gilbert and Douglas Fairbanks). Speaking to Total Film (opens in new tab) in the new issue of the magazine, featuring Oppenheimer on the cover Pitt discusses the scale of the movie: "There’s such an energy to this thing. I’m amazed by how much [Chazelle] was able to slot in – and not jam in, but slot in gracefully. This opening party scene is staggering, of epic proportions."
Despite the ambition and scope of the party scene, Chazelle didn’t follow the rules with his approach. "The approach of it all was not doing the coverage – you know, like a single on this actor, a single on that actor," explains Pitt. "The constant takes can actually wear down and confuse the energy of the scene. He’s doing everything in camera, old style, explosions, 700 extras, actors coming in the scene, actors coming out – in one camera shot, in one camera move, and the camera’s gliding around. It’s one of those things where you’re waiting for the magic to happen, where everything falls into place. That kind of thing is really exciting. You get close, and then something doesn’t quite work out. And you keep going until you get it. I think that energy shows in the scene."
Pitt compares the energy of the drumming scenes to an earlier Chazelle film, Whiplash. "You look at that energy in these drumming sequences [in Whiplash], and that is, to me, signature Damien, which I still marvel at," he says. "I don’t know how he and [editor] Tom Cross are able to cut it this way, but that is, in this film, on such an epic scale."
In Babylon, much of the casting has a meta, art-imitating life approach, with, for example, Hollywood newcomer Diego Calva playing wide-eyed wannabe film exec Manny Torres, and Pitt playing the established star. As for whether Chazelle was looking to draw on Pitt’s experience, the actor says, "It was never spoken. I mean, it seems that way. It seems like a wise approach to it all, certainly for an audience’s experience. They’re going to buy into actors and performers they’re familiar with, and when they’re seeing someone new, they’re going to be experiencing them for the first time as we do in the film. I mean, I’m sure that was the wisdom behind it."
Babylon opens in US cinemas on December 23, before opening in the UK on January 20. For more on the film, from Pitt, Chazelle, Robbie, and more, pick up a copy of Total Film’s 2023 Preview issue, fronted by Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer. You can pre-order here (opens in new tab), and the magazine will be available in shops and on digital newsstands from Thursday, December 15. And the print version of this new issue comes with a special 52-page supplement counting down the best films, must-see moments, and breakout stars of 2022.
- Pre-order a copy of Total Film's 2023 Preview issue, fronted by Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer (opens in new tab)
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