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Our love affair with Hollywood endures like the great Hollywood epics themselves, we can’t get enough of the inside look at the most influential art form in the history of civilization. Writer/director Damien Chazelle has crafted another navel-gazing potboiler, Babylon, about the early days of cinema, namely the ‘20’s, its youthful energy and its decadence, like teens left on their own with only their appetites to guide them.

Jack Gordon (Brad Pitt) is a middle-aged silent movie star, arguably at this peak but about to be upended with the emergence of the talkies, even though his voice is appropriate for the new world. As in any endeavor, the time comes to retire. Nellie La Roy (Margot Robbie) is the opposite—she’s ascending through a combination of stunning looks, performing talent, and pluck. Neither character, like the silent films themselves, can withstand the changes about to take place in this new entertainment.

Chazelle directs his actors at a frenetic pace, like the growing pains of Hollywood itself, such that the orgy opening the film is more like a circus with less sensuality and more mayhem. Everyone is more interested in advancing their careers than experiencing a chaotic moment of pleasure. Babylon shows the cauldron of ambitions and chaos underneath the false facades and flawed actors.

The length, over 3 hours, mirrors the excess of the subject matter. Like James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water the audience is tested for endurance whereas in times long ago, intermissions were allowed; exhibitors, unless compensated, were restricted for the number of showings per day; and some shots linger longer than necessary even for art’s sake.

Babylon is not for kids, and it is not for casual moviegoers whose patience is tested in physical time and in enduring Hollywood’s abiding self interest. As for the rest of us who find the whole process of filmmaking down to its narcissism worth the hours required, enjoy!


Director: Damien Chazelle (La La Land, Whiplash)

Screenplay: Chazelle

Cast: Brad Pitt (Bullet Train), Margot Robbie (Amsterdam)

Run Time: 3h 8m

Rating: R

Comedy, drama, history

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts NPR’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics as well as podcasts Back Talk and Double Take out of WCBE 90.5 FM. Contact him at JohnDeSando52@gmail.com

John DeSando holds a BA from Georgetown University and a Ph.D. in English from The University of Arizona. He served several universities as a professor, dean, and academic vice president. He has been producing and broadcasting as a film critic on It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics for more than two decades. DeSando received the Los Angeles Press Club's first-place honors for national entertainment journalism.