The film opens with the bizarre sight of studio goefer Manny (Diego Calva desperately manoeuvring an elephant uphill to a grand mansion, where it is to be the highlight of a spectacular party. The actual party is indeed a colourful Babylonian orgy – hot jazz, booze and sex going full throttle, bare breasts and copulation everywhere. The sort of gathering which brought about Fatty Arbuckle’s downfall, making Jay Gatsby’s famous parties look like a kiddies’ birthday gathering.
Here we’re introduced to ageing matinee idol Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt), who can party all night and turn up on set at dawn the next day looking fresh as a daisy and wannabe actress Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie), whose blatant displaying of her sexual charms gets her the attention she longs for and a foot in the door of the growing film industry. Our guide through this mad, mad world is Manny, who is befriended and employed by Conrad and falls hopelessly in love with the fickle and flamboyant Nellie and who also in time begins himself to climb the sticky, tricky tree of Hollywood power.
This is by no means a perceptive dramatic analysis of the early history of film. What it is is raucous, rowdy and enormous fun. At over three hours in length, it does sometimes feel it is overstaying its welcome but that can though be forgiven thanks to delicious scenes such as the shooting of a silent mediaeval epic next to a western on neighbouring sets in the desert from dawn to dusk and the often comic hazards of recording sound, when that new baby arrives. While its wistful final scenes, where Manny looks back through the filter of the fifties vision of his heyday as seen in the all time favourite Singing in the Rain end the film on an effectively poignant note.
Pitt is charismatic in his partying and has his effective thespian moment when he realises that his heyday is over. Robbie is outrageously sexy as Nellie and Calva bemused but pretty much hanging onto his sanity throughout. Other colourful characters include Li Jun Li as gay night club singer Lady Fay Zhu, with whom Nellie has a fling and Jovan Adepo as Afro American jazz trumpeter Sidney Palmer, who at one point is humiliatingly forced to “black up” because he’s not black enough to match the blackface of the Al Jolson era. Best of all in the lively supporting cast is Hedda Hopper style gossip columnist Elinor St John (Jean Smart), superciliously observing the shenanigans through a haze of her own cigarette smoke. As she, like Jack, ages and sees the writing on the wall, she delivers a most effective homily on the fickle nature of fame, particularly fame Hollywood style.
BABYLON arrives for fans to watch at home on Digital 21st March, 2023 and on 4K Ultra HD™ + Blu-ray™ SteelBook®, 4K Ultra HD™, Blu-ray™, DVD, from the 3rd April from Paramount Home Entertainment.
|Fans who buy the film on Digital*, 4K Ultra HD™ + Blu-ray™ SteelBook®, 4K Ultra HD™ or Blu-ray™, will have access to over 40 minutes of behind-the-scenes interviews and deleted scenes to further illuminate how the cinematic tour-de-force was brought to life. Bonus content is detailed below:
|A Panoramic Canvas Called Babylon— The cast and crew discuss the inspiration and motivation behind the original story and development of this epic, 15 years in the making.
The Costumes of Babylon— Discover how costume design was fundamental to character development and the challenges that went into creating over 7,000 costumes for the film.
Scoring Babylon— Take a peek into Justin Hurwitz’s musical process to understand the artistry behind composing an iconic score that further elevates the film.
Deleted & Extended Scenes
|Also available, BABYLON the original motion picture soundtrack is released by Mercury Classics Soundtrack & Score. Available digitally now and on CD & Vinyl on April 14th.