Damien Chazelle lifts the veil on “Babylone” at TIFF


Photo: Paramount Pictures

While a slew of hot fall titles debuted in Venice, Telluride and Toronto, one project stood out in its absence: Damien Chazelle’s Jazz Age bacchanalia Babylon. But Chazelle himself is in Toronto this week, and in a career-spanning chat with TIFF CEO Cameron Bailey on Tuesday afternoon, he revealed one reason why Babylon does not currently have the duration of his standing ovations followed by everyone on Twitter: he is not yet finished with the film. “I hope I finish it!” he told the festival crowd, shortly after we were treated to a surprise viewing of the Babylon trailer (and shortly before, we were treated to a second viewing, just because). But for a project so far shrouded in mystery, Chazelle pulled back the velvet curtain a bit to whet our appetites ahead of the film’s premiere in December.

Babylon takes place in Hollywood at the end of the silent period. “It was pure cinema, just image and music,” Chazelle said. “One of the tragic ironies of this era is that just as the art form was reaching its peak, the legs were cut off.” While you could make jokes about Chazelle making a jazz movie again, the initial itch for the project was to consciously move away from the movies he had done before. After constructing his first four films around a central couple, he wanted to make an ensemble film à la Altman, and after the immobility of first man, he wanted to do something big and strong. The result, he said, was his most grueling shoot ever. This seems partly due to Babylonin large scale. If the trailer is anything to go by, the film will feature a massive battle scene, an elephant, a jazz extravaganza, copious nudity, a crocodile, and Margot Robbie battling a snake. (It also includes another woman I have thought was Margot Robbie and turned out to be Samara Weaving, but it’s unclear whether the inclusion of the two Australian lookalikes is a conspiracy.)

The first thing you see in the Babylon The trailer shows the Paramount logo stars snorting like a line of cocaine, and the preview wastes no time in establishing Chazelle’s vision of old Hollywood as a Wild West of dirty, booze-soaked misbehavior. – “humanity at its most glamorous, and in its most animal and depraved form.

“At the start of the 20th century, LA was this dusty cow town,” Chazelle said. Then came the cinema, and in a few years its pastoral landscape was completely transformed. “They were building the city from scratch, and they were building the industry from scratch. And to do that, you need a certain type of madman. It’s the American dream: this crazy, maniacal vision of creating stuff out of nothing.

The debauchery of the silent period is one of Hollywood’s favorite founding myths, its legend retold in both Kenneth Anger Hollywood Babylonand by Karina Longworth’s series You have to remember that debunking many of Anger’s larger-than-life claims. Babylon is explicitly a work of fiction, but each of its main characters is an amalgamation of a few different real people. The cast works like a shortcut: Brad Pitt plays a veteran movie star, Margot Robbie a newcomer, and newcomer Diego Calva plays a newcomer who is quickly rising through the industry ranks. “The fun was having a gallery of characters,” Chazelle said. “It’s a mixture of faces that you know very well but perhaps have never seen like this, and faces that you have never seen before.”

Among those also seen in the trailer are Tobey Maguire, who gets doused with an unknown substance; fellow Pussy Posse member Lucas Haas; the briefest possible appearance of Olivia Wilde; and Jean Smart, who has the honor of delivering the trailer kicker: “You thought this town needed you,” she tells Pitt’s A-lister. “It’s bigger than you.” Truly, a movie for every niche fandom.

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