Baby, it’s just too much

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Hollywood was created in sin. It is a spangled palm tree Sodom where young people sell their souls to get a part and vice and venality are free. This is the story we’ve told since silent movies, one that director Damien Chazelle seems desperate to convey in BabylonThe frantic, chaotic, and exhausting tribute to the birth of their business, show.

Kenneth Anger’s has made it seem old news. Hollywood Babylon, the seminal scandal bible published nearly 60 years ago (and subsequently banned for a decade) that notoriously exposed — a lot would say exploited — many of the Golden Age stories retold here. The book proudly operated at the extreme fringes and accountability of decency. But it never truly pretended to be anything except what it was: A wild stew of slanders and calamities as delicious and questionable as it was true.

Chazelle, who became the youngest Best Director Oscar winner in history At 32 La La LandHe seems equally passionate about the industry’s most interesting stories, but he also approaches it as a gee-whiz child; he needs everything. something. And he has things that underground figures like Anger didn’t have: money and movie stars plus the high-gloss veneers of prestige filmmaking. It’s still three long, strenuous hours of nudity and depravity. There are also mislaid alligators. But, it’s art.

Scott Garfield/Paramount

Scott Garfield/Paramount Pictures Nellie LaRoy, played by Margot Robbie, is carried high in a huge-scale Hollywood production called “Babylon.”

Margot RobbieNellie LaRoy (‘s Nellie) enters Los Angeles in 1926 like a hurricane. Brad Pitt Jack Conrad is a well-married matinee idol who slowly slides into middle age and inexorably consumes alcohol. Manuel “Manny,” Torres (both of them) is stunned by their beauty.NarcoS: Mexico’s Diego CalvaA aspiring producer with a Valentino smile and a lot of stardust. Manny is determined to make movies. He wants to help people get out of their bed and set the time.

Chazelle is the creator of this character, like many others. Jean SmartElinor John, gossip-peddling power-player and a ringer of real-life rival columnists is Elinor St.John. Hedda Hopper and Louella ParsonsLi Jun Li, as a stand in for Anna May WongJovan Adepo’s talented Black bandleader Sidney Palmer, who has a career path that echoes Louis Armstrong’s early arcs, was the first Chinese-American actress. Stepin Fetchit.

They spend the next 186 minute with a group of people that can seem like thousands, in a swirl of bad decisions and decadence, drifting from one misadventure and another. It’s like table salt. Cocaine is everywhere. Death comes often as a gut punch, or a punchline. Tarantino-esque interlude: Nelly, intoxicated, wrestles a rattlesnake in the desert. In another, she vomits shellfish at an evening party in an. Exorcist spray. By the time Tobey Maguire The third act sees the gangster arrive as a giggling, consumptive criminal, who huffs a cocktail of brandy, ether, and the phrase “Jazz Age.” Boogie Nights” Feels almost too appropriate.

But Boogie Chazelle had a dramatic line and something truly unsettling to say about fame’s strange soul-bargaining. Chazelle’s characters often go into tragedy or despair, but he never really believes his mysterious thesis to be true. A brutal scene about blackface feels as unearned and devastating as it is meant to be. It’s clear that he doesn’t have the right kind of outrageousness. The profanity is relentless and numbing. Even the orgies seem too clean. (Was Prohibition really a time when people were waxing their private parts?)

This is all part of the film’s panting need to provoke, as well as its frequent, confusing anachronisms from hair and wardrobe down, to everyday slang. Yes, pre-Code Hollywood This was a place for iconoclasts or outcasts. It could also serve as a bubble to unlikely equality. Even a fantasy full of all the elements needs its own eternal logic. Babylon Rarely does one gesture to or ignore completely. (What unique challenges might Chazelle’s female director, Olivia Hamilton, have had to face back then? Ask the ghost of Lois Weber. (Until suddenly, class and race don’t seem as if they have any meaning.

The script is still able to find more than a few moments of hilarious comedy and the cast cannot fault them for their commitment. Pitt brings a bubbly, unflappable charm to the role, as well as a confused pathos. Robbie starts at 11 and doesn’t slow down. Apart from a fiery speech she gives Pitt, Smart is a witty, acerbic performer who takes on a number of difficult hats. Even the cameos feel like a red-carpet Rolodex. Olivia Wilde, Eric Roberts, Katherine Waterston, Spike Jonze, Flea. Calva is naturally charismatic and lovely to look at, but the movie’s supposed co-lead spends most of his time simply bearing witness — one more casualty in the frenzied, preposterous rush of Chazelle’s Everything Hollywood in One Place Grade: C

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