‘Babylon’ or — How I Could’ve Saved This Bloody Mess with One Simple Idea?

Damien Chazelle’s ‘Babylon’ (2022) is very much like another movie about the early days of Hollywood, namely Peter Bogdanovich’s ‘Nickelodeon’ (1976)… if Peter Bogdanovich had been a deranged chimpanzee hurling his faeces around!

You know, it’s highly ironic that in the process of making a love-letter to filmmaking that Chazzy D has not only presented us with a movie that makes me never want to set foot inside a cinema ever again but also left me wishing the very medium had never been invented in the first place because watching all three hours of ‘Babylon’ instantly transforms our ‘palace of dreams’ into a fucking torture chamber.

It’s not just that the film is a hideously indulgent mess, although it most certainly is, but more the seeming contempt for both Hollywood and audiences that drips off the screen with every frame as though the only thing Chaziod truly cares about is his own massively inflated ego. Seriously, I have NEVER witnessed a movie that’s such a gushing love-letter to its own director as much as this one! It’s like watching the end of ‘Cinema Paradiso’ (1988) but where, at the end, we see Damien Chazelle sitting alone in a cinema weeping with overwhelming emotion whilst watching his OWN movies. This isn’t cinema — it’s rampant solipsism!

The story is a chaotic… oh, who gives a shit! Let’s get back to Chazzy’s galactic-sized self-admiration because only an ego-maniac would remake ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ (1952) filled with shit, piss and fucking (and, as everyone knows, the only thing that stopped ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ from achieving true greatness was its lack of shit, piss and fucking).

Like ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ a lot of the “humour” here revolves around Hollywood’s transition from silent to sound, but a big problem is the jokes in ‘Babylon’ are seriously unfunny. An example? At one point a character declares in a men’s toilet that the audience wants sound in their movies only for Chazelle to then, and wait for it… insert the sound of someone taking a shit on the soundtrack. Hilarious! Bet Kelly and Donen wish they’d thought of that one!

Oh, before I carry on let’s get the positive out the way first which is that the film is immaculately designed with Chazelle’s eye having the exactitude of an electron microscope, but the only problem is it’s also just as inhuman and emotionless and it’s this severe lack of humanity that completely puts me off Chazelle’s films to begin with (it’s why I can’t stand ‘La La Land’ because for all the music, dancing and romance it still feels like the product of a unhinged sociopath).

Anyway, as I was saying, ‘Babylon’ is a colossal monument to a preening narcissist who believes he’s just made the last word in cinema as an art-form without realising he’s actually made an unwatchable shit-show.

Another example — towards the end there’s a shot of an audience gazing up at a flicking cinema screen utterly entranced by what they’re seeing. The insanely unselfaware irony, however, is that if this audience was being filmed watching Damien Chazelle’s ‘Babylon’ we’d see them all running for the nearest exit or weeping uncontrollably in agony.

It’s not simply that ‘Babylon’ is utterly insufferable but it’s also the sheer arrogance on display that triggers the gag relax and the final piece of evidence we need as proof of such nauseating up-his-own-assholery is when Chazelle makes the biggest crime a filmmaker can possibly make, namely — showing the audience a montage of what they think are the best bits from the movie they’ve just sat through as though these moments have now become cherished, immortal memories despite the fact that it is not down to the filmmaker WHATSOEVER to decide if anything the audience has just sat through is actually any good or not to begin with and that it’s the audience that decides that for themselves and no one else.

This is an unforgivable cinematic crime in and of itself but Chazelle, SOMEHOW, manages to turn it into what might just be the biggest cinematic travesty committed in filmmaking history. How does he achieve such an act of staggering celluloid malfeasance? Brace yourselves, folks, as Chazelle not only subjects us to a montage of the “best bits” from his own movie but he also intercuts these moments with clips from some of the greatest films from ALL of cinematic history. Jesus Christ!

So we see moments from ‘Babylon’ intercut with ‘The Passion of Joan of Arc’ (1928), ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (1968), ‘Un Chien Andalou (1929), ‘Terminator 2’ (1991), ‘Vivre sa Vie’ (1962) and… and… and words fail me! It’s like Chazzy thinks he’s made the last word in cinema and ‘Babylon’ is the inevitable, almost messianic, culmination of the entire art form!

“Oh well,” I thought to myself, “at least he hasn’t had the idiotic audacity to use Godard’s ‘FiN DE CiNEMA’ caption from the end of ‘Weeke… oh, there he goes! He used it after all. What an asshole!”

Yet sitting there watching Chazelle’s woe-fully misguided, self-aggrandising masturbatory montage I couldn’t helping noticing that he’d missed a trick to pull-off what would’ve been the greatest and funniest joke ever put to film… if he’d genuinely had the balls to be TRULY daring.

You see, instead of choosing carefully selected moments from the pantheon of the greats Chazelle obviously feels his movie now stands alongside (spoiler — it doesn’t and shouldn’t) how about if Chaz had celebrated all of cinema by choosing some of the WORST movies ever made instead? Not only would this have been hilarious but it would also have totally burst any and all of his rabid arrogance.

So my ending to ‘Babylon’ would have went exactly like this -

Everything is exactly the same as Chazzy’s version as we see flashbacks of Pitt and Robbie from earlier in the movie cavorting about as the music swells and the montage begins, only this time instead of using Kubrick, Godard, Dreyer etc we see flashes and bursts of… ‘On the Buses’ (1971), ‘Carry on Camping’ (1969), ‘Confessions of a Window Cleaner’ (1974), ‘Howard the Duck’ (1986), ‘Highlander II: The Quickening’ (1991), anything by Michael Winner, ‘Force Ten From Navarone’ (1978), ‘Battlefield Earth’ (2000), ‘The Savage Bees’ (1976) and ‘Man About the House’ (1974). Now THAT would’ve been truly radical, profoundly egalitarian and I’d have happily sat through three hours of self-indulgent shit purely for that gag alone!

Yet without that self-deprecating humour, without pricking that Jupiter-sized balloon of his over-inflated pomposity, Damien Chazelle’s ‘Babylon’ is left exactly for what it is — i.e. a fucking embarrassment.



Comedy writer, radio producer and director of large scale audio features.

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Colin Edwards

Comedy writer, radio producer and director of large scale audio features.