Damien Chazelle was itching for a change of pace.
“After the quietness of ‘First Man,'” he says, referring to his 2018 astronaut drama, much of which unfolded in deep space, “I wanted to do something big, boisterous and loud.”
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The result is “Babylon,” a star-studded homage to Hollywood’s silent era that captures “humanity at its most glamorous and animalistic,” the director teases. But, he clarifies, “it’s a mostly fictional film.”
Chazelle brought a never-before-seen trailer to the Toronto Film Festival, where he spoke at length about his career — namely the 2014 intense jazz drama “Whiplash” and 2016’s showbiz-centric musical “La La Land” — in Monday’s keynote conversation with TIFF’s CEO Cameron Bailey. The Oscar-winning filmmaker says he is still in post-production on “Babylon,” which Paramount is opening in theaters on Dec. 25, adding, “I’ll be very happy to finally finish it.”
Like “La La Land,” the upcoming “Babylon” is set in Los Angeles. But location may be the only thing those movies have in common. Set in the late 1920s, “Babylon” puts the spotlight on Brad Pitt as a bonafide leading man and Margot Robbie as an up-and-coming starlet against the backdrop of an entertainment business in flux.
“They are building a city from scratch and an industry from scratch,” Chazelle hints. “It was about capturing the spirit of that time, which I’d say was a lot more wild west.” In effect, that means “excess, more drugs, more extreme living on all ends of the spectrum.”
“Babylon” is inspired by films like Federico Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita,” Robert Altman’s “Nashville” and “The Godfather,” Chazelle said. “Old-school epics that managed, through a handful of characters, to convey a society changing.”
Along with Robbie and Pitt, the starry cast includes Diego Calva, Tobey Maguire, Max Minghella, Spike Jonze, Jean Smart, Flea, Samara Weaving and Olivia Wilde.
“‘Babylon was the biggest cast, the biggest number of roles I’ve ever juggled, by far,” Chazelle said. “The casting process took a long time.”
Though the film is fictitious, the characters were “inspired by composites of real-life people.”
“I was getting inspiration from real-life sources, but you’re looking for people to surprise you,” Chazelle said about the casting process. “That was the guiding principle: trying to demolish all preconceived notions of that era and finding actors who would take that in a different direction than people would expect.”
Based on the footage that played in Canada, “Babylon” plays like an over-the-top mashup of Baz Luhrmann’s opulent “The Great Gatsby” and Quentin Tarantino’s pulpy “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” The loud, dazzling trailer veers into NSFW territory, chock full of cocaine and topless women. At one point, Robbie’s character commands center stage at a pool party by yelling, “Listen up all you big dick men… who wants to see me fight a fucking snake?”
Pitt’s character, with an alcoholic beverage in hand, pauses before shouting, “Fuck, yeah!”
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