How movies fit into the 1920s era – The Hollywood Reporter

When Blanche Sweet sings “There’s a tear for every smile in Hollywood” in Show Girl in Hollywood (1930), she was not wrong. Filmmakers have long warned those wanting starry eyes to tread carefully if they arrive in Tinseltown full of hopes and dreams. In The truth about the movies of the stars (1924), screenwriter Frank Butler wrote that “From every corner of the earth they come and cross the Seven Oceans – born on the tireless wings of youthful optimism. These pathetic pilgrims, grappling with ultimate disillusionment.”

A big part of Damien Chazelle Babylon (2022) explores the dark side of Hollywood’s Golden Age. The twenties rumble in Hollywood, but there’s also something bigger at stake for the movie’s characters. Babylon. Like any audience before a movie, they are chasing that magic on the screen. They are chasing an idea. After meeting up-and-coming star Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie), Manny (Diego Calva) explains his love of cinema as an “escape,” where what happens on the big screen “is more important.” it’s real”. Similarly, Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt) expressed his love for his ability to help people “feel less alone” when enjoying an art form captured on film and “printed in history”. movie. There’s something transcendent about cinema, as well as Hollywood history, especially during the 1920s and 1930s, which is always fascinating.

Hollywood mogul Irving Thalberg (left), Max Minghella as Irving Thalberg in ‘Babylon’ (Right)

Movies are an age-old form of entertainment, the idea of ​​​​the movie star has remained solid forever, the money is still flowing and the business is very good. Sam Wasson, co-author of Hollywood: Oral Historytold me that 1920s Hollywood was “a decade before reckoning.” Babylon offers much of the decadence and debauchery, with which readers of Hollywood lore are certainly familiar.

There have been many legends surrounding the trials of Fatty Arbuckle, the murder of William Desmond Taylor, Wallace Reid’s drug addiction, Clara Bow’s “it” personality, and John Gilbert’s alcoholism. Real-life characters on the big screen often have troubled personal lives. These people live generously, live fast, and often meet tragic ends. The 1920s were a decade of acceleration. Some reviewers have labeled Babylon It’s an overwhelming movie, but the 1920s and early 1930s were a time of countless successes, failures, changes, and turmoil in Hollywood. Stories such as the scene where the assistant director (PJ Byrne) lost his mind due to audio sync and the cameraman passed out in a ‘hotbox’ were also told by many who were there in the early days of the talk show. similar again.

1920s Hollywood, like Chazelle’s films, was a steady stream of celebration and mourning. In Babylon we watch the New York premiere of Jazz Singer (1927), it was a great success as described. What was not shown was that the Warner brothers were unable to attend the event because their brother Sam worked to death to successfully synchronize the feature sound. The transition to audio isn’t good for everyone in the industry.

A poster for ‘Redemption’ in 1930

Silent star John Gilbert, the inspiration for Pitt’s character Jack Conrad, received rave reviews for his early talking film, atonement (1930). Diversity mocking the film as “a waste of words” and certain that “greater damage will be done to the very thing in question”. [the film’s] a point of sale, Gilbert’s star rating. As Kevin Brownlow wrote in The parade is overGilbert returned from Europe to know the fate of his chance to have a future in his talking paintings and “received a fatal dose of depression.”

Such real-world ramifications call Billy Wilder’s Sunset (1950), where Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) expressed her disillusionment with sound and how it affected her career. “I’m big, it’s the small pictures,” she declares, the front office “taking idols and smashing them.” The writers “created a string of words and stifled this business” where stars like Fairbanks, Gilbert or Valentino were gone. Not to mention John Barrymore, Clara Bow, Mary Pickford and Gloria Swanson. Lots of Babylon longing for the glory days, just as Norma Desmond did. The days when Valentino danced in her living room. With all the Wild West nature of 1920s Hollywood, something special happened.

The grandiose nature of Chazelle’s films connotes the astonishing and almost unbelievable stature of Hollywood in the 1920s. Nothing can compare to the level of popularity that movie stars achieved in their movies. boom decade. Legendary columnist Louella Parsons wrote in 1925 that being around stars like Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford was like rubbing elbows with royalty. Her weekly invitation to their home, called Pickfair, is “comparable to a weekly bid to Buckingham Palace.” Elinor Glyn, part of the inspiration for Babylon‘s Elinor St. John (Jean Smart), is “a tigress.” Parsons continued, “she never allows the image of the queen of the jungle to leave your mind in her presence.” Glyn made stars, gained influence and earned respect before the likes of Parsons and Hedda Hopper became the main subject of the industry’s gossip highway.

The highest paid people in the country are in Tinseltown. Making money is quick and easy, so is the hassle that comes with it. Babylon gives us a limitless perspective of the time and place that reached its peak of fame and infamy whose reward was ridicule from virtuous crusaders across the earth. country. Perhaps the biggest influence on treating Hollywood as a real Babylon has been Kenneth Anger, who is the least believable. Hollywood Babylon (1975) set a template for smearing film history more effectively than the most widely read scandal. Anger’s book focuses on Hollywood as “a synonym for sin.” Anger is unwise; however, he reveled in the amorous nature of a time when “scandals exploded like ticking time bombs”. The 1920s were a “delicious decade”, when the big party unfolded Babylon Stand out by dancing, drugs, alcohol, nudity, sex and a stomping elephant.

Anger defines Hollywood’s Golden Age as a “luxury picnic on a rocking cliff” where “the path to glory is beset by snares.” The other side of the coin is Hollywood as a “dreamland”, “home of the Celestials, the glamorous Galaxy”. Anger uses full-page photographs to explore the heights of Hollywood glam and sad endings (such as the photo of actress Thelma Todd dying in her car). The New York Times describe Hollywood Babylon is “a book without any value.” Los Angeles Times wrote that Anger’s book is “deceivingly bad” but “gives no hint of the moral hangover it contains. If it never tells you much you might want to know about the stars, it forces you to face more than you might be willing to admit about yourself.” Such reviews of Anger’s book may help explain why critics are also divided about Chazelle’s film. Babylon have the same content style. A mix of glamour, debauchery, decadence, and fame can have the opposite effect on people.

What? Babylon offer is a vision of Hollywood as a place and an idea. After the success of Warners with Jazz Singer, other studios were pressured to follow suit and change the industry’s business model that made the 1920s such a glamorous decade. The dreamy optimism of Nellie and Manny, Jack’s fading star, comes along with a reminder that the ’20s saw female directors being accepted in a way that hasn’t been loved ever since. Underrated African-American jazz musician Sidney Palmer (Jovan Adepo) insists that Hollywood is not as progressive as it would like because studios still cater to racist Southern audiences. Palmer also aptly observes that the cameras in the film are shot in the wrong direction, admitting his preference for putting the band on screen but also shifting the camera to off-screen mischief that to to some people, may be more interesting than the movies themselves.

Understanding Hollywood as an idea, Babylon operates in a head space similar to that of Quentin Tarantino Once upon a time in Hollywood (2019). It’s a fantasy story explored through a real place and time that embraces history while transcending it. When we watch silent films or read the stories of people who have been there, sometimes and then simultaneously. The gap between the past and the present creates a dreamlike image in our minds as we try to imagine what it’s like to be there. This explains some of the modern touches found in a movie set in the 20s and 30s. Babylon is a fantasy story about an idea that happens at the perfect intersection between place and history. . As Elinor St. John tells Jack Conrad in the film, “Ideas are sticky.” Babylon captures the idea and gives us a wonderful tour through the background of Hollywood’s fascinating culture as it could have been, could have been, or should have been.


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