On Christmas Day, consider taking yourself to see Damien Chazelle’s modest three hour and five minute-long movie Babylon, which advertises itself as a rip-roaring 1920’s-set epic about what else but Hollywood, baby, and the moving pictures! Peep the uncensored trailer if you’re feeling brave.
Initially, we were told that Chazelle’s film was about the fall of silent pictures into the rise of talkies, and that stars Margot Robbie and Brad Pitt were possibly playing real people. Then it turned out it was less about talkies and more about a demented depiction of 1920’s Hollywood, or, to quote the director, “The Great Gatsby on steroids.”
The uncensored trailer opens with Robbie and co-stair Diego Calva snorting a lot of cocaine and talking about their hopes and dreams. “I just want for everyone to party forever,” Robbie says. You can do that actually: it’s called watching Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis on HBO Max. I digress. The trailer from then on out is a barrage of swearing — some very anachronistic “fucks” — and gunshots and boobs and car chases and Brad Pitt in what can only be described as his “random era.” Babylon’s uncensored trailer announces one thing, really, and one thing only: this is a movie for grown-ups. ;)
The trouble with uncensored trailers goes far beyond Babylon’s presumed failings or otherwise. The uncensored trailer is a remnant of trailer days’ past, of needing to know that there was a grosser, more seductive movie than what the MPAA deemed worthy of the eyes of general audiences. I hate to say it, but my greatest association with the uncensored or “red band” trailer is with Seth MacFarlane. With the proliferation of trailers online, anyone can see any old trailer from any old movie whenever they want. All that an uncensored trailer really argues is on behalf of presumed edginess, something I hardly trust the director of La La Land to provide, even if the trailer has a dick-shaped balloon in it.
That’s not to say outright that Chazelle’s film will be bad. Babylon boasts a bevy of great supporting actors: the Emmy-winning Jean Smart, Jovan Adepo, and the director of Don’t Worry Darling. The movie looks really expensive, which we all know usually leads to great results. Chazelle also has two great films under his belt: Whiplash and First Man. But those are process films about the tedious punishment of doing work. La La Land is a film about primary colors and Emma Stone’s aunt. Babylon looks to mostly be about Margot Robbie’s tired faux-Brooklyn accent, doing drugs, and getting stressed and tired and hating your life. Babylon is also, as of now, skipping all of the major fall film festivals, guaranteeing that cinephiles and regular movie-goers get the opportunity to be exhausted by it together. And that’s what the movies are all about.