All's not what it seems

A promise of things to come

A tale of outsized ambition and outrageous excess, it traces the rise and fall of multiple characters during an era of unbridled decadence and depravity in early Hollywood.

IMDb, Babylon (2022)

Babylon: the truth about the scandals of the silent film era
Lorem ipsum: Article continues below, although it doesn't…yet. Hopefully it will by the 23rd December 2022.

While pimping Babylon—an upcoming story of Hollywood's licentious past—on behalf of BBC Culture, Christina Newland teases the truth about the scandals of the silent film era. Except I'm not sure whether she actually reveals the true truth, or just that as portrayed in the film, because she may not have written it yet. And, even if she has, we'll have to wait until the end of next week for it to go live. Again.

In the meantime, IMDb categorises this film under comedy, drama, and history. Given a possible desire to entertain the audience—although that's by no means a requisite in Hollywoke—along with the penchant for revisionism, I'm going to hazard a guess that the film may only take vague cues from history. Certainly, past performance doesn't indicate a great concern for authenticity over other considerations.

'Tis pity, for the real stories of the period are both tragic and fascinating; not unlike a plane crash. But 188 minutes is a hefty chunk of time to give over to reimagined history, viewed through a modern lens, as the flapperati might say.

Someone at Most­Trusted­International­News­Broadcaster Towers noticed that a placeholder had gone rogue, and killed it. The page is no longer available. For the time being.

Fortunately, the WayBack Machine also visited before it was brought down. So it's not just a figment of my imagination and screen capture.

photo of Brad Pitt in Babylon
The curate's egg: Very good in parts.

Caryn James has sat through three-plus hours of Babylon for BBC Culture, so we don't have to. In her review, she heralds a messy, dazzling epic that is often mesmerising.

You know when someone's trying to be polite, and scratching around to find something complimentary to say? This is like that.

Here's hoping that Christina Newland's piece is about the real scandals of the silent era.

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'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house not a creature was reading truth o' silent era scandals; unpublished e'en the day after schedule

Admittedly, it neither rhymes nor scans. Let's just call it poetic licence. (shrug)

Babylon: the wild tales of early Hollywood that inspired itComing in only three days later than originally scheduled, Christina Newland's exposé of Hollywood's silent era scandals is finally here! Except it's not…an exposé, that is.

Toning down the truth that we were promised, Newland instead makes scant reference to the real stories behind Tinseltown's sordid past—and even then only in reflection of the film that she's pimping—confirming that Babylon borrows from history more than anything. Which is only to be expected, really.

Like James before her, she's polite but lacking the effusiveness of someone who genuinely loved what they saw. Still, it's only a fifteen minute read; a lot shorter than sitting through Babylon itself.

For anyone who's tempted to do so, but who cannot stand Margot Robbie's turn as Harley Quinn, note that Newland describes her character as a rough-and-tumble aspiring starlet with a scrappy Brooklyn accent, played with whirling dervish intensity. Sounds ominously familiar.

You have been warned!

Her grating, hyper-frenetic performance as Quinn has made me hate seeing Robbie on screen.

How raunchy was this movie? Enough to possibly make people leave during the first 30 minutes, which included a hooker urinating on a Fatty Arbuckle-type in addition to an elephant going No. 2.

Anthony D'Alessandro, The Biggest Box Office Bombs Of 2022: Deadline’s Most Valuable Blockbuster Tournament, Deadline

Strangely enough, a pissing prossie and defecating elephant seem not to have been a wow-wow-wow for audiences; who'd've thunk it? Accordingly, Babylon came in fifth on the list of last year's box office bombs, with a loss of $87.4M. That includes an estimated revenue of $35M from television and streaming, however, much of which may simply amount to internal cash flow between the distribution and studio arms of Paramount. So the actual loss to the company as a whole could be higher.

D'Alessandro makes no mention of Margot Robbie's performance in his analysis of what went wrong though.*

* She also appeared in Amsterdam, another of last year's duds on the list which, like the elephant, came in at number two.