Damien Chazelle’s “Babylon” is a long, long journey through the early days of Hollywood. At a sprawling 189 minutes, the film has one of the longest runtimes of any commercially released film this year, just narrowly beaten by “Avatar: The Way of Water.” But Chazelle made a far shorter version of the film — it was just filmed in his backyard on his iPhone.
During a Los Angeles Q&A for “Babylon” (via Entertainment Weekly) this November, Chazelle told the audience that he prepared for filming by rehearsing and shooting a full two-hour version of the movie in his backyard. To accomplish the task, Chazelle roped in his wife, Olivia Hamilton, who plays silent film director Ruth Adler in the movie and his leading man Diego Calva, to play every part in the film.
“We rehearsed the whole movie in his backyard, only Olivia, Damien and I,” Calva said at the Q&A. “It was a very uncommon kind of situation.”
While the backyard cut of “Babylon” probably wouldn’t get distributed by Paramount Pictures, the final film’s much longer runtime has been cited by some pundits as a reason for “Babylon’s” poor performance at the box office. The film grossed $3.6 million in its first week against a projected $80 million budget.
Along with Calva, “Babylon” stars Brad Pitt as silent film star Jack Conrad and Margot Robbie as up-and-coming starlet Nellie LaRoy, with Jovan Adepo, Li Jun Li, and Jean Smart in supporting performances as industry professionals struggling with the transition from silent to sound filmmaking.
“Babylon” has proved one of the most polarizing films of the year, with critics alternatively praising and bashing the film. In a mixed write-up, IndieWire chief film critic David Ehrlich called the film “a dorky Caligulan ode to the early days of Hollywood,” one that “reminds us the movies have been dying for more than 100 years, and then — through its heart-bursting, endearingly galaxy-brained prayer of a finale — interprets that as uplifting proof they’ll actually live forever. It just doesn’t have any idea how the movies will do it, or where the hell they might go from here.”