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144: ‘Babylon’: Big, Messy, and Kinda Fun. Plus: Sports are King in the media landscape.

January 10, 2023
Notes
Transcript
On this week’s episode, Sonny Bunch (The Bulwark), Alyssa Rosenberg (The Washington Post), and Peter Suderman (Reason) ask if they’ve all been focused on the wrong thing when it comes to the future of streaming. Movies, TV shows: none of these things really matter compared to … sports. At least, financially. And then they discuss Babylon, Damien Chazelle’s woozy and wicked ode to/condemnation of Old Hollywood excess. Sure, it’s a movie about movies, but hey: movies matter too! Speaking of which, on this week’s bonus episode we’re talking about movies about movies on this movie podcast about movies. Make sure to swing by and check it out!
This transcript was generated automatically and may contain errors and omissions. Ironically, the transcription service has particular problems with the word “bulwark,” so you may see it mangled as “Bullard,” “Boulart,” or even “bull word.” Enjoy!
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:11

    Welcome back to across the movie aisle presented by Bulwark Plus. I am your host, Sunny Bunch, culture editor of The Bulwark. I’m joined as always by Alyssa Rosenberg of The Washington Post. Peter Suderman of Reason magazine. Alyssa Peter, how are you today?
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:23

    I’m Spiffy.
  • Speaker 2
    0:00:24

    I am happy to be talking about movies with friends in twenty twenty three. Twenty
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:29

    twenty three. First up in controversy and controversy, SportsRights. Are the key to the future. The future is likely to be dominated by streaming services serving as adjuncts to big tech enterprises. We’ll we’ll get to that in a minute.
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:41

    Before we talk about YouTube TV, snapping up the rights to NFL Sunday ticket for around two billion dollars a year, consider this factoid courtesy of Love Acabas. I hope I’m pronouncing it right left. Sorry. Of the one hundred most watched TV shows of twenty twenty two, eighty two of them, were NFL games. The thirty fifth highest rated show of twenty twenty two featured the four and ten Bronco’s playing against the four and ten Rams, and it did better than the Oscars, any Olympic event, any soccer game.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:10

    And this was a year in which we had a Winter Olympics. And a World Cup. The Oscars, a favorite, of this year podcast was the seventy seventh highest rated show of the year. The Kentucky Derby came in eighty eight. A point here, very simple.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:23

    NFL is king. The NFL is the king. And even when ratings are underwhelming, let’s say, as they were for prime videos Thursday night football offerings, which averaged about three million fewer viewers than advertisers were promised. They’re still pretty big. Nine point five million viewers on average is about three hundred thousand more viewers than sixty minutes, the highest rated non football program got last week, all of which is to say that again, sports.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:49

    So what are the two lifelines that continue to tether people to linear cable and linear network three? Inertia is a big one. People just don’t wanna don’t wanna get rid of their cable because we’ve had cable forever. Why would we get rid of that? The other big Tethr is cable news, of course, and wants Warner to Discovery figures out how to get CNN on HBO discovery, whatever, and whenever Fox News gets on something and whenever MSNBC gets I guess that’s already on peacock.
  • Speaker 1
    0:02:12

    I don’t know. Anyway, once that happens, it’s done, the cable’s done, sports in on streaming, news on streaming, everything else on streaming, it’s all done. And I’m sure many others are gonna follow my lead here being a trailblazer. Regardless, the point is a fairly simple one for all the focus on which streamer has, which hit show be it Netflix’s Wednesday or HBO Max’s White Lotus or Hulu’s only murders in the building. The one thing that really truly unites audiences, the last dying remnant of the monoculture is the NFL in particular and kind of sports in general.
  • Speaker 1
    0:02:44

    It’s why Vince McMahon is on retiring in the face of sexual assault scandal so he can shepherd the sale of the WWE before its next big rights deal is signed. Even a sports like product such as professional wrestling with its built in fan base. Is a huge boon for any service trying to attract attract subscribers? Peter, Have we all been focused on the wrong things when it comes to the streaming wars? Well, we’ve been focused on the wrong things.
  • Speaker 1
    0:03:11

    In the
  • Speaker 2
    0:03:11

    sense that we’ve not been focusing on the core business. Because the core business for sort of for video content delivery is ultimately live sports. And like that’s the thing that you can get huge, truly huge numbers of people to tune in for. And one of the reasons why sports sort of still leads is you can’t time shift it. It’s totally resistant, not totally.
  • Speaker 2
    0:03:34

    It’s mostly resistance. To the kinds of of format disruptions that we have seen in the Netflix streaming era. There’s not gonna be you know, a whole season that drops it once. We’re never gonna have binge NFL. We’re not gonna have, oh, wait, just watch it your own leisure NFL.
  • Speaker 2
    0:03:52

    Right? It’s people want to see the game at the same time that everybody else sees the game and it’s genuine, unlike watching a movie, and hour later or a day later. Unlike watching an episode of Game of Thrones a day later, sure. You might miss a little bit of discussion with your colleagues the next day in the office, but people don’t want to, like, don’t want to watch sports three or four days afterwards. Yes, I understand.
  • Speaker 2
    0:04:15

    There are some people who even back, you know, going back fifteen years ago to the DVR era, watched sports on delay. I I get that that does happen. But it is a minority thing. And even even for the people who do it that way, who watch television that way, almost no one prefers to watch their sports that way. And so because of that and because of the just sort of the the you combine that with the generally huge draw of the NFL, And it’s like that’s that’s where the money is at.
  • Speaker 2
    0:04:42

    That’s where the viewership is at. All on the other hand, to go back to your question, have we been talking about the wrong things? No. We’ve been talking about the right things. This is a movie’s podcast.
  • Speaker 2
    0:04:51

    Movies matter. And stories that that are that are it, like, intentionally constructed also matter. Right? Like, part of the part of what people like about sports is that, like, it’s a sort of the the store like, it there is a narrative that’s happening. And there’s sort of narratives that are being, you know, sort of the sports writers.
  • Speaker 2
    0:05:08

    Well, tell, oh, this is the story of this team and this game and this player this year. At the same time, it is it’s generative. Right? Oh, it’s almost like a video game. It’s a game.
  • Speaker 2
    0:05:16

    Right? It’s sort of you don’t know what’s gonna happen until the all the different pieces and players kind of come together to make it happen, whereas with a movie, with a television show, with the kinds of things that we talk about on this podcast, someone has sat in a room with a with a computer or a pen in a paper or, you know, a bunch of other writers and they have decided over many, many, many hours exactly what is going to happen. And that’s it’s a different art and it a different thing. And I think that that stories that are that are told intentionally and with care were sort of like, you know, inner designed by by human minds. And by human creators are still important even if the the masses are where or, you know, or with NFL.
  • Speaker 2
    0:06:02

    And I I should also say, Like, for context, I’m not a sports watch.
  • Speaker 1
    0:06:07

    You’re not a sports watch at all. No. Like,
  • Speaker 2
    0:06:09

    really not at all? I I I saw a study, maybe a decade ago, that looked at how many people in the United States essentially never watch any kinds of sports regularly, and it’s only seven percent of the population. So I don’t know what the number is today. That’s definitely an old number, but I am the seven percent.
  • Speaker 1
    0:06:28

    Yeah. You’re you’re a seven percenter. Alyssa, before I get to my next question, I’m gonna ask you a question that is related to this and you’ll see why in a second. How many shows in the last month have you watched that had advertisements that weren’t like live news?
  • Speaker 3
    0:06:44

    None. My family and I watch a fair amount of football on Sunday, like, kind of in a random way to keep the kids entertained when it’s cold and, like, to give ourselves a break. And so that programming has advertisements. In fact, our four year old has started walking around seeing the Liberty Mutual jingle, which is not like, not a parental problem that I anticipated happening, but it’s pretty amusing. But other than that, you know, we’re not watching a ton of kinda broadcast or even cable TV lately, where, like, the one show that we’re watching regularly is Abbott Elementary, and we watch that like, a day late on Hulu in part because we don’t have to pay for ads and, you know, that’s when we can actually watch it.
  • Speaker 3
    0:07:24

    So very few.
  • Speaker 1
    0:07:25

    Right. So here’s here’s my my broader question then. The the whole sports the whole live watching live sports model is based on advertisement. It is based on this your inability to time shift it, as Peter mentioned, and the ability to then sell ads on that. But the whole streaming revolution, at least until fairly recently, was kinda premised on this HBO model of, like, no ads.
  • Speaker 1
    0:07:50

    Right? Netflix until very, very recently, no ads. Ads. HBO until very, very recently no ads. Hulu was the one kind of big exception to this, and then you have the free streaming video on demand services, the AVOD services, which are are kind of premised on an advertising model, but and are, like, very, very popular, but the ads are very low quality.
  • Speaker 1
    0:08:09

    It’s it’s you’re not getting you’re not getting a ton of money per impression. My question then is this, isn’t the shift to sports and the the the attempt to monetize sports? And frankly, like the move away from a network based model where anybody can tune in at any time to a subscriber based model where you have to be subscribed to a service and then sit through all the ads. Is that kind of that I I I don’t know that sports consumers are going to like that. Yeah.
  • Speaker 1
    0:08:36

    Well,
  • Speaker 3
    0:08:36

    I think that one of the things it does, is it one that making the price you pay to watch this stuff more explicit? Right? I mean, right now, a consumer may sit down and think, like, okay, rationality. I haven’t cut the cord because I like sports. But they haven’t sat down and said, like, sports are worth x dollars to Right?
  • Speaker 3
    0:08:56

    You know, I mean, if you’re, like, if you’re opting into Sunday ticket or something like that, you have a more you’re more price aware I think is the way to put it rather than sort of price sensitive. But, you know, the cable bundle and the advertising model have really obscured you know, the exact dollar figure that consumers are paying for this stuff. They the payments are sort of disaggregated across these different revenue streams. And so I think this is going to be an interesting, you know, almost like market making function for, you know, for sports rights. As, you know, it’s not just that the streamers are paying specific prices for them, but individuals are end up going to end up doing, I think it’s, like, much more epic wallet calculations about what sports are worth to them.
  • Speaker 3
    0:09:44

    And that ends
  • Speaker 2
    0:09:45

    up being good for people like me who in the the the cable era effectively had to pay the ESPN. Yes. No.
  • Speaker 1
    0:09:52

    But that’s not I I disagree with that strongly. It’s actually gonna it it ends up being worse everybody. Everybody says, oh, I don’t wanna have to pay the ESPN tax. I just wanna get FX and AMC and Hulu. But AMC, FX, Turner Class movies, all these other channels.
  • Speaker 1
    0:10:06

    Right? HGTV, whatever, it’s not like three hundred million people are watching those too. Every cable subscriber benefits from the bundle. It’s like the thing I will show hardest for. The biggest and worst change that we have made is moving away from the cable bundle to the individualized streaming services because, like, It’s nice to have the options just to watch random things every once in a while.
  • Speaker 1
    0:10:26

    And instead of, you know, complaining about how, oh, I’m subsidizing the o w n network, I’ve never watched an Oprah win free anything, instead celebrate that all of the Oprah watchers are subsidizing your mad men binge. Yeah.
  • Speaker 3
    0:10:39

    And I mean, the other thing that I would say is that Sports are actually not that easily adaptable to a world without commercial breaks. Right? Because, like, sports involve pauses. In play. There is no sport that doesn’t have time outs as a formal part of the game.
  • Speaker 3
    0:10:55

    I mean, even in baseball, you can have, like, the mound. I mean, I guess, like, maybe
  • Speaker 1
    0:10:59

    Getting breaks. I mean
  • Speaker 3
    0:11:00

    Yeah. Exactly. Like, in baseball, you know, like, one team has to trot off the out field, another team has to try it in. You know, the NFL has all sorts of breaks for setups and penalties and, you know, reviews of play calls. And so unless you just air all of that dead time, you can’t have a version of that.
  • Speaker 3
    0:11:17

    That’s Atlas. And so professional sports have to a certain extent been reshaped to accommodate the need to have ads, but also ads have filled up inevitable dead time in the games. In ways that, you know, make that relationship very hard to disentangle.
  • Speaker 1
    0:11:37

    Mhmm. No. Totally. Totally. It’s just it’s just interesting because so so few streamers are set up to do advertisements well.
  • Speaker 1
    0:11:44

    Like essentially none them. The only the only one that really was built with ads in mind was Hulu. And they do an okay job with it, but I I pay extra for the Hulu ad free version even though I only watch like one Hulu show a month. Just because I would I like, I would rather not have to deal with three minutes of the same ad over and over again because I don’t wanna watch it. It’s just a few dollars extra and if you’re binging something over the course of
  • Speaker 2
    0:12:08

    three hours, seeing those ads being spliced in is not pleasant.
  • Speaker 3
    0:12:14

    One thing I would say that I think is interesting is that there are lessons from sports and in particular, the NFL’s dominance for the rest of pop culture to learn. Right? I mean, because, you know, the NFL is not sort of the dominant cultural experience in America just because football is seem to watch. Although it is, like, it’s a fun. It is a fun game to watch.
  • Speaker 3
    0:12:37

    It, you know, it includes a level of violence that makes it exciting and whatever anyone says. I don’t think there’s gonna come like a moral tipping point where Americans turn off. Like, people people like watching large extremely fit men take pretty serious risks to their physical and cognitive well-being for money. And so, you know, there is a much must watch element built into it as Peter has noted. It’s must watch in the time slot, but there is a huge external culture built up around football that the NFL has encouraged and a lot of ways.
  • Speaker 3
    0:13:08

    Right? I mean, there are, you know, there’s the cultural ritual of tailgating. There are, you know, there is sort of the selling of football as a secular holiday that Americans celebrate together. There is a linkage of football too, you know, like activities like grilling, foods like beer. There is an entire gambling infrastructure attached to football in the form of fantasy football.
  • Speaker 3
    0:13:31

    And there are, you know, there is a wide range of teams with distinct subcultures that have been cultivated over time. And to a certain extent, you see a minor version of this with, you know, fandoms for, like, DC and Marvel or, you know, even the fast and furious movies. But Taylor Swift. There isn’t yeah. Exactly.
  • Speaker 3
    0:13:51

    But there is no equivalent to sports in terms of long running story lines, identity formation, sort of attached cultural rituals that are mainstream and accessible to everyone. And, you know, I think that’s a really hard thing to just sort of build from scratch or for the hell of Right? Like, most most Americans, you know, even if Marvel movies are the one time they go to a theater in a given year, are not gonna go to comic con. Right? Like, they’re not gonna derive a huge part of their identity from being, like, a marvel versus a DC person in the same way they might derive from being, like, a Raven’s event.
  • Speaker 3
    0:14:26

    Like, neither my husband nor I watch a ton of baseball anymore, but, you
  • Speaker 1
    0:14:30

    know,
  • Speaker 3
    0:14:30

    my our families have a long running sort of good natured Red Sox versus Yankee’s, you know, and look football rivalries. Our parents, like, buy the kids, dueling gear, like, give each other a hard time culturally. And there is nothing else in pop culture that provides that kind of script for people or source of identity or source of
  • Speaker 1
    0:14:51

    just
  • Speaker 3
    0:14:51

    regular ritual. And movies are not ever gonna do that because you literally can’t make these action spectacles that often. Right? Like Marvel’s probably gotten the closest of anyone and that’s like a couple movies a year and a couple of TV shows. You know, sports is basically every weekend.
  • Speaker 3
    0:15:06

    Alyssa, you’re
  • Speaker 1
    0:15:07

    gonna regret this when the tar heads get out there and start rioting when, you know, top gun Maverick defeats defeat guitar
  • Speaker 3
    0:15:13

    at the I will I mean, you know, when Lydia Tarr, like, you know, reveals herself to be the real person that she actually is and, like, defeats Maverick over
  • Speaker 1
    0:15:21

    eight. Don’t really have an exit question here, but I I do think that’s a very interesting idea. I do I do think I, like, was just struck while I was writing this. I was like, well, maybe maybe we have just been wrong the whole time by focusing on, you know, programming that is scripted or even non shifted, you know, when when the real thing that’s going to end up being the the shifting tipping point in the streaming wars is sports. And that’s art, though.
  • Speaker 1
    0:15:46

    Anyway, I’ve wasted I’ve wasted in my life. That’s that’s what it comes now to. Alright. Make sure to swing by Bulwark Plus for our bonus episode this week. We’re gonna be talking about Hollywood’s insular turn.
  • Speaker 1
    0:15:57

    Movies about movies. The movies, movie people love making. Speaking of which, On to the main event, Babylon, writer director, Damien Chisel’s epic look at the transition from silent era to talkies. That description doesn’t really do the film justice though. It’s a three hour denunciation of decadent excess that revels in the same.
  • Speaker 1
    0:16:16

    It’s an ode to the majesty of the motion picture that nevertheless holds its nose when considering the people who actually make the movies. It’s the film that simultaneously moralizes about the immorality of the city swells while denouncing efforts to introduce moral standards both to the people making the movies and to the movies themselves. To use a platitude, Chisel really is trying to have his cake and eat it here too. And while that sort of thing usually wrinkles for good reason, when the cake is as rich and as decadent as this confection well, it’s really hard to put your heart into getting mad. Doesn’t mean there are people out there who are trying to do that.
  • Speaker 1
    0:16:48

    There’s a residual antitrust element out there. I don’t I don’t really I’ve never stood up, but there are people who really hate whiplash and la la land. The folks who watch a lot of turner classic movies and love the silent era are predictably annoyed. At this film that kind of hypes up the grotesque misdeeds of early Hollywood stars and starlets at the expense of highlighting. They’re great works.
  • Speaker 1
    0:17:05

    And look, I get it. I can understand being annoyed by that and just by being annoyed by this movie in general, which weaves together the stories of fading silent star Jack Conrad is played by Brad Pitt and would be Starlet Nellie Leroy played by Margro Robbie. Their stories are watched with the eager anticipation by budding executive Manny Torres is played by Diego Calabas, a Mexican immigrant who refashes himself as a spaniard and exile as he rises up the ranks of the studio system. There’s a there’s a fourth arc that of jazz musician Sydney Palmer who’s played by Show Ben Adipo that almost feels kinda on. We can talk about that in a little bit.
  • Speaker 1
    0:17:42

    But it it it definitely felt like, oh, we also need to make sure we get some some racism in there just to be sure. Chisel’s point in this film, if as long as we’re talking about, you know, film’s having a point, I think he has kind of three that he’s he’s making here. Point first, artists have always had crazy personal lives and we never really care that much because all we really care about is that big glorious image on the silver screen. Right? The single tier rolling down a starlet’s cheek.
  • Speaker 1
    0:18:08

    The the king’s embrace of his lover while battle rages below and the sun sets into the mountains above. It’s it’s all very beautiful in moving. A point the second technological change may disrupt who is making movies and how movies are made, but it does not diminish the power of the image on the big screen. Like singing in the rain. Right?
  • Speaker 1
    0:18:25

    This is a movie about the ways in which SoundMate’s silent stars obsolete, but the movies rolled on and rolled on still in a montage at the end of the picture, we get snippets of films throughout the ages from the silent, to the classic era, to the digital realm, movie magic retaining its power despite the shift from analog to digital from horseback chariot races to the wilds of Pandora. Point the third is tied to the second point and it’s this. Hollywood is an idea. In the film’s centerpiece speech, gossip columnist Eleanor St. John is played by Gene Smart tells Conrad that he was destined to fade because all stars fade.
  • Speaker 1
    0:18:59

    Even if their presence on the big screen is, in fact, immortal. His time is up, someone else’s time is here. But as long as people suppose celluloid through projector spockets, he will live. Look, this movie is kind of a mess. I’m all over the place just describing it.
  • Speaker 1
    0:19:12

    It’s at least forty minutes too long, even if some of that repetition serves purpose. For instance, seeing Leroy and everyone else on the set with her grow more and more frustrated when she can’t hit her marks for sound. I don’t know that we needed to see twelve takes of that, but It it works. It it works for the film. It’s just long.
  • Speaker 1
    0:19:28

    It still slows everything down. Right? Ditto for the numerous Hollywood parties, each debottched in their own similar way. The movie is very derivative of boogie nights. I think we’re gonna talk about that a little bit, which is similarly decadent yet somehow tighter and better.
  • Speaker 1
    0:19:39

    There’s the whole cake and eating it problem. I don’t know. I can understand not liking this movie. Cameron never stops moving. Chisel is constantly pushing in, swirling around, tracking through house parties for no good reason.
  • Speaker 1
    0:19:50

    It’s like watch a guy have a manic episode and being unable to, like, step into the screen and help him. And yet, I was never bored. I appreciated the the sentiment of the picture. I thought it was hilarious when Toby McGuire. A k a Spider Man took Manny to see the, quote, unquote, future movies, and it was just this mute, muscle guy in a mask who was eating live rats for twenty dollars a throw.
  • Speaker 1
    0:20:10

    It felt like a not so subtle way of making fun of our current moment or whatever. Wait. I don’t get
  • Speaker 2
    0:20:15

    it. What’s that about?
  • Speaker 1
    0:20:17

    Exactly. Pitten smart, absolutely in transiting. Robbie brings a hundred ten percent of all of her manic energy to Leroy. Caliva is the most believable human character in the picture, I think. The only one who has, like, anything resembling personal loyalty as part of his personality matrix?
  • Speaker 1
    0:20:32

    A a
  • Speaker 2
    0:20:33

    bad one. A not
  • Speaker 1
    0:20:34

    great movie that I kind of loved. Don Ron Burgundy. Alyssa, you are the silent film groupie of the team. What did you make of Babylon?
  • Speaker 2
    0:20:46

    So that’s a
  • Speaker 3
    0:20:47

    thumbs up. Right? I don’t know. I don’t think it really works as a movie. In part, I don’t think I found Kalva as convincing as you did in this movie.
  • Speaker 3
    0:21:02

    I think he’s kind of a blank. And the movie kind of rests on this initial encounter that Manny has with Nelly and suggests that that is sort of this series of fleeting encounters with her become sort of the organizing force in his life in some ways, despite the fact that he never really sort of sees or engages with her as a person and never really gets to know her very well. Right? I mean, they see each other at this one wild party where she is like the ultimate sort of like manic pixie dream girl of silent Hollywood. And, you know, he’s like excited to see her, you know, at this moment where she gets her start.
  • Speaker 3
    0:21:51

    They don’t really see each other again until I think literally years later in New York where she is visiting her mother in a sanitarium where they have this sort of weird encounter. And so The movie is in part about sort of the indelableness of image on the screen, but it doesn’t quite hit its mark about the sort of cruelty and limitations of seeing someone that way in real life. Right? I mean, you know, Nellie is like an addict and a screw up in a really fundamental way. And Manny, despite seeing her at her just like absolute messiness and most undisciplined, can’t acknowledge that.
  • Speaker 3
    0:22:39

    And, you know, the movie like, you know, kind
  • Speaker 2
    0:22:43

    of gets
  • Speaker 3
    0:22:44

    at that in the final sequence where, you know, he thinks they’re running off to Mexico, and she effectively gives her performance. It’s like, yes, we’re gonna run off, we’re gonna get married, and then skips out on him because she recognizes that the image is unsustainable even if he can’t. And, you know, if that’s supposed to be sort of the central argument of the movie, I don’t think Kalva really has the top to nail it and sell it. And I don’t and I think the movie is so busy that it can’t quite
  • Speaker 1
    0:23:17

    stick
  • Speaker 3
    0:23:18

    the landing on it. And, you know, I mean, I think that as tacked on as the sort of jazz trumpeters subplot are in a way, like, the movie is most interesting when it’s about, you know, the trumpeter, about Lady Fey, and about Jack who are people who are navigating the gaps between the image they’re expected or allowed to play in public and of more private selves that have greater integrity. Right? And, you know, they’re complementary in the sense that you know, Jack is someone who cannot live without the public image. Right?
  • Speaker 3
    0:23:59

    Like, he cannot find a way to be a private self without that sort of public affirmation. And so destroys himself because when he no longer has that sort of public adored self to rely on. He has no private self sort of leftover to sustain him.
  • Speaker 2
    0:24:18

    You know, you
  • Speaker 3
    0:24:18

    have the trumpeter Sydney walking away from Hollywood entirely because he is unwilling to, you know, to be, you know, purely sort of a race performer in this, you know, limited derivative, really just sort of ugly way. And then you have Fay who you know, for a while in the movie is able to turn her lesbianism into a kind of public performance that renders it acceptable so she can, you know, carry on an actual romantic life in private and is the only character who kind of finds a third way where, you know, she goes to Europe. She’s hooked up with Cathay, which is, you know, still a recognizable company making movies. She finds, you know, an alternative in a way that neither Sydney nor Jack. Too.
  • Speaker 3
    0:25:04

    And,
  • Speaker 2
    0:25:05

    you know,
  • Speaker 3
    0:25:05

    that’s that’s almost a more interesting troika than Nelly story, which is sort of duplicative with Jack’s in some way. And I think those three stories all feature you know, I mean, Robbie is totally committed to the role, but because it it it’s a role that’s always sort of in conversation with Cal performance, which is not as strong and that lacks some of the nuance and shading and introspection that it ought to have is pulled down a little bit. And
  • Speaker 2
    0:25:33

    I think
  • Speaker 3
    0:25:33

    that sort of three part structure of those other stories to me made for a stronger movie, but probably one that doesn’t exist without, like, Margaret Robbie’s manic pixie dream lady. Yeah. So you
  • Speaker 1
    0:25:44

    don’t think that Manny works as, like, a Cipher or a audience stand in, basically, just to to he is the person that we are to project ourselves onto. You know, we’re the ones watching these parties from his point of view, like, playing executive and saying, well, I could do it, you know, better. I could do it better like this. And then realizing as you insinuate yourself into the system that you have to make the same sort of morally tricky decisions that he makes. Florence, I mean, you mentioned you mentioned the jazz singer who has to he has to wear blackface at some point, so that his movies will play in the in the south.
  • Speaker 1
    0:26:16

    And it’s very important, I think, that Manny is the one who him to do that — Yeah. —
  • Speaker 2
    0:26:21

    because it
  • Speaker 1
    0:26:21

    is it is the audience that has been making these requests of artists for just as long as the executives have. But the
  • Speaker 3
    0:26:29

    movie never it doesn’t have any interest like, Manny never has any introspection. Right? He never has these sorts of moments of decision where he’s just carried along in this. Right? I mean, he and Sydney don’t have enough of a relationship And despite the fact that he’s sort of introducing himself to his Spanish, like, the movie never deals with Manny’s race in any substantive way.
  • Speaker 3
    0:26:53

    Right? Like, we never see someone reacting to him as Mexican. Obviously, he wanders his Mexican ancestry successfully, but you know, there is no the movie has no real sense of, like, does that feel like anything? To him, to recast his ancestry, does it feel like anything to him to ask Sydney to make that a quest. Like, he’s just, you know, annoyed at Nelly when she can’t conform with the makeover that he wants to impose on
  • Speaker 2
    0:27:25

    her but
  • Speaker 3
    0:27:25

    we never see a moment of decision by Manny. I’ve had anything. Right? Like, we never see an inflection point and because of that, I think he is a really insufficient audience stand in because he is so passive. Right?
  • Speaker 3
    0:27:42

    I mean, there’s never a moment of decision that gets inside his head in any way. It’s just it’s too seamless to be interesting and that did not land
  • Speaker 2
    0:27:51

    for me. Fair
  • Speaker 1
    0:27:51

    enough. Peter, what did you make? Babylon? It’s
  • Speaker 2
    0:27:54

    a mess, but it’s a glorious mess. So in some ways, I think this is Damien Chisel’s worst picture. But that’s, you know, great I mean, that’s like Damian Chisel has made a bunch of great great movies. And I think this is, in some way, this is the one that works least well. I think the rhythm of this movie initially threw me.
  • Speaker 2
    0:28:13

    And then I figured out what it was doing and it sort of I I settled into this. Because what I realized is this isn’t a traditional narrative in the way that we typically see a movie structured. Instead, it’s a series of elaborate, bravura set pieces. The movie unfolds almost in chapters even though they’re not labeled as such. And each one of these set pieces is incredibly technically proficient.
  • Speaker 2
    0:28:37

    I mean, all of those ridiculously long takes in the opening party sequence. Right? That just sort of show how how effective Chisel is at staging eighty million dollars worth of, you know, insane old Hollywood party. And each one of them pretty much builds to a punchline. So you mentioned that whole sequence with where they’re shooting a film on sound for the first time and yes, it’s long.
  • Speaker 2
    0:29:03

    You might even say it’s overlong, but I think the overlongness of it works for a purpose and for a reason which is that it exhausts you. It is designed to exhaust you because that process is mattering. If you have if you have ever worked on a on any kind of video production. I’ve so I’ve never been like, I’ve never worked on, like, a real film set, but even very small video production. Like, you find that, oh, you think you’ve got four hours to shoot this thing.
  • Speaker 2
    0:29:30

    No. No. No. What it actually turns out is you’ve got two and a half hours to find the right number of electrical outlets and to make sure that all of the cords reach to the places where they’re supposed to reach and that that your actor can, like, reach his arm in the the right way to, like, no, it’s all logistical stuff. And then finally, somehow or another, at at the very end, like, in the last twelve minutes, it all comes together in in, you know, in in some sort of art.
  • Speaker 2
    0:29:56

    It’s just logistical headache after logistical headache. And in some ways, I was reminded a little bit of of the fablebans here and the part of the argument of the fablebans is that you Spielberg is saying that that cinema is essentially a technical art and the act of managing a bunch of different technologies in service of creating art. And that’s a big part of the argument that this movie makes as well. And I think it all these these extremely long set pieces. All of which, again, just build to something, like, often funny, you know, the the bit with Brad Pitt on the mountain and the explosions and all of that.
  • Speaker 2
    0:30:31

    And at the end, the end of the butterfly just lands on his shoulder and it’s suddenly it’s not just the perfect shot. It’s the perfect shot with an element that no one knew would be there because that’s the magic of the movies. Even though it’s all totally insane, no one could have planned it. And it, like, it looked like it was not gonna fail, you know, because they didn’t have because they broke all of their cameras, because their director was freaking madman. Right?
  • Speaker 2
    0:30:55

    Like and it forces you to engage with the extremity, with the enormity, and with the the insanity of the entire project. Of making movies. And I I
  • Speaker 3
    0:31:06

    don’t you know, I
  • Speaker 2
    0:31:07

    don’t know if I think this is a great movie, but it’s a hell of a picture. And I and I I I really kinda enjoyed it and respected it for that. I actually just wanna ask you guys though about a very specific sequence that you mentioned, Sunny, which is this very long montage at the end of the sort of future of movies after sound that is then dispersed with what I believe is the celluloid it’s sort of images of celluloid being developed or, like, the chemical process, by which film comes into being. And that sequence is fascinating and it struck me as just like absurdly long and self indulgent in a way that I both appreciated because I like Damian Chisel, find beauty and meaning that is almost impossible to describe in movies. Right?
  • Speaker 2
    0:31:54

    Movies approach the there’s a line in this movie about how all art should, like, should aspire to be, like, music and to have, like, to have the the quality of music. Movies to me, at their best, like, reached that and, like, I am just, like, my heart just sort of melts at at at at a great movie or even sometimes at a bad movie that is very interesting. Right? In a way like I don’t care about sports. I care about stories and images and sounds orchestrated together, but that sequence struck me as just like almost self defeatingly long in a way that I was like, okay, I was with you up until this point.
  • Speaker 2
    0:32:30

    But now, like, if if I were the editor, if I were the producer on this, I’d be like normal audiences are gonna be so put off. On the other hand, the movie starts with a giant elephant diarrhea scene. So maybe maybe by five minutes in normal audiences are already still put off and nobody saw this thing anyway. I don’t
  • Speaker 1
    0:32:47

    know. So I saw it on Wednesday at, like, it started at like twelve thirty. So I was I was about four o’clock by the time that this montage happens. I’m sitting there in the theater and when the montage starts, literally every other audience member got up out of the the movie and left. I was there were there were three other people in the theater, one couple and one single Singleton.
  • Speaker 1
    0:33:09

    All three of them got up from their seats and exited the theater at that point thinking the movie was over. And it’s not over. There’s still there’s still some more to come at the end. But it I felt like a very good metaphor for how this movie kind of works on what doing because the audience, man, it comes and goes, but the the the image is eternal. My critical read on that that sequence is, I I think it’s it is as horribly confused as everything else that is going on in this movie.
  • Speaker 1
    0:33:32

    Because if you if you watch the if you watch the montage at the end, you see images from the silence, era to the sound era to the beginning of the era of special effects, and then there’s a little an end of film strip, a thin to cinema little clip. And then the digital age starts, then it’s all computers, and it’s It’s James Cameron with t two and then James Cameron again with Avatar. And the matrix
  • Speaker 3
    0:33:58

    and And then
  • Speaker 1
    0:33:59

    the matrix and all of these images are very explicitly inhuman. The image from Terminator two is the t one thousand alloy split in half, the matrix shot is the the lines of code. It’s not a it’s not a shot of matrix in in Trinity or the neo in Trinity. It’s shot of lines of code. The Avatar image is just a bunch of Navi writers.
  • Speaker 1
    0:34:22

    And then from there, it then goes to the image of celuloid being formed, right, to the to the actual chemical process of, like, getting film into chemicals and making the colors work. And you could make one of two arguments here. You could make the argument that Chazelle is saying that this is the eternal continuity of film as an art form from one to the other, and it’s all the same. Or you could be saying he is actually saying that digital is the death of cinema that we need to get back to the technicolor dream escape of, you know, wild chemical processes and all that. Instead of what we have now, which is a I don’t know, a cold and digital future.
  • Speaker 1
    0:35:02

    I do think it’s worth just
  • Speaker 2
    0:35:04

    just briefly hearing what Chisel has said about this. Where he said in an interview last month or so, I think of this movie as a Poison Pen, a hate letter to Hollywood, but a love letter to cinema. Which if you That doesn’t like you can
  • Speaker 1
    0:35:21

    doesn’t answer the montage in this
  • Speaker 2
    0:35:23

    film. Doesn’t answer. Alyssa, what
  • Speaker 1
    0:35:25

    did you make of that final montage?
  • Speaker 2
    0:35:28

    I mean,
  • Speaker 3
    0:35:28

    it’s ridiculous and also is the moment when I, like, felt like Manny and I were most on the same page. I was just like,
  • Speaker 2
    0:35:33

    it’s all
  • Speaker 3
    0:35:34

    so beautiful. It’s all so beautiful. So, yeah, I Like, it’s obviously wildly self indulgent and confused and just
  • Speaker 1
    0:35:43

    lovely. Self indulgent and confused and kind of lovely. I would say at least two of those three, most people would agree on with the Bible. Yeah. I’ll let I’ll let you everybody else pick which which too they want.
  • Speaker 1
    0:35:54

    Alright. So what do we think? Thumbs up for thumbs down. On Babylon, Peter. This
  • Speaker 2
    0:35:58

    is a thumbs up, but maybe only for people who like this podcast. I think for, like, normal people who, like, just wanna go watch a movie. I just can’t really recommend it to a lot of folks. Alyssa. I
  • Speaker 3
    0:36:11

    mean, I assume that watching this is what doing cocaine is like, having never done cocaine. And so I guess it’s a thumbs up if you want the experience of cocaine. Without actually getting
  • Speaker 1
    0:36:21

    high.
  • Speaker 2
    0:36:22

    Okay.
  • Speaker 1
    0:36:23

    I I am also a thumbs up on this and I I I don’t know. I it’s it’s I don’t know that I I again, I don’t know that I love this movie, but I do love kind of thinking and talking about it. So that’s a decent chance that at one point in the at some point in the far up future, I will end up loving it.
  • Speaker 2
    0:36:42

    Alright. That
  • Speaker 1
    0:36:42

    is it for this week’s show. Make sure to head over to Bullwerk plus on Friday for our bonus episode. Tell your friend, strong recommendation from a friend is basically the only way to grow podcast audiences. Kidokro will die. You did not love two days of please can later be on to Twitter at Sonya Bunch.
  • Speaker 1
    0:36:56

    I’ll come to you that it is the fact the best show in your podcast feed. See you guys next week.
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