6 Movies to Watch If You Like Babylon (2022): Babylon is a film of magnanimous proportions. It is outrageous in its display of everything – from hedonism to elephant poop and the use of drugs. It could double up as an anxiety-inducing History lesson to the period when Hollywood was undergoing a transition from silent movies to talkies. At the heart of this glittering orgiastic affair are a few primary characters – Manny Torres (played by Diego Calva), Nellie LaRoy (played by Margot Robbie), and Jack Conrad (played by Brad Pitt) – and several secondary characters (perhaps familiar faces). They are all involved in earning fame and a living while navigating the blinding lights of Hollywood.
Damien Chazelle’s Babylon portrays the roaring twenties as a gala of life and youth so full to the brim that it is almost always at the brink of chaos. It features a transitional period in Hollywood cinematic history and the ebb and fall of stardom among famous fictional Hollywood icons inspired by real-life legends. Babylon brings out the spectacle of silent movies and the sheer madness that breathed life into them. It glorifies the art that cinema is, putting it on the pedestal for the audience to be awed at.
If you wish to linger a little longer in the haze of drunken, anxiety-inducing stupor that Babylon casts on you, here is a list of 6 movies like Babylon. Each of these is a marvel of cinematic history that centers on the Hollywood film industry and its modernist romantic charm or projects the chaotic energy of Babylon in their own quirky ways.
6. Our Dancing Daughters (1928)
Directed by Harry Beaumont, this American silent drama film is all things jazz and symbolic of the conflicting passions of the roaring 20s. It features Joan Crawford as Diana, a famous and flamboyant girl secretly in love with Ben Blaine (played by John Mack Brown), the husband of her close friend, Ann (played by Anita Page). But Ann is involved in an illicit affair with Freddie, and Diana has decided to leave the state for a while. Tensions and emotions become high-strung on the evening of the rambunctious farewell party organized for Diana in this Academy award-nominated film.
The career of Joan Crawford, the most dramatic flapper from the twenties hailed by F. Scott Fitzgerald himself as a young talent, launched itself after this film was released, much like Babylon’s ambitious female protagonist, Nellie LaRoy. The latter’s career propels itself to stardom after featuring in a silent movie too. Interestingly, Crawford was a real-life rival of Clara Bow, another film flapper, who is believed to be the direct reference for LaRoy’s character sketch, especially the tragic childhood, mental health, and sleazy father figure aspects. Besides, the scale of the parties portrayed in this film captures the essence of voyeuristic pleasure efficiently, just like in the movie Babylon.
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5. The Artist (2011)
Written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius, this French comedy-drama has been made to look like a black-and-white silent film. George Valentin (played by Jean Dujardin) is a Hollywood film icon in 1927. His accidental meeting with Peppy Miller (played by Bérénice Bejo) launches the latter’s career, while Valentin refuses to indulge in the talkies. In two years, Valentin decides to finance his own silent film. However, Peppy’s talkie overtakes the box office collection. Meanwhile, Valentin is forced to sell off his personal belongings and suffers complete dejection.
This clever, oddly humourous film superbly pays tribute to the era of silent cinema, making for a pleasant watch. It received a nod across most of the prestigious award ceremonies in 2011, including the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival and Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy at the 2012 Golden Globes.
A movie like Babylon, The Artist tells the story of Hollywood in its transition period from the silent-films era to the talkies against the backdrop of the lives of select actors. Like Nellie LaRoy, Peppy Miller is a nobody who climbs the stairs of stardom in Hollywood following one feature film. Valentin is an older star whose inhibitions about the talkies are quite similar to the ones expressed by Jack Conrad, a character fashioned in the shoes of John Gilbert. It is interesting to note that in both films, the audience witnesses the charm of Hollywood that ensnares the actors and the difficulty of revolutionary adaptations, which they must engage in for their careers to either take shape or lose form.
4. Mulholland Drive (2001)
Written and directed by David Lynch, this neo-noir fantastically encapsulates a psychological reading of Hollywood, earning him the Best Director Award at Cannes Film Festival (2001) and an Academy Award nomination that year in the same category. In this dark fable, Betty (played by Naomi Watts), an aspiring performer, tries to help Rita (played by Laura Harring), an amnesic, uncover her real identity. Soon the narrative fragments; the audience must try and piece together the truth from a stylized dream sequence and mystery set against the plush Hollywood hills. It is surreal in the Lynchian way and perfect to rattle you after you have watched Babylon.
Like Babylon, Lynch’s masterpiece is almost as graphic. The latter pays an ode to cinema through its myriad references to Bergman, Bunuel, and Hitchcock, just like Babylon fictionalizes several real-life Hollywood characters from the silent films era, such as John Gilbert, Clara Bow, Anna May Wong, etc. They both seek to indulge in a one-of-its-kind revelry of sounds and sights. While Mulholland Drive evokes an air of mystery and dread in the dreamy land of Hollywood, Babylon is interested in an unfiltered amount of chaos. Both films want their audience to be emotionally aroused enough to perceive the oft-romanticized Hollywood dream as a nightmare.
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3. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Directed by Martin Scorsese, this American biographical black comedy operates on an epic scale. It is based on Jordan Belfort’s memoir of the same name. It follows the story of Jordan Belfort (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), who becomes ensnared in the drug-laced stockbroker culture after being employed under Mark Hanna. We see Jordan lose his job following the historic Black Monday stock market drop, get employed in a small brokerage firm, and train his mates in the ‘hard sell’ technique when he opens his new company with neighbor Donnie Azoff (played by Jonah Hill). This riotous drama tracing the rise and fall of Jordan Belfort is at once outrageously decadent and positively claustrophobic.
Interestingly, both films feature extraordinary performances from Margot Robbie. While she plays an upcoming Hollywood starlet in Babylon, she is the second wife of Belfort, Naomi Lapaglia, here. Like Babylon, The Wolf of Wall Street revels in the symphony of excess among the vainest class of people in America. There are drugs, sex, prostitution, and characters’ lifestyles constantly reeling under the influence of these whims. Robbie, in an interview, even compared the debauchery and party scenes in these movies as similar. Apart from these, both films are equally long (around 3 hours) and grandly shot.
2. Singin’ in the Rain (1962)
Directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, this American romantic comedy is believed to be an easy-breezy depiction of Hollywood in the age of silent movies. Don Lockwood (played by Gene Kelly) is a silent movie star from Hollywood in the 1920s and is popularly paired with Lina Lamont (played by Jean Hagen). When a movie starring Lockwood and Lamont is about to be made into a talkie, the producers realize that Lamont doesn’t have the voice of a leading lady. Lockwood’s friend, Cosmo Brown (played by Donald O’Connor), suggests Lamont’s voice be dubbed over by Kathy Selden (played by Debbie Reynolds), a stage actress whom Lockwood had met on the night of his film’s premiere. Singin’ in the Rain is full of dance, music, and spectacle, making it one of the greatest musicals produced in Hollywood.
Chazelle’s love for Singin’ in the Rain has already been proved to us in his popular musical La La Land (2016). Unlike Babylon, an ornate cocktail of drugs and hedonism, this 1962 film is candy-colored and all things feel-good. Babylon and Singin’ in the Rain highlight a crucial transition period in Hollywood cinema. Nellie LaRoy and Lina Lamont are not only very similar-sounding names but are also related to young starlet-like characters whose rise and fall are charted by the changing demand in Hollywood.
Fun fact: They both seem to be wooing a certain love interest by the name of Pierre. Conrad’s character is much like Don Lockwood, the silent film era star. Conrad is seen performing an on-camera sequence of the song Singin’ in the Rain in Babylon. Furthermore, Conrad’s character is shown throwing away a script in a manner quite similar to Lockwood in the course of the film. The similarities could not be more obvious.
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1. The Day of the Locust (1975)
Directed by John Schlesinger, this American historical drama is based on Nathaniel West’s novel of the same name. It plays out as a satire of Hollywood in the Depression era. You could treat this film of epic proportions as a ‘Double Bill’ for Babylon to understand the apocalyptic side of the glittering stardom that Hollywood fame brings along. In this film, Tod Hackett (played by William Atherton) rents an apartment in California that is shared by several misfits, including Faye Greener (played by Karen Black), an aspiring actress, and her ailing father, and Homer Simpson (played by Donald Sutherland), an accountant who lusts after Faye.
Faye constantly tries to find her place in Hollywood, switching between prostitution and a movie extra and navigates her affection for Tod and Homer. It is a heartbreaking film that is panoramic in scope and comments upon Hollywood being infested by locusts (read: human beings).
Like Babylon, this film is far from being subtle. It revels in the larger-than-life portrayal of the complex human characters in Hollywood. You come very close to caring about Faye just as much as you’d care about Nellie LaRoy, only to realize that both of them are doomed. The apocalyptic climax of The Day of the Locust also feels as riddled with anxiety as the chaotic first half of Babylon, projecting a mass delusion of unparalleled proportions.