Friday, January 26, 2024

Movie Quote of the Day (‘Babylon,’ As a Columnist Reports on the Chaotic Filming of a Silent Epic)

Elinor St. John [played by Jean Smart]: “Marbled meadows metamorphose into the medieval plains of Iberia. Soldiers swarm the fields like flecks of paint from a madman's brush as your humble servant bears witness to the latest of the moving picture's magic tricks.—Oh, why do I bother? Look at these idiots! I knew Proust, you know.”—Babylon (2022), written and directed by Damien Chazelle

Here, Ms. Smart’s character—a composite of entertainment journalist Adela Rogers St. John, novelist-scriptwriter Elinor Glyn, and gossip columnist Louella Parsons—dictates a pretentious column on the artistry of a silent movie, then gives up as she witnesses one error after another on location.

This scene acts as a bookend to a later one that takes place with the onset of sound, when Hollywood technicians still hadn’t solved many problems that came with the new technology.

A century has nearly elapsed since the events depicted in Babylon, but—this week’s Oscar nominations notwithstanding—I strongly suspect that multiple issues still crop up on a movie set, though perhaps different in kind from what plagued Brad Pitt’s actor-producer Jack Conrad.

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