Damien Chazelle’s “Babylon” is one of the biggest box office bombs of the year, opening to just $5.3 million over the four-day Christmas weekend despite a production budget north of $80 million. Many box office pundits have cited the film’s gargantuan 189-minute runtime as one reason the Hollywood epic failed to connect with audiences. “Babylon” clocks in at three hours and nine minutes long, but it turns out Chazelle has a far shorter and far scrappier version of the film on his iPhone.
During a recent Los Angeles Q&A for the movie (via Entertainment Weekly), Chazelle revealed that he prepared for “Babylon” by filming a two-hour cut of the movie in his backyard. The “La La Land” Oscar winner shot the project on his iPhone. This two-hour version of “Babylon” only starred two actors: Diego Calva, who plays assistant-turned-producer Manny Torres in the film, and Olivia Hamilton, who stars as director Ruth Adler and also happens to be Chazelle’s wife.
“It’s a very tight, two-hour version of the entire movie, [filmed] on an iPhone in our backyard,” Chazelle said.
“We rehearsed the whole movie in his backyard, only Olivia, Damien and I,” Calva added. “It was a very uncommon kind of situation.”
“Babylon” is set during the 1920s as Hollywood transitions from silent films to talkies. The shift greatly affects the lives of several characters, from Brad Pitt’s silent film icon Jack Conrad to Margot Robbie’s up-and-comer Nellie LaRoy, Calva’s Manny, Jovan Adepo’s jazz trumpet player Sidney Palmer and more. Critics have been divided on the film, with Variety’s Peter Debruge calling the film “exuberantly messy” in his review.
“Chazelle has essentially orchestrated a loud, vulgar live-action cartoon of a film, and while it’s exhilarating at times to witness the sheer virtuosity of his staging, the performances are all over the place,” Debruge wrote. “‘Babylon’ sorely lacks a point of view.”
“Babylon” is now playing in theaters nationwide.