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Babylon - What We Know So Far

Few young filmmakers' careers have ever been as closely watched as Damien Chazelle's. Even before the American director became the youngest Best Directing Oscar winner ever at 32 years old for "La La Land," he'd already blasted Hollywood doors open with the runaway success of "Whiplash," and the years since his films' cumulative 10 Academy Award wins — three for "Whiplash," six for "La La Land," and one for "First Man" — have seen him venture into longform television with Netflix's "The Eddy," and video art with the phone-screen-retrofitted short "The Stunt Double."

Now, following up on the critically acclaimed yet commercially unsuccessful "First Man," Chazelle is returning to theaters in appropriately grand fashion with "Babylon." The Paramount Pictures production is set to be one of the biggest and most prestigious releases of 2022, a surefire awards season player, and yet another fearless leap forward for a director who's seemingly incapable of going slow. Details about "Babylon" are mostly being kept under wraps at the moment, but given the degree of anticipation for the project among film buffs and fans of the cast alike, some details have come out into the open.

When will Babylon come out?

Originally, as reported by Collider, "Babylon" was supposed to be a 2021 film, with an Oscar-friendly December release date. However, due to COVID-19 delays, the movie was ultimately pushed back a full year. It is now scheduled for a limited commercial premiere on December 25, 2022, with a wide expansion beginning on January 6, 2023. This release strategy previously worked out incredibly well for "La La Land," which had a limited release on December 9, 2016, then slowly expanded on the way to a 3236-theater peak in early February 2017 (via Box Office Mojo), ultimately netting a whopping $151 million domestic total.

If we're to judge by Chazelle's past oeuvre, however, it's unlikely that the commercial U.S. release of "Babylon" will coincide with the film's world premiere. Each of the director's previous films have screened in major film festivals before making their way to the general public: "Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench" premiered at Tribeca, "Whiplash" was a Sundance sensation, "La La Land" won Emma Stone a Volpi Cup at the Venice Film Festival, and "First Man" also screened at Venice. Therefore, "Babylon" is all but guaranteed to run the festival circuit before hitting U.S. multiplexes; we wouldn't be surprised to see Chazelle return to the Venice competition lineup a third time.

Who will be in Babylon?

The most attention-grabbing aspect of the "Babylon" news cycle so far has been the litany of big cast announcements. Empire reports that, in addition to previously-tapped stars Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, and Katherine Waterston, the film recently added Samara Weaving and Max Minghella to its ensemble, along with Oscar-nominated veteran Eric Roberts, Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, Lukas Haas ("Inception"), Rory Scovel, PJ Byrne, and Damon Gupton.

Joining them as potential breakouts are Mexican actor Diego Calva (pictured above), British rising star Jovan Adepo ("Watchmen"), and Chinese-American actress Li Jun Li, who's set to have an attention-grabbing role as legendary silent film star Anna May Wong.

Interestingly, of the cast announced so far, the only two past Chazelle collaborators are Haas, who had a minor role in "First Man," and Gupton, who made appearances in "Whiplash" and "La La Land." This is a change of pace for the director, who has previously favored returning players, casting J.K. Simmons in "La La Land" and Ryan Gosling in "First Man." It would have been another story, of course, if the originally reported casting of Emma Stone had stuck, but the actress left the project in December of last year due to scheduling issues and was replaced by Robbie (via Deadline).

What will Babylon be about?

No official plot description for "Babylon" has been released by Paramount yet, but Empire reports that it will be "a drama set in a transitional period for Hollywood as silent moviemaking gave way to the talkies." This tracks with Brad Pitt's previous description of the project in an interview: "[Chazelle] is looking at the silent movie era, the death of the silent movie era. It's good," the actor told Access Hollywood at the 2020 Golden Globes red carpet.

A December report by Collider goes into further detail, noting that the screenplay "features various industry figures including Hollywood's first 'It' girl Clara Bow, writer Elinor Glyn and studio boss Irving Thalberg" in addition to Anna May Wong, Pitt's role as a fictional fading silent movie star based on John Gilbert, and a Mexican-American lead to be played by Calva.

The twilight of the 1920s silent film era is ripe for dramatic and aesthetic exploration, as it marked the passage from arguably cinema's most glamorous and magical period to the emergence of movies and stars as we now know them, bringing glory to some and ruin to others. Out of the real-life figures cited by Collider, Bow and Glyn retired from Hollywood shortly after talkies took over, Thalberg continued to be an important producer through the 1930s, and Wong went on to reinvent herself multiple times over the course of a fascinating career. Given Chazelle's previously-demonstrated melancholy touch when it comes to Hollywood, we can expect his look into this period of change to be a unique, emotionally rich one.