Merry Christmas! Enjoy some elephant shit and another bonus episode that covers movie style.
Things always come back around. #Menswear is embracing wide cut pants that sit at the natural waist. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has returned and my friends are all playing it. And now, there is a another movie set in the 1920s that follows a guy who gets sucked up into the debauchery of socialites and features non-period costuming and non-period music. They said that the 2020s was meant to be a redux, so here we are talking about Damien Chazelle’s Babylon.
It’s funny to think how excited I was for Gatsby when it came out nearly a decade ago. Baz Luhrmann’s film released right as I was getting into menswear. Even though I didn’t dress specifically as the 1920s after watching it (that would have been hard to do with detachable collars), the film was formative in my appreciation of vintage styles. Since then, there hasn’t been too many pieces of media that have been inspirational in terms of period dress. Everything now tends to be nitpicked as my taste and discerning eye has gotten sharper; I also just get inspiration from photographs, illustrations, and other non-film sources.
That’s why I was intrigued to watch Babylon. A star studded cast that takes place right at the transition from silent to talkie? That’s a period ripe for good costuming. Chazelle’s La La Land and First Man had cool attire, so I was looking forward to seeing his team do a period piece for a time that we haven’t explored much lately. But as most films, like Allied and Live By Night, I wasn’t very impressed.
Brad Pitt’s Jack Conrad wears a pretty normal button up shirt and high rise tapered trousers for most of his non-black tie scenes. It’s fine, but it doesn’t feel too “vintage movie star” to me. Whether it’s an OCBD under a shawl sweater or the boat neck collar that feels like its too thin, Jack ends up looking like Banana Republic Heritage model and not one of the biggest stars of the era. His iconic move is wearing sunglasses at almost every moment, but with their chunkier wayfarer-esque frame, they seem to be more 1950s instead of 1920s.
Manny, played by Diego Calva, at least gets to wear brocade ties and nice 30s style suits. This look is seen when he works his way up as a studio executive. It is interesting to note that in the opening sequence (a party at a studio exec’s mansion), Manny is wearing fake black tie (a non-tux shirt, black bowtie, and black suit), presumably to fit in and fix any issues that come up during the festivities (like moving an OD’d girl while an elephant goes on a rampage). However, most of the film is spent with him stressed out and dealing with other people’s shit, so he’s mainly seen wearing an open shirt and trousers.
There are a few other characters who get some decent looks. Jovan Adepo’s Sidney Palmer actually looks fantastic when he gets to wear black tie (its better than any of in-universe movie stars) and gets a small moment to wear a 3PC when he gets the fame he’s wanted. Max Minghella’s Irving Thalberg gets to rock brocades and 3PC suits as well during his limited screen time. I guess the “correct” period attire is gained when people like Sidney, Manny, and Irv are at a certain status.
That being said, the extras (either true extras or film crews), also get some nice casual attire with fedoras, workshirts, and short jackets (which is what film crews would’ve worn). Olivia Hamilton plays a film director (with P. J Byrne as her assistant) and she looks like what you’d think a 20s director would wear: a blousy shirt, ascot, and jodhpurs; she’s just missing a floppy flat cap. But as these are not main characters, the good costuming does not get a chance to shine.
Obviously film costumers are not here to impress nerdy obsessives like me. They are not required to put their movie stars in period correct clothing. Costuming is done to add to the vibe of the film and it definitely does that here. You do get to feel Jack’s swagger when he rocks sunglasses indoors with black tie. You get to understand Manny’s frustration when he’s running sans tie and jacket to grab a camera before the sun sets. All of the choices contribute to the characterization. However, it doesn’t look amazing from a clothes standpoint. It also lacks the charm and interesting moves that we saw in Gatsby (even if the execution wasn’t great either). But I guess like Gatsby, Babylon succeeds in being a period film, which it mean the film is so clearly 2022 trying to be 1926. It’s like you used the mall to go to a Roaring Twenties party.
Anyway, Spencer, MJ, and I discuss the film on the latest bonus episode! It’s honestly less about the costuming of the film (since there just isn’t much to talk about) and more about how movies were made. Spencer has a lot of thoughts on this and helped source all of the period photos for this post as he is SaD’s resident film bro. I will say that Babylon makes 1926 look like movies were made in shanty facades in the Los Angeles Desert, but they definitely had dedicated filming studios back then.
Oh and we also talk about Avatar: The Way of Water, which is unrelated to Babylon….kinda 😉
You can listen to a preview of the bonus episode below or subscribe on Patreon to get access to it and all of our Bonus Pods. There’s also the Discord!
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