1/23/13

Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon


Belshazzar's Feast beneath Egyptian blue skies, spread out under the blazing Southern California morning sun: more than four thousand extras recruited from L. A. paid an unheard-of two dollars a day plus box lunch plus carfare to impersonate Assyrian and Median militiamen, Babylonian dancers, Ethiopians, East Indians, Numidians, eunuchs, ladies-in-waiting to the Princess Beloved, handmaidens of the Babylonian temples, priests of Bel, Nergel, Marduk and Ishtar, slaves, nobles and subjects of Babylonia.

Griffith's Vision of Babylon!

A mare's nest mountain of scaffolding, hanging gardens, chariot-race ramparts and sky-high elephants, a make-believe mirage of Mesopotamia dropped down on the sleepy huddle of mission-style bungalows amid the orange groves that made up 1915 Hollywood, portent of things to come.

The Purple Epoch had begun.

And there it stood for years, stranded like some gargantuan dream beside Sunset Boulevard. Long after Griffith's great leap into the unknown his Sun Play of the Ages, Intolerance, had failed; long after Belshazzar's court had sprouted weeds and its walls had begun to peel and warp in abandoned movie-set disarray; after the Los Angeles Fire Department had condemned it as a fire hazard, still it stood: Griffith's Babylon, something of a reproach and something of a challenge to the burgeoning movie town—something to surpass, something to live down.