The “Babylon” Movie Montage

A fun romp through cinema history: How many have you seen?

M. H. Rubin


Eadweard Muybridge, “Horse in Motion” (1878) / Wikimedia Commons

The finale of Damien Chazelle’s Babylon includes a unique montage of historic movie clips. They go by insanely fast, but I remember noticing one in particular (“Sunstone”) that was made by a friend and thinking, “that’s a very obscure clip; who would ever recognize that?” As a film buff, I wondered if I could sleuth out all of them.

It’s an interesting slice through film history — the films speak to Chazelle’s comprehensive love and knowledge of movie history and film theory, along with being nicely edited.

Ending Montage scene, Babylon (2022)

The Montage

The films presented are generally chronological, and like the movie itself, center on landmark shifts in movie experiences and technologies — starting at the dawn of moving pictures, and then evolving: shorts to full-length features, animations, the introduction of sound and color, explorations in avant-garde and non-narrative cinema (the very pioneers of montage sequences like this) and ending with the shift to digital. All of that in a smidge under a minute. So here goes, the 56 clips in montage order that I was able to tease out and links to the actual films when available.

  1. The Horse in Motion (1878), by Eadweard Muybridge — basically the invention of moving pictures. [VIEW]

2. Cat Galloping (1887), by Eadweard Muybridge. Check out Muybridge’s landmark Animal locomotion: an electro-photographic investigation of consecutive phases of animal movements, 1872–1885. [VIEW]

3. The Arrival of a Train (L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat) (1895), directed and produced by Auguste and Louis Lumière. “It was the story of the terrified audience response … that solidified the sense of alienation between the earliest films and their audiences. This is referred to as cinema’s “founding myth” — the idea that the earliest consumers of moving pictures had neither the capacity nor the tools to distinguish film from reality.”* [VIEW]

4. Annie Oakley (1894), filmed for one of Thomas Edison’s earliest Kinetoscopes. [VIEW]

5. Birth of the Pearl (1901), a short film by F.S. Armitage. [VIEW]

6. A Trip to the Moon (Le Voyage Dans La Lune) (1902), a short film directed by Georges Méliès. [VIEW]

7. Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (Ali Baba et les Quarante Voleurs) (1902), a short film directed by Ferdinand Zecca. [VIEW]

8. The Great Train Robbery (1903), a silent film made by Edwin S. Porter for the Edison Manufacturing Company. [VIEW]

9. Little Nemo (1911), by American animator Winsor McCay. Not just an early animation, but it’s unusually meta — the animation and the making of the animation are both part of the story. [VIEW]

10. Intolerance (1916), by D.W. Griffith. “Griffith allegedly set out to make this movie because he wanted to redeem his reputation from the damage that’d been done to it with The Birth of a Nation — a movie that confirmed his genius as a filmmaker, and his power as a box office draw, but also outed him as the racist that, as I think Roger Ebert is probably right to point out, he didn’t know he was.”* [VIEW]

11. The Champion (1915), directed by Charlie Chaplin and released by Essanay Studios. [VIEW]

12. The Vampires (Les Vampires) (1915–1916) by Louis Feuillade. Seminal crime thriller serials (ten) inspiring a generation of directors, and together running ~7 hours long.* [VIEW]

13. Joan the Woman (1916) by Cecil B. DeMille. DeMille’s first historical epic takes on the life of Joan of Arc, although it’s not the first Joan of Arc movie (that would be by Georges Méliès in 1900). Of course, DeMille went on to make other historic films.

14. Within Our Gates (1920). “A 1920 American silent film by the director Oscar Micheaux that portrays the contemporary racial situation in the United States during the early twentieth century, the years of Jim Crow, the revival of the Ku Klux Klan, the Great Migration of blacks to cities of the North and Midwest, and the emergence of the “New Negro”. It was part of a genre called race films.”* [LINK]

15. Voice of the Nightingale (La Voix du Rossignol) (1925), directed by animator Ladislaw Starewicz. [VIEW]

16. Le Ballet Mécanique (1924), a Dadaist post-Cubist art film conceived, written, and co-directed by the artist Fernand Léger in collaboration with the filmmaker Dudley Murphy (with cinematographic input from Man Ray). [VIEW]

17. The Jazz Singer (1927), directed by Alan Crosland and produced by Warner Bros.; it’s the first feature-length movie with synchronized sound. [TRAILER]

18. Black and Tan (1929), a musical short film written and directed by Dudley Murphy and featuring Duke Ellington. [VIEW]

19. Hollywood Review of 1929 (1929). MGM’s second feature-length musical, and one of their earliest sound films. Directed by Charles Reisner, and produced by Harry Rapf and Irving Thalberg, it’s a two-hour revue that includes three segments in Technicolor. But most relevant to Babylon is it was the screen debut of “Singing in the Rain.” [LINK]

An excerpt of the montage scene, but the LINK above is to the entire film.

20. Piccadilly (1929), directed by Ewald André Dupont. The star was Anna May Wong — considered the first Chinese-American star in Hollywood, as well as the first Chinese-American actress to gain international fame. [VIEW]

21. The Wizard of Oz (1939), primarily directed by Victor Fleming (who left the production to take over the troubled Gone with the Wind). For most audiences it was the first time they saw color in a motion picture. [TRAILER]

22. Ivan the Terrible, Part 2 (1944), written and directed by Sergi Eisenstein. This is a color sequence in a mostly monochromatic movie. [VIEW]

23. Tarantella (1940), an avant-guard animation by Mary Ellen Bute, Norman McLaren & Ted Nemeth. [VIEW]

24. Love Letter (1953), directed by Kinuyo Tanaka, her directing debut in a long and historic career in acting and directing. Tanaka was the second woman in Japan to have a career as a film director.

25. Pather Panchali (1955), the beginning of the The Apu Trilogy, by director Satyajit Ray. “Many consider it to be the crowning achievement of the series. Ray, influenced by Italian Neo-Realism and Poetic Realism, wanted to portray a different type of India that had been seen before.”* [VIEW]

26. Duck Amuck (1953), by Chuck Jones, Merrie Melodies, Warner Brothers animation. [VIEW]

27. This is Cinerama (1952), directed by Mike Todd, Michael Todd, Jr., Walter A. Thompson, and Fred Rickey. The film was designed to showcase the new widescreen process Cinerama, which broadened the aspect ratio and was considered almost 3D by involving the audience’s peripheral vision. [VIEW]

28. Ben-Hur (1959) directed by William Wyler. [TRAILER]

29. An Andalusian Dog (Un Chien Andalou), (1929) is a silent short film directed by Luis Buñuel, and written by Buñuel and Salvador Dalí. “Un Chien Andalou has no plot in the conventional sense of the word. With a disjointed chronology, jumping from the initial “once upon a time” to “eight years later” without events or characters changing, it uses dream logic in narrative flow that can be described in terms of the then-popular Freudian free association, presenting a series of tenuously related scenes. Un Chien Andalou is a seminal work in the genre of surrealist cinema.”* [VIEW]

30. Psycho (1969) produced and directed by Alfred Hitchcock. [TRAILER]

31. Dreams That Money Can Buy (1947). [LINK]

32. Un Chien Andalou (1929), in the most memorable (and horrific) scene, as a goat’s eye is slashed.

33. Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), directed by and starring wife-and-husband team Maya Deren and Alexandr Hackenschmied.

34. The Passion of Joan of Arc (La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc) (1928), by Carl Theodor Dreyer. [VIEW]

35. My Life to Live (Vivre Sa Vie), (1962) directed by Jean-Luc Godard. The actress pictured is Godard’s wife Anna Karina, and the juxtaposition with Dreyer’s Joan of Arc is purposeful as this shot was an homage to the prior. [TRAILER]

36. Lucia (1968), a Cuban black-and-white drama film directed by Humberto Solás, and written by Solás, Julio García Espinosa, and Nelson Rodríguez. [VIEW]

37. NY. NY. (1947) an experimental film by Francis Thompson. [LINK]

38. Borom Sarret (1963) by Senegalese director Ousmane Sembène, the first narrative film made in Africa by an African. [VIEW]

39. Le Ballet Mécanique (1924), (again) a Dadaist post-Cubist art film conceived, written, and co-directed by the artist Fernand Léger in collaboration with the filmmaker Dudley Murphy (with cinematographic input from Man Ray). [VIEW]

40. Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), directed by Maya Deren and Alexandr Hackenschmied. [VIEW]

41. The Black Vampire (1953) an Argentine horror film directed by Román Viñoly Barreto. It is inspired by Fritz Lang’s M. [VIEW]$

42. The Vampires (Les Vampires) (1915–1916) by Louis Feuillade. [VIEW]

43. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick. The Babylon montage itself was a sort of homage to the “Stargate” sequence near the end of 2001. [TRAILER]

44. Film leader — transition medium from the days of celluloid, as reels switched in the projection booth.

45. Week-End (1967), directed by Jean-Luc Godard. “… a placard first reads “fin” denoting the end of Jean-Luc Godard’s fifteenth film in a span of seven years, standing as one of the most prolific runs by a director in the history of cinema. Yet the innovative New Wave director soon adds a twist trademark for his style as an intellectual prankster. “Fin de Cinema” the placard comes to read, which at first was easy to shrug as nothing but a notion signifying the director’s tendency for pretentious declarations. But as was the stylistic norm for Godard, the phrase served as a double entendre, forecasting the radical turn of Godard’s career that consumed the next decade of his life.”* In the scope of the Babylon montage, it also serves to transition from “classic” cinema segment into the dawn of digital, another sort of “end of cinema.” [VIEW]

46. Matrix 1 (1971), by John Whitney, Sr. [VIEW]

47. Matrix 1 (1971), by John Whitney, Sr. [VIEW]

48. 0º ‹ — › 45º VERSÃO (1974) From director Analivia Cordeiro; [LINK] “A videodance from the first version of 0–45 recorded at TV Cultura de São Paulo.”

49. Sunstone (1979), created by Ed Emshwiller, Alvy Ray Smith, Lance Williams, and Garland Stern — one of the very earliest uses of computers to generate film images. It was created by computer scientists at NYIT. * Alvy Ray Smith went on to co-found Pixar. [VIEW]

50. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Lawrence Kasdan. [TRAILER]

51. Tron (1982), written and directed by Steven Lisberger. An early use integrating CG and film. [TRAILER]

52. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991), directed by James Cameron, who co-wrote the script with William Wisher. [TRAILER]

53. Jurassic Park (1993), directed by Steven Spielberg. [TRAILER]

54. The Matrix (1999), written and directed by the Wachowskis. [TRAILER]

55. Avatar (2009), directed, written, co-produced, and co-edited by James Cameron. [TRAILER]

56. Persona (1965), written and directed by Ingmar Bergman. It’s an interesting selection for the final clip — according to Wikipedia: “Characterized by elements of psychological horror, Persona has been the subject of much critical analysis, interpretation, and debate. The film’s exploration of duality, insanity, and personal identity has been interpreted as reflecting the Jungian theory of persona and dealing with issues related to filmmaking, vampirism, homosexuality, motherhood, abortion, and other subjects. The experimental style of its prologue and storytelling has also been noted. The enigmatic film has been called the Mount Everest of cinematic analysis; according to film historian Peter Cowie, “Everything one says about Persona may be contradicted; the opposite will also be true … Many critics consider Persona one of the greatest films ever made.”* [VIEW]

Post Script

There have been many discussions about the sequence and film over the past few weeks; a few worth exploring — Vanity Fair, Collider, Vulture, and the Independent.

I also found this interview with Babylon editor Tom Cross, which I thought shed interesting light on the montage:

At some point, we went back to his original script and reread it. He wrote it in a way that filled in the blanks and filled your mind with emotions, and that’s not what we had in the film. And so, Damien devised an add-on that basically was in the spirit of what was on the page, but it was something that we had to completely create in the editing room. Damien came up with a list of films that he thought would be really great to use, and there were many more than what is in the final movie. Together, he and I started whittling those down and started giving it the shape that it has currently.

…We wanted to be very careful, because a big goal for that end scene was to create something that was more emotional and experiential, rather than informational. Damien definitely had an agenda for that final scene, but he didn’t want to cut it in a way that it became too predictable. That informed what types of clips we would have in the montage. We had to be careful not to have the montage just look like a promo for classic movies on TV, or a [celebratory] promo you might see in a movie chain. It needed to be its own thing. I mean, we were inspired by many sequences. One, in particular, was the Stargate sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The most important thing was to create something that was impressionist and experiential, rather than informational.


More recently Chazelle himself discussed his thinking behind the sequence:

M.H. Rubin is the author of Droidmaker: George Lucas and the Digital Revolution (Triad, 2006) and he’s basically a nerd. His most recent book is the slightly less nerdy The Photograph as Haiku (2023).



M. H. Rubin

Living a creative life, a student of high magic, and hopefully growing wiser as I age. • Ex-Lucasfilm, Netflix, Adobe. • Here are some stories and photos.