Saturday, May 21, 2016

Return to Babylon, Haunted Film

The film Return to Babylon is a bit of an interesting oddity, a silent film released in 2012 (similar to The Artist), it tells the tales of Hollywood's early years, focusing on the scandals that made and broke the stars of the silent film era.

According to the director, Alex Monty Canawati, he had wanted to make a silent film in the style of those from the 20s, and, one night, found a bag on a sidewalk in Hollywood. The bag contained 19 rolls of unused black and white 16 mm film. Canawati decided that, with this, he'd make his movie.

The film was shot on a shoe-string budget, despite having a number of well known stars in its cast. It never found a distributor, thanks in part to the sheer oddness of making a silent film in the modern era (though, yes, The Artist was successful), and so it took a while for people to see Return to Babylon...but when people did begin to see it, they saw something disturbing - not the content of the story, but things that were happening on screen.

In some scenes, the fingers of characters elongated into inhuman, possibly claw-like appendages. In others, the faces of the actors appeared to change into the faces of demonic monsters or desiccated corpses. In one case, an actor opens their mouth, and fangs appear.

The film makers insist that there were no special effects, and that they did not design these weird changes. The usual take is that the special effect that could do this is one referred to as "morphing", which would not have been feasible on the film's miniscule budget.

In interviews, cast and crew described numerous spooky happenings: feeling watched, feeling people poking or shoving them, hearing strange sounds without a clear source, and so on. Jennifer Tilly, who plays Clara Bow, has been especially vocal about this.

What was the source of these strange phenomenon? The film was shot in the homes and other favored places frequented by the stars whose fates the film dramatizes. Perhaps these locations are haunted, and this showed up on film. Maybe it's the film itself, those canisters that mysteriously came into Canawatti's possession - did some mysterious power want these images unleashed on the world and make the film available as an avenue for this?

Whatever the answer, the film remains a creepy mystery for now...

Commentary: ...or perhaps not. While neither I, nor anyone else aside from possibly the filmmakers, can say exactly what is going on in the footage, there are a number of possible explanations that are not supernatural.

For starters, some of the spooky images are, well, not really what they are claimed to be. For example, in a scene where an actor allegedly grows fangs - if you look closely at the image, it becomes clear that there are no fangs, just teeth and a low-quality image that makes the perfectly normal teeth reflect in a slightly odd way.

Some of the images, though, are decidedly odd. Even there, though, there may be a bit more going on in the natural world. Turns out that transferring from an old reel of film to digital medium for distribution (or online viewing) can cause some weird image distortions. In addition, I have my suspicions that the relatively low-resolution black and white image providing by the film may make it more open to cheaper post-production digital manipulation than a 35 mm color print or high-definition digital image would be. And, frankly, having looked at some of the images, they appear to me to be pretty clearly examples of blurrier images promoting Pareidolia rather than the horrific items that they are claimed to be.

Then, of course, there's the story of the film discovery...which seems like perfect fodder for an attention-getting ghost story, rather than a true event. I don't know, maybe running into bags of unused film does happen from time to time in Los Angeles (it never happened when I was down there, but maybe I was just hanging out in the wrong part of town), but that just seems...a little to convenient, I suppose.  Also, there's the fact that the film couldn't find a distributor, and that the filmmakers needed to draw some attention to it in order to remedy this problem. Put that together, and, as an outside observer, it seems likely to me that the story was added at a later time (maybe with some special effects work) in an attempt to draw attention to a film that wasn't getting any.

Also worth noting - the director is either nutty or (more likely) a hilarious prankster, and has claimed that various places where shadows or hair cover the faces of various actresses demonstrates that they have become "Christ Like" and that, perhaps, his movie is part of biblical prophecy.

Added Bonus: Of course, we can't leave the entry about a haunted film without included a trailer and clips, now can we? For whatever reason, Youtube is not letting me embed the clips, but the links below should get you where you want to go.

First off, the director is either crazy or funny, I am not sure which:

Next, a short film on the film...

...and the trailer

Sources: WikipediaWeek in WeirdThe ParanormalisticsStrange

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