In 1999, Alex Monty Canawati and his producer found a factory sealed bag of 16mm black and white Ilford film on Hollywood Boulevard. Using this, Canawati and his team began Birth of Babylon, which won Best Short Film at the Arpa Foundation film festival in 2001. This short silent film depicts the infamous, still officially unsolved murder of Hollywood director William Desmond Taylor (played by Jack Atlantis). The Taylor murder involved a who’s who list of Hollywood celebrities as suspects. Among those were Mary Miles Minter (Devora Lillian) and Mabel Normand (Morganne Picard). Although no one was charged, the highly publicized investigation effectively destroyed the careers of the two actresses connected to the case (in 1964 silent actress Margaret Gibson confessed to the killing of Taylor on her deathbed). The Taylor murder came a mere five months after the Roscoe Arbuckle rape scandal and was followed by the drug-related deaths of silent stars Olive Thomas and Barbara La Marr (Wendy Caron), prompting Hollywood to write morality clauses into its contracts. This regulation eventually gave birth to the Hayes Code.
Canawati had attended the University of Southern California and discovered a fascination for silent film aesthetics andKenneth Anger. Apart from Guy Maddin, Canawati was the only filmmaker of note producing silent films a full decade before the populist, Academy Award winning The Artist (2011). However, Canawati was not content with Birth as a short and wanted to expand it into a feature, encompassing far more than a single representative event of silent cinema. Due to financial struggles, Return to Babylon (2013) took over a decade to see fruition. It has been worth the wait. Continue reading