I’ve made no secret about being a fool for Taschen books, and damned if I haven’t gotten into another one — a making-of-Babel coffee-table book composed of 250 or more shots taken during the location shooting in Morocco, Mexico and Japan. Good viewing, good revisiting, good immersion. Better if you’ve seen the movie, but stirring either way.

Babel director Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu explains a gesture he wants from costar Cate Blanchett (l.) as Brad Pitt (playing her husband) listens

The 302-page book was edited by by Maria Eladia Hagerman, who’s had the honor, intrigue and adventure of being married to Babel director Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu for the last 14 years. An idea came to Hagerman, an avid photographer and book editor (she worked on a volume of poetry by Mexican poet Jaime Sabines), as her husband was doing Babel location-scouting and regaling her with the details.
“I saw an opportunity to create a portrait of the worlds that inspired Babel,” she says. “Not so much the stars as much as the people who are not always on the screen…the people who are part of these worlds.”
That’s an accurate description — this is only marginally a book about Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael Garcia Bernal and Rinko Kikuchi shooting a movie. It’s much more of a cultural atmosphere trip, which is naturally fitting given the film’s focus on absorbing the rituals and aromas of native cultures.
Hagerman chose four photographers to shoot in the three separate locations — Mary Ellen Mark and Patrick Bard covered the Morocco shoot, Graciela Iturbide captured the Mexico filming, and Miguel Rio Branco photographed the third and final location filming in Tokyo. (Additional Moroccan-shoot photographs came from unit photographer Murray Close.)

Babel crew shooting opening shot in Moroccan desert, as Innaritu (r.) calls for quiet (or whatever…I wasn’t there) during spring 2005 shoot

One of my favorite shots is of Innaritu describing how to play a scene to Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett during the Moroccan portion. I asked him about this last week, and he said he wanted Blanchett, whose character is limp and bleeding from having been shot near the base of her neck, to look like a Pieta figure with her head back and arms spread out.
And I was shaking my head over a wide-angle shot of Innaritu and his crew getting the film’s very first image — a middle-aged, weather-beaten man (i.e., the seller of the high-powered hunting rifle) walking along rugged desert terrain. The shot has a quiet, meditative alone-ness…and yet the Taschen book photography shows some 23 or 24 people were involved, including two large sun reflectors and a long section of parallel metal track. It hasn’t made the opening shot seem inorganic exactly, but I don’t think it will ever quite feel the same.
The Babel book went on sale last Thursday in Mexico and did rather well, says Hagerman. It goes on sale in the States this week. Hagerman and her husband are going to attend a two-hour book signing at the Beverly Hills Taschen store (354 No. Beverly Drive — tel: 310.274.4300) on Thursday, at 7pm.