Retro Movie of the Month: BABYLON (1980)
Babylon (1980) directed by Franco Rosso. Written by Franco Rosso and Martin Stellman (Quadrophenia), and shot by two-time Academy Award winner Chris Menges (The Killing Fields), Babylon is an incendiary portrait of racial tension and police brutality set in Brixton, London. The film, anchored by
directed by Franco Rosso. Written by Franco Rosso and Martin Stellman (Quadrophenia), and shot by two-time Academy Award winner Chris Menges (The Killing Fields), Babylon is an incendiary portrait of racial tension and police brutality set in Brixton, London. The film, anchored by Dennis Bovell’s propulsive score, is partly based on Bovell’s false imprisonment for running a Jamaican sound system, Sufferer’s Hi Fi, in the mid-70s.
We constantly hear stories and watch films about Thatcher-era Britannia from the early Punk-era to the mayhem in the football stands. Skinheads, Suedeheads, Rudeboys, New Romantics, Yardies, Casuals and the like; diversity and culture brewing from the melting pot that is the streets of England. One group to have a major influence on culture in Britain was the first and second generation of British Jamaicans. Jamaican style and music was a crucial inspiration to working class youths of the era; early Rocksteady rhythms of the Bob Marley & the Wailers, Desmond Dekker, Derrick Morgan, Symarip and The Ethiopians, sweeping into the hearts & minds of British working-class youths. Later, Sound System culture and eventually DUB with remixes and arrangements from King Tubby, Lee Scratch Perry, Scientist, Mad Professor and others were the rage. It wasn’t just cool, it was ITAL. It wasn’t just the Beatles and Bowie, it was Spliffs, Ganja, Rastafarianism; it was Black and Caribbean and unapologetic/authentic.
Babylon was a renegade film showcasing how those sounds woven themselves into the fabric of British youth in opposition of racist pushback from ignorant conservative norms of the time. The time of filming was especially ripe in the center of racial tensions. Production headquarters were in an abandoned warehouse and most of the shoot locations in Brixton were kept under wraps from the media and general public due to the themes depicted in the film.
This is considered one of British cinemas best features and has been praised by critics including myself since its release.
I being a former Fred Perry fresh-cut at one time and growing up during heated racial tensions in NYC can fully identify and relate to the confusion, aggravation and disillusionment of the main characters. This film is independent filmmaking at its finest; made exquisite by its soundtrack provided by reggae and dub artists such as Yabby U, I-Roy, Aswad, and Dennis Bovell.
Total runtime is 95 minutes.
Highly recommended for fans of Beat Street and Coolie High.
Stay Fresh, Stay Cool, and Stay Safe out there. But, always, always keep your finger on that REWIND button.