Babylon is a totally engrossing 1980 British film that is set against the UK reggae and “sound system” culture of South London’s then predominantly West Indian neighborhood, Brixton.
It stars Brinsley Forde, the lead singer of Aswad as “Blue.” Martin Stellman (Quadrophenia) originally co-wrote the screenplay with director Franco Rosso as a teleplay for the BBC in 1975. The soundtrack was scored by Slits producer Dennis Bovell and featured music by Aswad (their killer “Warrior Charge” number, which figures in the plot of the film), Yabby U, I Roy, Michael Prophet and others. Babylon was shot by Oscar- winning cinematographer Chris Menges (The Mission; The Killing Fields).
From the (region free) UK DVD:
Sound system ‘toaster’ Blue and his Ital Lion crew are looking forward to a soundclash competition with rival outfit Jah Shaka. But as the event approaches, Blue’s personal life begins to unravel. Fired from his job, he begins to suspect his girlfriend is cheating on him and then one night he is brutally beaten by plainclothes policemen. Finally, when their lock-up garage is broken into and their sound system destroyed, he cannot take any more. Increasingly angered and alienated by what he perceives to be society’s rejection of his race and his culture, Blue is compelled to respond by fighting fire with fire.
Babylon is a real treat and considered a classic today. The soundclash scene with Jah Shaka near the film’s end is just a flat-out great piece of filmmaking. Babylon was difficult to see until it was released on DVD in 2008, but it’s made a strong comeback since then, with prestigious screenings and a BBC broadcast as part of the “Reggae Britannia” season.
Certainly it’s a unique film, the only one of its kind to examine the harsh life of Jamaican immigrants in London during that time. Babylon represents the first time in UK cinema where British reggae culture and Rastafarianism were explored in a non-documentary. Director Rosso was raised in south London himself and knew exactly where to find visually arresting backdrops of urban decay in Brixton and Deptford.
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