• Denholm Hewlett

[Film/Culture] BABYLON (1980)

A revolutionary and mystical reggae cult classic film, released three months before the London Brixton riots erupted and triggered the film's "disappearance" for 30 years.


One of the most important and culturally relevant British films ever made; Babylon (directed by Franco Russo) is honest, raw and incendiary film-making at it's very best, and it's core message is stronger than ever.


The plot centres around Reggae sound system culture and the racial divide of troubled London in the early 80s, themes of police racism, violence towards young black men, poverty, disillusion and lack of opportunities. This immersive and wonderfully empathetic drama is deeply rooted in the British tradition of social realism. The story portrays the struggles of David Blue, a Black British working class musician played by Brinsley Forde of the reggae band Aswad. The film features an incredible roots/rocksteady/dub soundtrack scored by Dennis Bovell, Aswad, I-Roy, Cassandra, Michael Prophet, Johnny Clarke & Jah Shaka


This remarkable and electrifyingly story commands your attention from the moment it starts, and doesn't let you go. It's one of the most accurate depictions of the cultural tensions enflamed by Thatcher's reign of terror.



Filmed on the gritty streets of Brixton and Deptford, the film follows Blue and his group of friends who run the Ital Lion Reggae sound system crew in West London, a temporary sanctuary from an outside world rife with discrimination and aggression, where racial bigotry is the norm.



The film managed to capture a specific moment both in British society and British cinema. Crucially, Babylon was among the first British features that allowed black actors to carry an entire film, to explore what it meant to be an ethnic minority in the United Kingdom during this time period.



Babylon was directed by Franco Rosso, and co-written by Marlin Stellman (Quadrophenia) who desribed how he wanted to make "a British reggae version of Mean Streets.“. Cinematographer Chris Menges managed to capture through natural lighting and camerawork, the true essence of life on the gritty London streets, also staying true to a portrayal of the vibrant afro-carribean sound system musical culture and fashion during that era.



The London streets of Babylon were a messy place; a city in flux and unsure of it's future. Racism was endemic and institutional, with the national front logo a worryingly ubiquitous daunting. The film reveals the highs and lows of London life for young black men during the 1980's. Fathers, mothers, truant brothers, corrupt police, casual racism and white prejudice become daily obstacles, or tribulations, as Blue so poetically calls them.



Underlying the narrative is a deep rooted spiritual message regarding the Rastafari spiritual practice, and the metaphor of London as Babylon - an ancient city and phrase used in the rastafari religion to describe opressive aspects of white society, dating back to the biblical story of the tower of Babel and the Christian descriptions of Babylon as a "wicked city".



Upon it's initial release the film was deemed X rated by the British rating's board, and 3 months later Brixton erupted into historical large scale riots. This would mean that the film would be all but lost for 30 years until it's re-release in 2009, captivating a new generation of audiences and finally becoming recognised by major critics as the masterpiece it rightfully is.


~ Watch the trailer below for this revolutionary cult gem ~


~ Psychic Garden

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