‘Babylon’ Review: London Tale Of Racism And Reggae Reaches Another Level

Brinsley Forde as Blue in FrancoRosso’s Babylon. (Kino Lorber)
Though it was released in 1980, the British film Babylon has never played in the United States until now. Thanks to Kino Lorber, this reggae infused drama is now playing in select cities and if you’re looking to expand your cinematic horizons, look no further.

Having no idea of the sound system competitions in London, watching Babylon was an eye-opening experience on a social level. Directed by late filmmaker Franco Rosso and shot by Oscar winning cinematographer Chris Menges (The Killing Fields), the picture is also a look at the racism that was inherent in the environment, and this tension serves as the film’s festering undercurrent.
Brinsley Forde as Blue in Franco Rosso’s Babylon.
With an exploration of music and social issues, all of which focus on a narrow time period that many folks don’t know about, Babylon may be seen as a niche film. That is far from the case, as Rosso brilliantly gets us to care about the storyline’s main character and his lively group of friends.

Blue (Brinsley Forde, who’s the frontman of the British group Aswad) is a Londoner who makes ends meet as a mechanic. His big dream is to achieve success in music with his mates (they are part of a group called Ital Lion). Playing music, smoking weed, and partying may seem like a normal part of one’s social life, but these Londoners are often behind the eight ball due to the color of their skin.
Policemen in search of blowing off a little steam, an over demanding and racist neighbors find their respective ways in ruining Blue’s day, and he tries his best to keep his head above water. But there’s only so much a person can take.
David N.Haynes as Errol, Karl Howman as Ronnie, Archie Pool as Dreadhead,and Brinsley Forde as Blue in Franco Rosso’s Babylon
The script by Rosso and Martin Stellman (Quadrophenia) delivers an episodic yet refreshingly seamless exploration of these young men in their element. Though Blue’s journey is the heart of the story, we get a good enough peek into most of the supporting characters’ lives to actually care about their fates by the story’s final moments.

Rosso’s liberal use of music (Dennis Bovell’s score is mesmeric) against the gritty confines of South London serves as the perfect marriage of sound and fury. Throw in Menges’ arresting visual sense and diverse composition of shots, and Babylon is a tale that never wavers in scope or execution. For moviegoers wondering about the print’s quality, Menges also spearheaded the restoration of Babylon, and the image is crisp as can be.
Babylon is also a movie about friendship, and a huge part of the movie’s transcendent appeal lies in the group’s exuberant approach to life even in the face of darkness. The cops and racists may beat down that door, but Blue and his crew play on even if it’s well past 1980.
Rating 4.5 out of 5

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