Serious Business! Franco Rosso’s Babylon is essentially a day in the life in working class South London. The film follows Blue, a mechanic by day and reggae soundsystem DJ by night, as he clashes inner city pressure on his way to a clash against the mighty Jah Shaka, struggling with everyday racism and xenophobia along the way. Shot in and around Brixton (some of the locales appeared in Alex Bartsch’s Covers - Retracing Reggae Record Sleeves in London book) with real locals as extras and a number of scene luminaries rounding out the cast (Brinsley Forde from Aswad plays Blue, Jah Shaka and Mikey Dread appear as themselves), the film takes a nuanced look at Black British life, the import of soundsystem culture to South London and the assimilation and struggles of West Indian immigrants in the British working class, illustrating the potency of reggae music as a foreign music on the global stage. The film premiered at Cannes in 1980 but wasn’t ever released in the United States “for being too controversial, and likely to incite racial tension" says scholar & post-punk legend Vivien Goldman, so this official re-release is crucial. Dennis Bovell’s soundtrack (oi, can we get a reissue of the LP m8?), and particularly the scene featuring Jah Shaka’s soundsystem clash, were formative for me in my budding taste for UK digital strains of reggae music and general soundsystem culture years back, so it’s nice to finally have it beautifully restored on physical formats. Extras include new interviews and audio commentary with Franco Rosso, Brinsley Forde and more, a booklet essay, short Linton Kwesi Johnson documentary Dread Beat And Blood, trailers and more. Blu-Ray version also available. Recommended.
- DVD version
- first official release in the United States
- "in English and Jamaican Patois with subtitles"
- 95 minutes, color, 1.85:1
- DVD extras: audio commentary with Franco Rosso, Brinsley Forde, screenwriter Martin Stellman and producer Gavrik Losey, DREAD BEAT AND BLOOD (1979), a short documentary on Linton Kwesi Johnson by Franco Rosso, new interviews with Brinsley Forde and Dennis Bovell, restoration featurette, reversible artwork, Q&A with cast and crew (recorded at the BFI Southbank in 2008), trailers, booklet essay by music journalist Mike Rubin
reviewed by laughable butane bob 09/2019