"Babylon" was part of a spate of movies made in the late 1970's and early 1980's which tried to put music on the big screen, making something to appeal to young people and also portray something contemporary. Whilst "Quadrophenia" seemed oddly dated and "Breaking Glass" a little cliched, "Babylon" manages to pull off most of its ambitions as this most welcome release on DVD testifies.
The film follows the fortunes of Blue - played by Brinsley Forde, the lead singer of Aswad who was a child star of the TV series "The Double Deckers" for those with a long enough memory - and his friends who are the Ital Lion soundsystem. The film documents the time up to a big soundclash between the Lion soundsystem and their rivals the Jah Shaka system - featuring DJ Jah Shaka himself. As events unfold Blue's life slowly hits a downward spiral.
Whilst, at times, the events of Blue's descent seem a little predictable this doesn't detract and is a minor criticism of what is a well paced, decently acted and well shot film. It is fascinating to see London, chiefly Lewisham, in such a deshevelled state. There is a lot of rubble and a grey hue to the place which suits the mood well. Support comes from a varitey of young black talent much of which has gone on to become fixtures on British TV.
Despite the tight budget this film has many highlights. It tackles the issue of racism unflinchingly and the scenes of abuse and brutality have a shocking power which still seems relevant today. The racism here is open, almost brazen, and one still feels uncomfortable watching it.
The other star of the show is the music which picks a few reggae gems and has a great original soundtrack composed by Dennis Bovell - surely one of the most unheralded sonic pioneers of his generation. It capturing the moment when dub started to head towards the electronic and it is a treat from the first rhythm to the last rumbling reverb.
Cited by serious minded critics as one of the best British films of the 80's this DVD gives the chance to see for yourself. Although not utterly perfect this is a fine film and the only real pity is that it didn't open the floodgates for more films like this. You can judge for yourself, but I'm siding with the critics in welcoming back this forgotten gem of a film.