17 May 2011

BABYLON (Dir. Franco Rosso, 1980, UK) - Streets of Fire

Brinsley Forde as David/'Blue' who works part time as a mechanic in an attempt to supplement his real passion in life - reggae music.

I stumbled upon Babylon when in fact I should have seen it as part of essential film viewing because in many respects it is hugely influential and one of the best British films of the 1980s. Directed by Franco Rosso who assisted Ken Loach on Kes and starring Brinsley Forde (Aswad) as David/Blue, Babylon like Horace Ove’s Pressure opened up a new discourse and space on screen for Black British representations. Backed by the National Film Finance Corporation under the art cinema reign of Mamoun Hassan, the politics of race evident throughout Blue’s attempts to rise above the prejudices of hate has arguably influenced numerous British films including most notably This is England, Bullet Boy and perhaps even Shifty in some respects. Babylon is a stronger film than the ones mentioned because its immediacy and power as a strong social statement resides in the impact of the ending in which the Rastafarian youth and police collide. Co-scripted by Martin Stellman who was also involved in the screenplay for Quadrophenia (1979) along with a very talented cast of black actors including Dennis Bovell, Trevor Laird and a young Brinsley Forde, Babylon is now finally available on DVD and Blu ray after a digital restoration. Crisply shot by award winning cinematographer Chris Menges and filmed on location in Lewisham, Babylon is a black British Diaspora film that takes the familiar coming of age narrative with Blue’s love of reggae music and blends it with an ideological dissemination of Rastafarian culture. For a film made in the 1980s many would argue Babylon has become a historical document of a certain crisis in British culture but in no way have the politics of the film dated – even today its confrontation of racism, family, community, music and black youth identity are issues still pertinent especially in many of the ethnic minority communities in the UK. It also has a fantastic soundtrack.

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