London: The Modern Babylon View large image

Film Details

Directed by: Julien Temple

Produced: 2012

Countries & Regions: United Kingdom

DVD Details

Certificate: 15

Studio: British Film Institute

Length: 128 mins

Format: DVD

Region: Region 2

Released: 29 October 2012

Cat No: BFIVD968

Languages(s): English
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London: The Modern Babylon

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Documentary about the history of London from filmmaker Julien Temple. Beginning in the early 20th century and covering up to the winning... Read More




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Documentary about the history of London from filmmaker Julien Temple. Beginning in the early 20th century and covering up to the winning bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics, the film looks at how the city has been changed by its people, including its many immigrants, from musicians and artists to politicians and rebels, and includes input from citizens, both past and present, archive footage of historical events and popular music.

Before any intervention, London is of course its own archive, an inexhaustible and constantly self-generating assembly of found footage, of multifarious and innumerable stories, whether public or personal, harsh or harmonious, difficult or delirious (and more often than not, a combination of all the foresaid). From architecture to activism, labour to leisure and wealth to worsening conditions, its role as a vessel, a repository of endless event, is perhaps unmatched. It can make a fair claim to being the one lasting and continuous ‘world’ metropolis, because its argument extends centuries back in time and because, as the generator of the largest empire the world has yet endured, it truly does contain the global, in its post-colonial population and its impact. A city that seems to have moored on these islands but one that is owned by all who roam the earth’s solitary surface, it is a place whose telling relates far more than its geographical footprint.

Prompted by the 2012 jamboree but reaching back a hundred years, Julien Temple’s suitably multi-faceted sound and image collage both acknowledges and embodies all of the above. With its picture line drawn out of the widest possible base, from home movies to adverts, film clips to TV and all points in between, it seeks to present not a totality but the implication of panopticon vision. Swooping across scales, decades, classes, communities and locations, it is measured by the variety of its media, the fecundity of its form and the dizzying diversity of its content.

A portrait of the whole life – on whatever platform - of the moving image as much as it is a compendious century-long jukebox of popular music, it is threaded through by fresh interviews with all manner of Londoners, from the famous to the locally familiar, from the policy makers to the policy sufferers. For, as you might expect from his previous work in punk documentation, Temple’s take is a defiantly grass roots one, celebrating the resilient and the radical, not simply for its own sake but as the city’s very DNA, evidence of its ability constantly to reinvent itself and to avoid fossilisation, whether in morals, values or codes.

Punk here, in short, while apparent in a number of the song choices, means more than music. It’s an attitude, a way to resist and question power; and so the democracy of its looking and listening becomes inevitable. Therefore, and as in his previous films, Temple shows himself to be acutely sensitive to people in their place (that is, their frame of being, not the socially patronised); respecting both, he’s a fine portraitist.

Making and being made: both citizens and city effect these twin aspects of that belonging on each other. In a Mobius strip of interaction, London’s belonging is also a longing constantly to change and develop. Babylon it may be; Babel (more or less benign) it certainly is. This is a film that lets London tell its own tales, which are finally all our stories, wherever we may dwell.

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