London: The Modern Babylon DVD
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Directed by Julien Temple
Produced in 2012
Main Language - English
Countries & Regions - British Film
In this multi-faceted sound and image collage of London, Julien Temple celebrates the resilient and the radical as the city's very DNA, writes Gareth Evans.
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.
Anonymous on 19th October 2012
Author of 16 reviews
London: The Modern Babylon is a kaleidoscope of TV and film clips, photos, graffiti and paintings, poetry extracts, advertising images and album covers, even some home movies contributed by the public, assembled in layers just as London has been endlessly layered over by new arrivals and new influences. From 1890s hand cranked black and white 35mm, through early 16mm home movies in the late 1920s, Super 8mm in the ‘50s and ‘60s, VHS in the ‘80s, Mini DV in the 90s to today's Hi Def, each format evokes the period in which it was shot, dramatically foregrounding how the old, monochrome London has exploded into vivid multicultural colour.
Building on Temple’s strong roots in music videos, the film is energised by a soundtrack spanning 100 years of London music, from Tommy Trinder, Max Bygraves, Vera Lynn, Lonnie Donnegan, Murray Johnson, Rolf Harris through to the Sex Pistols, The Clash, Small Faces, Lily Allen, Pink Floyd, Roxy Music, The Kinks, Madness and Bob Marley.
Rocking back and forth in time and texture, the film’s themes resonate throughout the last century: oppression and despair, division and rioting, accommodation and union. London has seen these patterns repeat with small mutations again and again, and each time the city emerges a little healthier into a new era of social change.
Length: 128 mins
Format: DVD Colour
Released: 29th October 2012
Cat No: BFIVD968
- Interview with director Julien Temple
- Original theatrical trailer
- Dolby Digital 5.1 surround (320kbps).