Babylon

Franco Rosso's incendiary Babylon had its world premiere at Cannes in 1980 but went unreleased in the U.S. for "being too controversial, and likely to incite racial tension... Read more

Babylon

Directed by Franco Rosso

Year: 1980
Running Time: 95
Color Type: Color
Language: English
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Babylon

Crew
Directed by Franco Rosso
Writers Franco Rosso and Martin Stellman


Franco Rosso's incendiary Babylon had its world premiere at Cannes in 1980 but went unreleased in the U.S. for "being too controversial, and likely to incite racial tension" (Vivien Goldman, Time Out). Raw and smoldering, it follows a young dancehall DJ (Brinsley Forde, frontman of landmark British reggae group Aswad) in South London as he pursues his musical ambitions, battling fiercely against the racism and xenophobia of employers, neighbors, police, and the National Front. Written by Martin Stellman (Quadrophenia) and shot by two-time Oscar® winner Chris Menges (The Killing Fields) with beautifully smoky cinematography that has been compared to Taxi DriverBabylon is fearless and unsentimental, yet tempered by the hazy bliss of the dancehall set to a blistering reggae and lovers rock soundtrack featuring Aswad, Johnny Clarke, Dennis Bovell, and more.
 
You've seen The Harder They Come, maybe you've seen Rockers, but you've never seen anything like Babylon.

 

Reviews

"CRITIC'S PICK. Babylon is a 39-year-old nugget of a movie about young British Jamaicans and their itinerant reggae scene built around sound systems, freestyling and parties with rich, low lighting. Just as seminal an entry in the English “angry young man” sweepstakes as the plays, novels and movies about alienation made in the 1960s. Babylon amounts to something that still feels new. You’re looking at people who, in 1980 England, were, at last, being properly, seriously seen." 
— Wesley Morris, New York Times

"Like the reggae music that pulses through it, Babylon is rich, rough and real. And like the street life of the young black Londoners it portrays, it's threatening, touching, violent and funny. This one seems to explode in the gut with a powerful mix of pain and pleasure."
Variety

"Invaluable. Spills over with killer reggae on its soundtrack. Nearly four decades after its Cannes premiere, the pic is finally getting US distribution... it deserves a robust welcome."
John DeFore, The Hollywood Reporter

"Babylon does more than borrow the music, fashion, or world view of reggae. It embodies the ethos of the music—and it feels like a song, swaying from a clever joke to fire and brimstone, conveying a message less through language than through the passage of sound waves through bodies. "
— Hua Hsu, The New Yorker

"A STORY WITH LITERALLY EPIC STAKES. It's no surprise why the film may resonate now—its themes of finding community through art and trying to exist in a society that doesn't want you are unfortunately both timeless and extremely current."
— Jaya Saxena, GQ

"Babylon is a British cult classic [with an] irresistibly danceable dub soundtrack...a beautiful time capsule that shines a light on the vibrant underground culture that existed in early 80s south London."
— Oliver Lunn, BFI

"The 1980 cult classic considered by many to be the great U.K. reggae movie."
— David Fear, Rolling Stone

"Stands as a vivid time capsule of London’s then-burgeoning sound system culture and a call to arms for the disenfranchised during times of strife."
— Jordan Cronk, The Hollywood Reporter
 
"Franco Rosso’s reggae classic demands instant attention. [Brinsley] Forde is utterly magnetic."
— David Jenkins, Little White Lies
 
"A rich, gorgeously shot film. Today, with racially charged nationalism once again on the rise, normalized by certain world leaders...Babylon's message is, sadly, no less relevant now than it was four decades ago. Fortunately, this time around, that message isn't so easily suppressed."
— David Alm, Forbes
 
"Babylon has too much to say about keeping your head up when everyone wants to grind your face into the pavement—and to say it with so much heart—to be left in the rubbish bin of history."
— Cosmo Bjorkenheim, Screen Slate
 
"[A] transfixing independent triumph. The reason you can’t look away and do not want to from Babylon is how fully engrossing each and every scene is throughout.  It must be experienced to fully comprehend, and come away with the undeniable truth: Franco Rosso’s Babylon is an exemplary example of how to craft an honest film that speaks volumes in a subtle way that audiences will resonate with on multiple levels. I’ve come to equate Babylon to a movie held in a time capsule, to be shown to the world at the exact right moment. This is the moment in the United States."
— Kathryn Schroeder, Film Fracture
 
"Since its release in the UK in 1980, Babylon has only been available in the United States through poorly transferred versions with fuzzy visuals and muddied sound, where much of the patois is lost on American audiences due to lack of subtitling, but the recent restoration by Kino Lorber corrects all of these former shortcomings, so now, we can see Franco Rosso’s masterpiece for all that it was meant to be: an energetic, brutally honest, and again, uncompromised statement by Rosso on the treatment of West Indian immigrants in London during Thatcher-era England."
— Generoso Fierro, Ink 19

"FEARLESS…loud and musical and cheerful and funny, and also tragic." 
The Times (London)

"SUPERB… TRUE, TOUGH, ELECTRICALLY ALIVE…one of the best British made films for years. Has more shock potential than five put together…it begs no sympathy, imports no glamour, but transfers to the screen with powerful rough-edged vigor a picture that has never really been seen before."
The Sunday Times (London)
 
"REMARKABLE…its hard edge is undeniable…never lets go for a moment. Babylon was the first British non-documentary to centre on reggae...a unique musical time capsule."
The Guardian

"An instant classic." 
— British Film Institute 
 
"FIVE STARS. One of the greatest British films."  
Mojo 
 
"Babylon captures the zeitgeist of the era, avoiding the grip of nostalgia, instead providing a harrowing yet ultimately uplifting account of a cultural and spiritual triumph over the adversities of poverty and overt racism (institutional and physical) that were still so ingrained in Thatcher's England." 
Electric Sheep 
 
"Fueled by a terrific dub soundtrack courtesy of (Dennis) Bovell and the amiable lead performance of (Brinsley) Forde."
The Digital Fix
 
"A crucial piece of documentary evidence as to how Afro-Caribbean communities in London lived beneath the media radar. Arguably the film is made by (Chris) Menges's photography, from the Taxi Driver-jaded kitsch of the Soho arcade scenes to the roving camera of the sensitive engagement party scene, to a post-dance lilac dawn over Deptford set against a piss-darkened tower block walkway."
The Independent
 
"The elusive, and only, feature film focusing on the sound system scene in West London."
Wax Poetics 

"Babylon perfectly evokes the growing racial tensions-and intense feelings of doom-of inner city London life during the late 70s/early 80s that ultimately culminated in the fiery Brixton riots. Highly recommended."
Dangerous Minds

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PLAYDATES

Venue City Date
Trylon Microcinema Minneapolis 1561089600June 21 - June 23, 2019
AFI Silver Theatre Silver Spring 1560571200June 15, 2019
Wexner Center for the Arts Columbus 1559880000June 7 - June 8, 2019
BAM Rose Cinemas Brooklyn 1559275200May 31 - June 11, 2019
Northwest Film Center Portland 1558670400May 24 - May 26, 2019
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Boston 1558497600May 22 - May 31, 2019
Grand Cinema Tacoma Tacoma 1557806400May 14, 2019
International House Philadelphia 1557547200May 11, 2019
Guild Cinema Albuquerque 1557201600May 7 - May 10, 2019
Cleveland Cinematheque Cleveland 1556769600May 2 - May 3, 2019
Speed Art Museum Louisville 1556164800April 25, 2019
Frida Cinema Santa Ana 1555646400April 19 - April 25, 2019
Gene Siskel Film Center Chicago 1555646400April 19 - April 25, 2019
SIFF Cinema Seattle 1555646400April 19 - April 21, 2019
Museum of the Moving Image Astoria 1555041600April 12 - April 21, 2019
Roxy Hotel Cinema New York 1555041600April 12 - April 14, 2019
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (Union Theatre) Milwaukee 1555041600April 12 - April 13, 2019
Indie Memphis Memphis 1554868800April 10, 2019
Acme Screening Room Lambertville 1554436800April 5 - April 11, 2019
Austin Film Society Austin 1554436800April 5 - April 11, 2019
Apohadion Theater Portland 1554264000April 3, 2019
Ragtag Cinema Columbia 1553832000March 29 - April 4, 2019
Belcourt Theatre Nashville 15534864003/25-26, 3/28
Charles Theatre Baltimore 1553227200March 22 - March 28, 2019
Laemmle Glendale Glendale 1552622400March 15 - March 28, 2019
Laemmle Monica Film Center Los Angeles 1552622400March 15 - March 21, 2019
Nitehawk Cinema Brooklyn 1552622400March 15 - March 21, 2019
IFC Center New York 1552622400March 15 - March 21, 2019
AMC Magic Johnson Harlem 9 New York 1552622400March 15 - March 21, 2019
Kew Gardens Cinemas Queens 1552622400March 15 - March 21, 2019
BAM Rose Cinemas Brooklyn 1552021200March 8 - March 21, 2019


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