×

London: The Modern Babylon

A swooning, punch-drunk love letter to one of the world's greatest cities.

With:
With: Hetty Bower, Miss Marsh, Malcolm McLaren, Barbara Cartland, Tony Benn, Lil Snoddy, Michael Horovitz, Molly Parkin, Michael Gambon, Keith Allen, Steve Jones, Brian Nicholson, Bill Nighy, Andy Serkis, Imelda Staunton, Julien Temple, Juno Temple.

A swooning, punch-drunk love letter to one of the world’s greatest cities, “London: The Modern Babylon” unspools a magnificent collage of vintage and original material, offering a rousing unofficial history of Blighty’s capitol. Having found his groove as a documaker after a patchy career in features, helmer and local boy Julien Temple goes ape in the archives to illustrate a loose-limbed thesis about London’s vitality, diversity and irrepressible energy from the early 20th century to the present. Pic enjoyed a brief theatrical release to sync with the Olympics before its Beeb broadcast on Aug. 11.

London: The Modern Babylon” screened at the Toronto fest, and looks likely to globetrot around the fest circuit; the pic should do well with offshore distribs, as its breathtaking catalogue of music clips has thankfully been cleared for worldwide export. The soundtrack encompasses tunes from music-hall favorites, through the Kinks and the Clash (“Waterloo Sunset” and “London Calling,” natch), right up to the latest hip-hoppers, a soundscape that thoroughly enhances the pic’s whirligig of imagery. That said, the editing sometimes matches sounds to visuals a bit too literally.

Much like Temple’s earlier montage-driven salute to music fest “Glastonbury,” the docu eschews use of a traditional narrator. Literary quotations read by thesps including Michael Gambon and Imelda Staunton, excerpted from authors ranging from William Blake to Colin McInnes, add ballast. For the most part, Temple lets the images and interviewees speak for themselves, an apt strategy given the pic’s emphasis on spontaneously evolving political movements, mob riots and dissent. Feisty nonagenarian Cockney Hetty Bower, still sharp as a tack, reps the most memorable interviewee of many as she recollects the good/bad old days, from WWI to the anti-Fascist Cable Street riot and beyond.

Other Londoners, from regular folk to more famous names including pop impresario Malcolm McLaren and left-wing politician Tony Benn, reflect on the city’s changing demographics over the years, as waves of immigrants arrived and integrated into the community, and how redevelopment changed the landscape, especially after the Blitz during WWII. Although not strictly chronological in its progression, the material duly includes recent events such as the bombings of July 7, 2005, the street riots of 2012, and London’s version of the Occupy movement.

Archival material covers an extraordinary spectrum of sources, from silent footage dating back to the turn of the 20th century, through newsreels, TV footage, musicvideos and film clips, including excerpts from such key London pics as “Performance” (1970) and “The Long Good Friday” (1980). Auds are advised to stay until the end of the credits for an amusing excerpt that pays wry homage to the many researchers who must have slaved over Steenbecks and other playback devices for days to achieve the finished result.

For the record, the pic’s onscreen title is simply “London Babylon,” although it has been referred to in publicity materials, fest catalogues and the press as “London: The Modern Babylon.”

London: The Modern Babylon

U.K.

Production: A BFI Distribution release of a BBC Films, BFI Present presentation with the support of BBC Archive, the BFI National Archive of a Nitrate Film production. (International sales: Ealing Metro Intl., London.) Produced by Julien Temple, Amanda Temple, Stephen Malit. Executive producers, Christine Langan, Jonty Claypole, Alan Yentob. Co-producers, George Hencken, Rosa Bosch. Directed, written by Julien Temple.

Crew: Camera (color, HD, 16mm-to-HD, 35mm-to-HD), Stephen Organ; editor, Caroline Richards; music, JC Carroll; music supervisors, Maggie Rodford, Chantelle Woodnut; sound (stereo), Sean Poe, Martin Skorik, Kieron Teather; re-recording mixer, Dan Johnson. Reviewed on DVD, Hoveton, U.K., Aug. 27, 2012. (In Toronto Film Festival -- TIFF Docs.) Running time: 128 MIN.

Cast: With: Hetty Bower, Miss Marsh, Malcolm McLaren, Barbara Cartland, Tony Benn, Lil Snoddy, Michael Horovitz, Molly Parkin, Michael Gambon, Keith Allen, Steve Jones, Brian Nicholson, Bill Nighy, Andy Serkis, Imelda Staunton, Julien Temple, Juno Temple.

More Scene

  • Ron HowardBreakthrough Prize, Arrivals, NASA Ames

    Ron Howard Talks New Luciano Pavarotti Documentary

    If one is an anomaly, two are a coincidence and three are a trend, then Ron Howard might strictly become a music documentarian after “Pavarotti” hits theaters. The documentary about the world-famous Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti comes on the heels of Howard’s “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week” and “Made in America,” a look at [...]

  • Cara Delevingne poses for photographers upon

    Cara Delevingne to Be Honored With Hero Award at Trevor Project New York Gala

    The Trevor Project will honor Cara Delevingne with the Hero Award at its upcoming TrevorLIVE New York gala. Delevingne has supported The Trevor Project‘s efforts to end LGBTQ youth suicide rates, in addition to using her platform to speak out about mental health issues, women’s rights and animal conservation. On screen, she has acted in [...]

  • Kristen Stewart'JT LeRoy' Film Premiere, Arrivals,

    Kristen Stewart: 'Charlie's Angels' Reboot Is 'Woke' but Still 'Funny and Weird'

    “Charlie’s Angels” has made the jump to 2019. Kristen Stewart, who stars in the Elizabeth Banks-directed reboot as one of the Angels, says the classic ’70s franchise has been updated to modern times without losing its pulpy action. “At one point I think we said it was woke and grounded, and everyone was like, ‘Wait, [...]

  • Robert De Niro

    Robert De Niro Slams Trump Administration at Tribeca Opening Night

    The 18th annual Tribeca Film Festival opened with Roger Ross Williams’ documentary “The Apollo” at the iconic uptown venue which performers and Harlem community members call “home.” “You can feel the history, the echo of the entertainers,” Tribeca Film Festival co-founder Robert De Niro said in a speech before the film. “In this administration, during [...]

  • Lilli Cooper Tootsie

    How the 'Tootsie' Musical Was Updated for the #MeToo Era

    Turning the beloved 1982 comedy “Tootsie” into a 21st century musical already seemed like a challenge when work on the adaptation began back in 2016. Then the #MeToo movement revved up — and the writers knew they couldn’t tell Dorothy’s story for a modern audience without it. “It’s different than it was when the movie [...]

  • Ralph Fiennes attends a special screening

    Ralph Fiennes on Directing Rudolf Nureyev Biopic: 'It's Been a Very, Very Long Road'

    Ralph Fiennes celebrated his latest directorial outing, “The White Crow,” on Monday night in New York City. The Sony Pictures Classics film tells the story of legendary dancer Rudolf Nureyev. “It’s been a very, very long road. We were mad. We were mad to take on this subject of Rudolf Nureyev. Mad. Completely mad,” Fiennes [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content