"London: The Modern Babylon" is legendary director Julien Temple's epic time-travelling voyage to the heart of his hometown. From musicians, writers and artists to dangerous thinkers, political radicals and above all ordinary people, this is the story of London's immigrants, its bohemians and how together they changed the city forever. Reaching back to the dawn of film, the story of the capital unfolds through archive footage and the voices of Londoners past and present, powered by the flow of popular music across the century; Temple's cinematic collage is a stream of urban consciousness like the river which flows through the heart of the city it portrays.
No Point of View Here
- London: The Modern Babylon review by RJ
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This BBC production is billed as an 'epic time-travelling voyage' but actually starts in 1900 - London's longer history ignored. So, we never get to consider what role it played in the creation of Empire, for example. Nor, in spite of its name, is it about London, but just two bits of it. It concentrates on the West End (which the films mines for footage of 'toffs' having a good time and sexual escapades, without saying much about either) and the East End, defined pretty much as what is today Tower Hamlets(though its race politics almost entirely ignore the largest Bangladeshi population outside Bangladesh). The East End is taken as a symbol of crushing poverty. Beyond its fixation with the East End/West End contrasts there are passing excursions to Notting Hill and Brixton for a glancing examination of race politics, at any rate from an Afro Caribean perspective.
The fact that since 1900 London exploded into the fifty mile square suburban agglomeration we know today is completely ignored in Temple's view of the capital. So nothing about how - or why - London took over from Paris as the European cultural capital, how it leads the UK economy, how it became the first world city. In fact, this fast-cutting film is short on ideas altogether.
Billed as a personal vision, it takes care to avoid insight. Successful films of London can subjective, even eccentric views of a complex place. Just think of Betjeman and Nairn as pioneers of that tradition, taken forward more recently by Will Self, Jonathan Meades Patrick Keiller and others. But here we have a whole, long, 128 minutes that leaves the viewer punch-drunk by the annoyingly fast, fidgety, cutting of snippets. And the film is not afraid of cliches: there are rather a lot of shots of Big Ben, of the rive Thames rippling by, windows being smashed. But for what .......... ?