Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Friday, 17 August 2012

London - the modern babylon

Julien Temple's latest film LONDON - THE MODERN BABYLON is an epic (130 mins) time-travelling voyage to the multi-cultural heart of his hometown. From musicians, writers and artists to dangerous thinkers, political radicals and ordinary people, this is the story of how London's immigrants and bohemians changed the face of the city. The story of London unfolds via rare film footage (including material from the BFI National Archive), voices and a riotous music soundtrack, in a stream of urban consciousness that flows like the Thames through the city as London prepares to welcome the world to the 2012 Olympics. (BFI blurb).

We have had lots of London documentaries lately but nothing like this. From the opening moment one is hooked by the dazzling flow of images and some stunning old film from Victorian times through the inter-war years and how London coped with the blitz (my mother was here then, and used to tell us all those stories...)  and then the post-war austerity and the  new city that emerged as we enter the '60s and '70s. This is my story too, I arrived here in 1964 and can remember those "No Blacks No Irish" signs in boarding-houses. It covers the Notting Hill riots in 1958 and of course the dawn of flower power and the Soho underworld ..... great snippets from movies too: Hitch's RICH AND STRANGE, POOL OF LONDON with that soon-to-vanish docklands with all the ships; THE SERVANT, BLOW-UP, PEEPING TOM and so many others.... a fascinating document then for anyone interested in the evolution of a great city - and that seething mass of humanity. One can only be thankful we are here now, not back in those grim smog-filled victorian tenemants...


  1. Have not seen this Julien Temple documentary yet, but remember the many British films of the late 1950s-early 1960s, prior to "Swinging England", and the images of austerity, of the prejudices shown (cf. SAPPHIRE, TIGER BAY, VICTIM)... and how it changed because of that great influx of art, fashion and music in the mid-1960s. And the recent Olympics have highlighted London as a changing culture: the Equestrian team had the Princess Royal's daughter Zara Phillips working alongside the openly gay Carl Hester; the Somalian immigrant Mo Farah winning gold medals for his adopted homeland England; etc. Of course, there remain problems, but the progress is undeniable.

  2. Indeed. There are clips too from SAPPHIRE etc included here. TIGER BAY was set in Cardiff but was part of that late 50s/early 60s era of interesting British films, tackling as you say those social problems. Temple of course has a great visual eye and a social agenda so this is much more than just another boring old London documentary.