Seen recently in cinemas and on BBC TV, legendary director Julien Temple's enthusiastically received London: The Modern Babylon is to be released on DVD by the BFI in October. Narrated through a century of music and film archive treasures, this incredibly moving and compelling film that demands repeat viewing tells the story of London's epic journey through 100 years of cultural upheaval and reinvention, from the birth of the 20th century to the year in which it has been on show to the world as host of the 2012 Olympic Games.
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 '20s, 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.
With archive producer Miriam Walsh, Julien Temple and his team – including producers Amanda Temple, Stephen Malit, Rosa Bosch and George Hencken, cinematographer Stephen Organ and editor Caroline Richards – tackled a mammoth number of hours of archive material from over a thousand sources. Along with freshly shot footage, they began the assembly of a rich collage, glued together by interviews with contemporary London characters. Among the line-up of familiar faces are David Bowie, Ray Davies, Bishi, Mick Jagger, Michael Caine, Tony Benn, Malcolm McLaren, the Royal Family, various Prime Ministers of the last century as well as the ordinary people of London from all walks of life.
Building on Julien's strong roots in music videos, the film is energised by an extraordinary soundtrack spanning 100 years of London music including iconic tracks from the Sex Pistols, The Clash, Small Faces, Lily Allen, Pink Floyd, Roxy Music, The Kinks, Madness and Bob Marley through to Tommy Trinder, Max Bygraves, Vera Lynn, Lonnie Donnegan, Murray Johnson, Rolf Harris and Robert Burns, plus many more.
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.
London: The Modern Babylon will be released on UK DVD by the BFI on 22nd October 2012 at the RRP of £19.99.
UPDATE: The release date has slipped back a week to 29th October 2012.
The extra features are:
Interview with Julien Temple
Illustrated booklet with contributions from Jonathan Romney and John Wyver and comprehensive credits