Babylon (1980): Franco Rosso’s Bold Film Finally Gets U.S. Thetrical Release

Never before released theatrically in the U.S., Franco Rosso’s Babylon had its world premiere at the 1980 Cannes Film Fest, and then played at Toronto and New York Film Fests.

At the time, the movie was deemed too controversial, and likely to incite racial tension, which might have scared distributors to take a risk and exhibit it in movie theaters.

Raw and smoldering, the tale follows a young reggae DJ (Brinsley Forde, frontman of landmark British group Aswad) in Thatcher-era Brixton.

While he pursues his musical ambitions, he is battling fiercely against the racism and xenophobia of employers, neighbors, police, and the National Front.

The film was written by Martin Stellman (Quadrophenia) and shot by two-time Oscar winner Chris Menges (The Killing Fields).

It is fearless and unsentimental, yet tempered by the hazy bliss of the dancehall set to a blistering reggae, dub, and lovers rock soundtrack featuring Aswad, Johnny Clarke, and others, anchored by Dennis Bovell’s (The Slits) atmospheric score.

Babylon is the product of outsiders: director Rosso (1941-2016) immigrated from Italy as a child, Stellman is the son of Viennese Jewish immigrants, producer Gavrik Losey is the son of blacklisted Hollywood director Joseph Losey.

Composer Bovell immigrated from Barbados, and was falsely imprisoned for running a sound system—the script was partly based on his experiences.

The only feature film about London’s sound system scene, Babylon sheds light on the place of marginalized people in a society resistant to multi-culturalism.