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The Mire: Tangents, threads and opinions from The Wire HQ

Indomitable Lions

Derek Walmsley

Readers in the UK should run come rally to check out Babylon, the 1980 reggae drama set in South London which the BBC has got on its iPlayer for the next few days. I'd not seen this before, but it's terrific, with a young Brinsley Forde sympathetic but spiky as the deejay of the Ital Lion soundsystem which the film follows.

It feels factually a little off target (overt intimidation of one soundclash crew by another, negotiating for ages and massively upping the ante to buy a prerelease rhythm of just one single track, stealing speakers from schools), but it always manages to to feel right somehow.

There's enough grime, oil and solder to somehow make the plot stick, and the dedication, the grind, the gallows humour of keeping a soundsystem up and running is right there. It pinpoints that atmosphere of sitting in a van with jack shit to do and everything still to get done, which anyone who's ever tried to put any kind of live music event on will dig, when there's nothing to do but pisstake and fantasise about making it big(ger).

The fashion is bang on also, which shouldn't be underestimated given that at this time a red, gold and green hat was a hell of a statement about how you lived your life: Umbro tracksuits, Lonsdale vests, sheepskin jackets. London itself looks like a bombed out shell: entire blocks just fenced off squares of rubble. The racism which forms the core of the film feels very accurate, too. 1980 was a strange year in UK culture, post-punk but pre-synth pop, where things had really bottomed out. This captures that ennui brilliantly.

Trailer for the film:

A whole wealth of info on this film is on John Eden's always excellent Uncarved blog, which has everything you ever want to know about the film.