Wednesday, July 25, 2012

London -- The Modern Babylon

On July 16th 2012 the BBC decided not to screen Julien Temple’s latest documentary, London - The Modern Babylon, which had been scheduled as part of a season of films about the capital in the run up to the Olympic Games. The film, pieced together from footage from the British Film Institute archives, is an attempt to articulate a century of London life up to and including the 2011 riots. One scene culled from British gangster film The Long Good Friday (1980) imagines a UK Olympic bid for the derelict Docklands area. Whether the BBC decided that images of looting and street-fighting were not the best way to represent London days before the Olympic torch reached the city is unclear, though the broadcaster might have blanched after British Airways thought using The Clash’s London Calling for the soundtrack to an upbeat Olympic themed TV commercial was a good idea: ice age, heat death, famine, nuclear error, zombies of death. Here the apocalyptic punk imaginary returns to haunt an affirmative display of corporate engineering designed, presumably, to celebrate British efficiency and London as a global destination. The sheer wrongness of the soundtrack is a thrilling act of self-immolation at least as pointed as anything Temple has assembled and also opens up a dream-space where punk nostalgia refuses to capitulate to the restorative logic of the heritage sector and insinuates itself instead into the marketing DNA of the corporation as a mode of auto-détournement.