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Director pieces together a fair portrait of our capital

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: August 13, 2012

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Director assembles a fair portrait of capital

At first glance, this music-heavy, Olympic-inspired documentary – London – The Modern Babylon, BBC2 – seemed like yet another cut and paste job. Lots of archive footage juxtaposed with suitably witty pop tunes.

This is, after all, the work of Julien Temple – the man who made countless pop videos and a handful of clever films. All of his passions are up there on the screen – the socialist politics, unions, the fight against racism; his visual language with sharp and intelligent editing and his love of music, which gave the film an incredible throbbing rhythm. It didn't start well for me. The use of silent, black and white archive film of transport in London flickered on to the screen with the sound of The Clash and London Calling. Such a cliche, especially recently with the Jubilee and the Olympics. But it was a clever way to introduce his time-travelling story through his home town. It was roughly chronological, and had a central theme – the changing face of London, and the changing complexion of a city where 40 per cent of the population today were born outside this country. Julien wears his heart on his sleeve and an epic undertaking like this is all the better for it. The music worked brilliantly and two subjects of his earlier documentary work – Ray Davies of The Kinks and Madness frontman Suggs – talked about their London. But what made it for me were the contributions from other Londoners, new and old.

Hetty Bower is an amazing 107 with a vivid memory of growing up in London, the daughter of Jewish immigrants. She was nine when the First World War broke out. She recalls the Kitchener poster with the finger pointed. "Your country needs you... well, they didn't need me," she laughs. But hers weren't all happy memories.

"The soldiers waved as they left. When they came back they had one leg missing and their trousers rolled up. They made the artificial limbs at Roehampton. It was a new industry."

Two hours of fascinating material, beautifully woven together.

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