Thursday, December 29, 2016

Franco Rosso RIP - director of Babylon

The film director Franco Rosso, best known for the classic sound system movie Babylon (1980), has died (see John Eden's obituary). Born in Italy in 1942, he attended Camberwell College of Art and was working at the Albany in Deptford along with the film's co-writer Martin Stellman when they conceived of a film based around reggae sound system culture and young people's experience of racism.

As discussed at Transpontine before, the film makes extensive use of South London locations including St Paul's Church in Deptford and Deptford High Street, with many local young people taking part as extras.

A 2010 interview marking the film's 30th anniversary recalls a lost era of  horses on the High Street: 'One particular anecdote reveals how unlensed life in Babylon life really was – the scene when Forde’s character Blue is chased by police onto Deptford High Street - which had to be re-shot when a pony bolted down the street mid-scene. A pony! Standard practice in Deptford in the 1970s, apparently... where rag-and-bone trade totters would leave their nags grazing outside their tower blocks. The totters controlled Deptford and had to be paid off for use of the alleys where the crew filmed' (30 Years on: Franco Rosso on why Babylon's Burning, Indepedent 11 November 2010)

Martin Stellman has also mentioned that Rosso lived in Lewisham during this period: 'this church where he lived, in Lewisham, had a blues every Friday, and it used to drive him mad because of the bass, yeah? Jah Shaka used to play there as well; it was literally at the back of his garden. Don’t get me wrong: Franco also made a documentary about dub poet LKJ, so he was very simpatico to the subject. He only hated the noise because he had kids'.

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