Artisan Home Entertainment presents
Brooklyn Babylon (2000)
Sara: What I'm thinking scares me.
Sol: What're you afraid of?
Sara: Everything.- Karen Goberman, Tariq Trotter
Stars: Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter, Karen Goberman
Other Stars: Bonz Malone, Slick Rick
Director: Marc Levin
MPAA Rating: R for (language; some violence, sexuality, and drug use)
Run Time: 01h:29m:52s
Release Date: 2001-05-22
DVD ReviewBrooklyn Babylon tells the story of two communities in conflict. Solomon (Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter) is a young Rastafarian rapper who dreams of stardom, while in a nearby Hassidic neighborhood, Sara (Karen Goberman) wonders if her destiny really lies with her arranged husband-to-be, Judah (David Vadim). An auto accident brings Judah into direct conflict with Solomon's friend Scratch (Bonz Malone), and escalating tensions threaten to undermine the groups' efforts to understand each other, even as a relationship grows between Solomon and Sara.
Marc Levin's film occasionally threatens to become a hip-hop Romeo and Juliet, but his vision is more subtle than that comparison implies. His story appreciates the similarities of two religious groups outside the American mainstream, acknowledging their mutual distrust and desire for respect. There's some violence, but it's not fatal to anyone; there's some sex, but that's not what Brooklyn Babylon is about either. It's certainly not an "urban drama" with stereotyped characters—Scratch is an entrepreneur, poseur and petty criminal, but he's not a gangster; Solomon is a sweet, gentle guy who lives with his mother; and Judah is as ready to rumble as anyone else is, preparing molotov cocktails with his yarmulke on. Trotter and Goberman make for appealing leads, and their onscreen chemistry embodies the film's embattled but hopeful spirit.
It wouldn't be right to discuss Brooklyn Babylon without mention of its soundtrack. Tariq Trotter's real-life band colleagues from "The Roots" lay down a number of live, sample-free rap and hip-hop tracks, and Jewish electric guitarist Yosi Piamenta contributes some Hendrix-esque licks to a dance hall scene. Sonorous, word-loving narration frames the story with poetry and Biblical references, and the film's soundtrack provides a strong sense of its world and its themes. The low budget has more of an impact on the film's visual style, which suffers from imprecise framing on more than one occasion, but the audio production more than makes up for it.
Brooklyn Babylon isn't a fiery, passionate indictment of one group or another, or even of intolerance itself. Rather, it examines the invisible but very real walls we build between ourselves, offering no easy answers or pat solutions. Its sense of optimism for the future is tempered by a melancholy frustration for what is, and the combination makes this little film worth seeing.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+
|Aspect Ratio||1.85:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Artisan presents Brooklyn Babylon in its original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio, with a nonanamorphic letterboxed transfer. The image is generally soft, with scan-line artifacts and a distinct lack of definition in some more detailed scenes; a few scenes also suffer from significant edge-enhancement. But color and shadow detail are handled competently, and the low-budget film is watchable overall.
Image Transfer Grade: C-
Audio Transfer Review: Brooklyn Babylon is presented in Dolby 2.0 Surround format, as it was originally presented in theatres. The soundtrack is very center-oriented, with all dialogue and much of the music presented in monophonic format. The left, right and surround speakers kick in on just a few occasions, mostly where stock sound effects are involved. Despite the limited soundstage, the film still sounds very solid, with clear dialogue and strong bass supporting the soundtrack's rap and hip-hop selections.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 27 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Extras Review: Artisan's DVD supports Brooklyn Babylon with 27 picture-menu chapters, optional Spanish subtitles, as well as Cast & Crew biographies and filmographies covering 6 actors and 7 crew members. Keepcase liner notes include a brief interview with director Marc Levin, discussing the origins of the project.
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsBrooklyn Babylon is a thoughtful look at clashing cultures, enhanced by a strong musical sense of its environment. Artisan's DVD features a passable (though nonanamorphic) transfer, and this little drama is worth checking out.
Dale Dobson 2001-05-31