Last Sunday was the exciting release of Eric Hilton’s film Babylon Central. It seemed that the ultimate point of the film was to highlight and celebrate the subculture that he has nurtured into fruition over the past 15 years, and to share with others the fact that Washington DC’s history and culture has roots far deeper than the federal level political culture that is seen on the surface. As someone who has been involved with the particular subculture that the movie showcases, I cherished the movie and relished each scene. As a movie-watcher, I felt bored at scenes and couldn’t take many of the character interactions or storylines seriously. I am no film critic, nor have I been involved with the ESL subculture for long enough to understand every reference, but I do feel compelled to share 5 immediate reactions to the film:
1) There were some hilarious moments:
-When the rastaman in Dupont Circle is complaining about DC’s obedient rats reporting to Babylon and talking about how he is his own boss…but then is eventually radioed by his own boss and yelled at for being late for duty
– When Innocent’s friend is trying to break into that penthouse suite and is talking about the view of the monuments from the roof…Innocent retorts immediately that he isn’t a tourist and doesn’t give a shit about the monuments…
– How Zee’s character asks Seb and Innocent for their songs on CDs rather than vinyl since he is a modern man caught up with the present times
2) There were some moments that really resonated with me as an artist at the lounge:
– When Seb is trying to convince the secretary at his job to come hear him spin…she asks if he’ll play something she knows like Jay-Z…he says no but that she’ll like it…I feel like I have to constantly try to convince some of my own friends to leave the Georgetown bubble (it’s not even like 18th and Connecticut is all that far…you can take the GUTS bus there!) and come check out the lounge
– When Rana’s friends aren’t really feeling the lounge because there’s no bottle service…they leave her to go elsewhere but she stays on because she loves it so much
– How Rana lives a bit of a double-life…she is a student at Georgetown during the day but waits for those moments at the lounge where she sees people she knows, her guy, the music, the culture, the afterparty (with Hash!)…
– How Eric gave roles to so many of the key players in the actual Thievery/ESL community…I really enjoyed seeing a lot of the artists I love and look up to featured in the film
– How Zee’s mansion was the consulate
– How Rana asks Seb to spin the latest Nickodemus track
– How Seb and Innocent are pissed that the lounge is bringing in DJs from out of town but they bring their following to the loft instead…I appreciated that part of the movie since it seemed that Eric was acknowledging a mild criticism of himself as “the man”.
3) Some things that I thought were a bit too much:
– How “Richest Man in Babylon” was Seb’s ringtone
– How the two cops take and smoke Innocent’s weed…I get that it is a criticism of DC political hypocrisy but I feel like this concept was already so obvious throughout the film that it didn’t need to be reinstated again
– The relationship between Rana, her father and her brother…I would have appreciated at least a bit of a twist on the obvious stereotypes of how Arab women are treated
– The Saudi oil story
4) The music:
– Loved that it was Thievery heavy, especially because it brought back some of the older tracks that I haven’t listened to in a while
– Incorporated local artists and many old school artists that I didn’t know about
5) Final thoughts:
While Eric Hilton might criticize Babylon for dictating the rules and commanding that the little rats follow earnestly, I had a strange realization about the subculture that he himself has created. For some reason, it came to me during the scene where Seb and Innocent have finished spinning at the lounge and they all decide to go to the Diner to eat something. I realized that so many of these experiences that are showcased in the film are typical experiences that I have already had being involved with ESL in the past few months. It’s like it’s all part of the experience. That it’s what everyone does. It’s a manufactured flow of existing in this circle of artists and musicians. It wouldn’t surprise me if Eric was a silent co-owner of the Diner at this point. While he has brilliantly crafted something that I love being part of and that has cultivated in me a sense of DC-pride, it made me question the degree to which I am just a pawn in a bigger plan or if I am contributing to this culture as actively as I think I am. It made me view the ESL culture as a mini-Babylon in itself in a way, but that perhaps benefits those who subscribe to those beliefs in the same way “Babylon” benefits those who play into the system. It made me have a new desire to continue to explore other subcultures in DC and to value my Georgetown University circle and platform because it supplements the ESL experience and keeps everything in check.
Why not be an intelligent and contributing player in both systems rather than subscribing fully to one ideology? Quite honestly, I feel that is my own personal end goal if I choose to stay in DC for the longterm after I graduate.
All the political commentary and brainwashing theories of the movie aside, I am glad that it was made. It will forever remain a tangible archive of an extremely unique society in DC that I greatly enjoy being a part of. It has documented aspects of DC that I love with my whole body and soul and for me will serve the ultimate purpose of providing me with the nostalgic memories I’ll yearn for when I am away from this city or as time presses on. It features people I look up to, streets that I have fond memories of, and has shown me that if one follows their visions and their goals, they can build the empire for the counter-movement.