Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Music is Life in McQueen's Lovers Rock

Lovers Rock (2020) - McQueen Screen Shot 2020-12-15 at 10.52.57 AM It seems Steve McQueen figured out how to capture the culture in a specific time period on film perfectly: with food and music. Lovers Rock, a slight film clocking just over an hour, part of his 5 part Small Axe anthology charting the West Indies community in London in the 70s, shot intimately and energetically by Shabier Kirchner and score by Mica Levi, is one of those dream movies- where every decision of the filmmaker seems right as it plays out organically and naturally. Its large ensemble cast of unknowns all seem to fit in at home, every details, the dresses, suits, embraces and elbow grabs and hanging arms and hands over would-be-lovers shoulders just seem right.

Taking one night at a large house party, Lovers Rock, named after the form of reggae love songs that everyone seems to know the lyrics to, invites you the guest, into the West Indian culture in London in the 70s with open arms. It starts out with Martha (Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn) sneaking out of her house at night to meet with her friend Patty (Shaniqua Okwok) to go to the aforementioned houseparty. It is busy already in the big house with activities - the vinyle covered couch needs to be moved in to the backyard, goat curry and other yummies are being prepared in the kitchen, DJ and sound system need to be set up. There are some volatile characters and playboys and some show of misogyny that comes with the territory. But what keeps everyone together is the music. There are several blissful sequences where music does the job of storytelling - one is with Carl Douglas' Kung Fu fighting, extended cappella rendition of Janet Kay's Silly Games and Revolutionaries Kuntakinte Dub. These gatherings- under the watchful eyes of whites in the neighborhood and police, were the only outlet these communities had for each other to let the steam out, before you go back to the white world they live in the next day.

Vibrant and joyful and poignant, McQueen serves up a perfect Christmas gift this season. Lovers Rock is thrilling to watch and great, sweet middle piece companion to Small Axe anthology that is filled with serious stories of cultural, political struggle of the West Indie's community.

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