Lovers Rock

Lovers Rock

[Published as part of New Pollution #2]

In the past, I’ve recoiled from Steve McQueen’s arty, Catholicism-flecked miserabilism, save for when he tipped into abase-thyself-in-a-gay-bar! campiness with Shame. (Michael Fassbender’s swinging dick has its own sound effect for God’s sake — oh, to be in the Foley room that day!) Lovers Rock, one of the five features in McQueen’s soon-to-be-released Amazon anthology series Small Axe, is by contrast quite inviting, though more because of its cumulative rhythms than its prosaic visuals. Mostly set during an all-night house party in a West Indian neighborhood in London, England circa the 1980s, the film ebbs and flows, pulses, plateaus and dips like many a dusk-to-dawn soirée. It’s also, like much of Small Axe, informed by fact; gatherings of this sort sprung up in response to Britain’s discriminatory, Caucasians-only nightclub culture.

Narratively, Lovers Rock revolves around a budding relationship between strangers Martha (Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn) and Franklyn (Micheal Ward), though I found myself more invested in side characters such as the Rastafarian bouncer who helps keep the racist white world at bay, or the rowdy latecomer who seems on the verge of starting a brawl, but is placated by a fast-thinking DJ who gives him a toke of ganja and some time on the mic. The initial dance floor sequences are too chaotically captured and cut, but McQueen and the cast find their groove with two tremendous setpieces — one spotlighting the ladies, the other the gents — scored respectively to Janet Kay’s “Silly Games” and The Revolutionaries’s “Kunta Kinte,” a ravishing point-counterpoint between gentle harmony and raucous cacophony.