I have two recommendations for you this week, both fitting into this month’s love theme, and I could not be more stoked to talk about them. It seems that lately, I’ve really been digging on Steve McQueen. And just to clarify, I’m talking about the black, British director, not to be confused with the white American actor of the same name. I talked about him before when writing about his film, Mangrove, one of five films in the anthology, Small Axe, and I’m sure it won’t be the last time you hear about him from me, but before I get lost discussing another film in his anthology, I want to recommend something else—a podcast that I’m truly loving right now and have been since it debuted a few months ago called, I Saw What You Did.
As someone who listens to a fair share of film podcasts, this one definitely stands out from the crowd and I really appreciate that. First and foremost, it’s hosted by two ladies, which in the male-critic-dominated film space, is lovely to see, but more importantly, it’s the fact that Danielle Henderson and Millie De Chirico, are both smart, funny, full of personality, and real-life friends that draws me in as a listener.
Millie, a programmer for TCM, and Danielle, an accomplished TV writer and author, know their shit when it comes to talking about movies, but more than that, it’s apparent how much they enjoy doing so. Listening to them discuss two films based on a theme (shoutout to themes keeping us focused) each week is like hanging out with two like-minded friends. Their beforehand banter alone is like soup for my soul in these trying times, and with no real human contact available to me right now, it’s the podcast that I look forward to most in my rotation.
This week, the ladies discussed two of Steve McQueen’s films. Shame, a provocative film from 2011, starring Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan, that I have yet to see, and 2020’s Lovers Rock. I wanted to discuss the latter film because of how hard it hit me in the feels during a time when house parties—its area of focus—have become a distant and forgotten dream. Another reason is that, at its core, the film is a romance, which ties in nicely with the theme for this month.
What I loved most about this movie was how it made me feel, and let me tell you something, people are feeling themselves in this film. We’re brought into this world through the emotional pull of its characters as they permeate inside a West London house party one summer night in 1981. We see the night play out from start to finish, starting with a girl sneaking out of her house to attend a party, and ending with a couple bidding each other goodbye the morning after. This approach feels apt for the story and so inviting. At the end of the film, it’s like we’ve experienced the party too, and boy is that satisfying in this case.
The term, lovers rock, as Millie thoughtfully pointed out on this episode of their podcast, refers to a genre of music — a type of romantic reggae — that dates back to mid-1970s London. It was derived from the rocksteady era and early days of reggae and Londoners with West Indian roots championed it at ‘blues parties’ much like the one depicted in the film. It offered an apolitical counterpoint to the Rastafarian sound dominant in Jamaica at the time, with which people were tiring. Basically, lovers rock was all about feeling good and getting in touch with emotions, and that they sure do.
The way McQueen is able to capture this vibe is masterful, with much of the film taking place on the party’s dancefloor. One of my favorite scenes, undoubtedly the film’s standout moment, happens when the DJ slowly and deliberately winds down the volume of the track he’s playing until the speakers go quiet. No one leaves, no one objects, everyone in the room just stays where they are, sings together, and shuffles around the floor to a silent beat. The song they sing is Silly Games by Janet Kay, and this scene is forever burned into my brain. Not only does it completely capture what this party and these people are about, but it also shows us how passionate they are. In their faces, in their bodies, in their movement, and in their voices. They are here for it. This scene embodies everything that the pandemic stole from us, and I was, in a word, shook, watching it unfold.
But it’s not all good times. As any party would have it, there’s more than just sensual dancing and feel-good music inside these walls. I won’t spoil anything, but we see everything from love and joy to uncertainty and violence exposed as the night goes on, and what we come away with—or at least I did—is a real sense of this culture. McQueen leaves us on a high note with the female lead kissing her lover from the party goodbye and sneaking back into her bedroom just in time for church. For anyone who’s ever been to a party, whether you had permission to be there or not, this scene resonates pure nostalgia for another, perhaps simpler, time in our lives. A much more connected one, that’s for sure.
Lovers Rock is available on Amazon Prime right now.