Should I, Dear, Come Up To You

Ever since watching Lovers Rock — part of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe collection of movies from last year, and easily the movie I’ve been most moved by in the last few years — I’ve been left with two particular thoughts circling back in my head over and over.

The first is that the song “Silly Games” by Janet Kay is a stunner, and has been on rotation ever since I heard it for the first time in the movie.

The second is that Lovers Rock brought back feelings and nostalgia for parties I attended when I was in art school, and did so in such a way that felt entirely authentic and honest, without any of the usual artifice that movies about house parties tend to produce.

Part of that comes from the unusually slow pacing and meandering plot of the movie. I’d be tempted to say that Lovers Rock doesn’t really have a plot, if that didn’t sound like more like an insult than it’s meant to be. (It’s not meant to be an insult at all.) On numerous occasions, the movie plays out more like a documentary — or, perhaps, a series of shots from a movie before they’ve been edited down to get to what most films consider the story. In each and every case, this is to the movie’s considerable benefit.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in two extended sequences of people at the party dancing to the music. In both of them — the “Silly Games” sequence, and the “Kunta Kinte Dub” sequence — the song plays through in its entirety once, with no dialogue to distract from the music or the sights of everyone dancing… and then the scene continues, magically, as the song loops around because of the energy of the party. In the climactic “Kunta Kinte Dub” sequence, it’s because the crowd is so energized that they demand it gets played again, and then a third time.

In the “Silly Games” sequence, though, it’s something else. The crowd goes from singing along to the track to, once it’s over, just singing it en masse a capella, over and over. It’s something surprisingly, beautifully intimate, and hypnotic. It felt as if I was right there, and it made me remember countless late nights when I was younger and my heart (as another song puts it) was an open book.

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