Monday, 7 December 2020

Steve McQueen – Small Axe anthology film series #2: “Lovers Rock”; and #3 “Red, White and Blue” …

 

Two more of the Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen’s deeply personal accounts of the black British experience in the 1980s continue …

 

“Lovers Rock” – I hate to say it … but I couldn’t get my head into this one –there was no narrative, music I didn’t understand … I fell asleep at the beginning, woke up to see and hear a 5 minute segment of, as far as I was concerned, repetitive song where a house-full young dancers were living life in the early 1980s (when I was no longer living in England) … and of course didn’t finish watching.

 

However having read the outstanding reviews etc – I needed to understand at least – “Lovers Rock” will never be my cup of tea … but I can learn about the challenges faced by the Caribbean or African peoples …


 

Lovers Rock music is a reggae style noted for its romantic sound and content,  exemplified by the British 1979 hit ‘Silly Games’ by Janet Kay;  its roots lie in the rock steady era … when Ken Boothe, Johnny Nash and John Holt enjoyed international hits with versions of well-known love songs.

 

The Lovers ... via a newspaper image taken by me
The setting is a ‘blues party’ in a West Indian household near Ladbroke Grove – where guests are charged for entrance, booze and food … a DJ blasts out Jamaican reggae infused with American soul … causing the residents and dancers to move rhythmically slowly into near spiritual ecstasy.

 

The lovers are part of this heady world … and we follow their nascent relationship unfolding against this background … over one long night.

 

The Jamaican - Ken Boothe
The Guardian’s review waxes lyrical about McQueen’s film making … the way he brings the period and location to life, along with the very personal representation of how life was lived … party, to racism from the locals, to prejudice from the police, to church … all coming about through these party-houses because black people felt unwelcome in mostly white nightclubs.

 


Red, White and Blue” … I did enjoy … especially as I’d done my homework and knew where the lead character, Leroy Logan, was heading in his life. 

 

John Boyega as Leroy Logan.
again from a photo of a newspaper image
I might otherwise have been disappointed in the paucity of the story … as we’re only given the first few working years of a former Metropolitan Policeman’s life – a black police officer in an essentially white force.

 

But, as you might expect, the story telling was excellent … Leroy Logan, the son of Jamaican parents, achieved a scientific degree,  held a job as a research assistant … before giving it all up and joining the police – we witness his family’s exasperation as he apparently gives up his all - a successful forensics job.

 

He had witnessed his father being viciously attacked, and understood the loathing of law enforcement sensed by his community, but felt he wanted to change people’s outlooks from within the Metropolitan Police. 


He ends up being rejected for promotion – albeit being the top, if not the top, achieving officer … wanting to step over the line, but refusing to do so … so started his career – the endless grind of getting up each morning, priming his uniform … ready for each very challenging day: both from within and without.

 

John Boyega filming c/o We Live
Entertainment
He faces racist insults from his colleagues, and open rejection from his community.  We see the story slowly unfold … John Boyega playing Leroy Logan, making every scene painfully real … in this fact based drama.

 

The film is not long – but hits home, while we understand he rose, with tenacity, through the ranks to become a former superintendent in the London Metropolitan Police and was both a founding member of the Black Police Association and its chair for 30 years.

 

He has been described as “one of the Black officers who helped change the Met” … I would hope that his and McQueen’s influence continues to change our perceptions and understanding of human life.

 

Traditional Blue Lamp
outside most police stations

Leroy Logan has, in conjunction with McQueen, recently published his autobiography “Closing Ranks: My Life as a Cop”

 


… there’s admiration here from McQueen who himself  has done so much for black film, cinema and black issues within black diaspora.

 

Last night was the 4th film of the series of 5 … which will be another interesting aspect of black British life … which is so informative for us in this day and age.

 

McQueen in 2013 with
Michael Fassbender
I will do a more informed write up on Steve McQueen’s career – so I can learn, but then if you wish you too can appreciate his amazing abilities in the creative world. 

 

I’m finding the experience of  Steve McQueen’s work extraordinary as I explore more about his experimentation and slow development into becoming a filmmaker – though, despite that success, the artistic talent has not dimmed.  He is constantly exploring and breaking new creative ground.


Small Axe Mini-series summary and links ... 

We Live Entertainment ... 'Small Axe' Review of Red, White and Blue ...


Hilary Melton-Butcher

Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


27 comments:

David M. Gascoigne, said...

As I have said, Hilary, when last you featured Steve McQueen, I am at a loss to comment in any reasonable fashion since I have no knowledge of him, his work, nor the environment that serves to fuel his oeuvre. There is perhaps a degree of universality about it, but outside of my experience I am afraid, so I will confine myself to saying, as they used to when full service gas stations were the norm, "Have a nice day!"

Joanne said...

Your write-up is spot on. I, too, attempted the second in the series and wasn't engaged. I kept at it and appreciate the film making, but wasn't as vested. Have not seen the third, but it sounds much more interesting. This is all subject matter outside my narrow life. I'm glad for Steve McQueen's work and that film can bring so much to life.
Have a good week!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ David – thank you for your comment – I do understand your position. I decided to put these posts up – as I’d like to record more about his work – as I’ve learnt so much about my home country, as too my life in South Africa and that brief period in Canada.
McQueen is an extraordinary creative artist … but understand you can’t see where I’m coming from. To me it’s fascinating and informative … it’s part of our social history.

@ Joanne – thank you … I’m glad to note you thought I’d got my write up about right. The subjects are social history – which is ok, I can learn from that … but the other matters are so informative and really are educating me – the way blogging has done about various aspects of life – I know these films/posts aren’t that easy for many. So really appreciate your support.

Take care both of you – so good to see you here … Hilary

Jz said...

You are definitely piquing my interest!

Patsy said...

No matter the subject, and skill of the writers, actors, producers etc there will always be some films which we just don't get. From your comments, I don't think Lover's Rock is for me, but Red, White and Blue sounds interesting.

Fil said...

Hi Hilary,
We watched the Alex Wheatle story last night which was superb, so I'm going to back and watch the others. It was so tough for the black community ... I don't know how they survived it. Steve McQueen's storytelling is superb.
Fil

Elephant's Child said...

I really don't 'do' films - for multiple reasons. Your posts about Steve McQueen have put me to shame. I may have to try. Thank you.

Inger said...

Thank you for writing and caring about the life of West Indians and Africans in the UK. I knew a little, but didn't have a grasp due to my young age at the time, but it was very hard in 1959-60. Then I guess it is like in the US, things have improved and then they have stayed the same. Thank you though for caring.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Jz – thank you … I’m delighted to be spreading the word and interest in the overall subject …

@ Patsy – I so agree … we can’t ‘love’ all things we see – but they are so interesting to know about … the first one, The Mangrove Nine, is the best so far … yet they all each teaches us something about life back in the early 1980s … particularly in the Caribbean / African community. I hope you get a chance of watching one of them …

@ Fil – excellent – I’ll write up the Alex Wheatle one shortly … and that’s great you’re going to watch the other three.
I agree Steve McQueen’s storytelling is superb – and has ‘encouraged’ me to look further into his work … and through it … learn about the technicalities to a point, but more importantly – the subjects he is looking at: policing and the other aspects.

@ EC – no worries … I can understand. I’m so pleased you’re commenting though … Joanne has encouraged me and then commenters have also encouraged me … it’s certainly not something I thought I’d ever write about. Reading these posts and perhaps looking at the links is brilliant … and quite enough for some – eg you! …

@ Inger – I really appreciate you commenting and taking yourself back to those early days when you were first in England in the late 1950s/early 1960s … which also lets the commenters understand the importance of Steve McQueen’s film-making.
We have our eyes open … and from people coming here I hope I can open others eyes to life in those days … and as you mention which is still going on … in the US and here, and France etc …
And - yes I do care ... I care a lot and learn more all the time ...

Thanks so much to you all … for being interested and commenting – I really appreciate your thoughts – all the best - Hilary

Liz A. said...

Not every film is for every body, so if Lover's Rock wasn't your thing, no biggie. I've heard of those kinds of house parties. They have them around these parts--at least, the ones where one has to pay for admission. I don't know if a movie about them would be my cup of tea either.

Botanist said...

It doesn't matter how accomplished or acclaimed the director is, if a movie isn't for you, it isn't for you.

Susan Scott said...

Thanks Hilary, glad you've highlighted these films and the struggles of people of colour in art (film making) and policing. I've heard of Steve McQueen - the current one - and want to see his films.
All best, Susan

Dan said...

The first entry is the best negative review I've ever read. I didn't know about these films. I'm glad to learn about them. Thanks!

Janie Junebug said...

Steve McQueen makes excellent films, but I probably wouldn't get into Lovers Rock either. I don't know if those movies are available here.

Love,
Janie

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Liz – it is an important film … that’s why I’ve written up about it … it’s informative about a way of life that was, and still is – where people are threatened and we see Londoners and the police the way they were back in the 1980s … and as we know in some places the way they are today. I felt I wanted to share my thoughts …

@ Ian – I agree … but sometimes we need to watch a film to be able to understand where and how people have travelled in their lives as they’ve grown: it’s our social history for that part of London … but helps us understand today …

@ Susan – thank you … you understand and appreciate where Steve McQueen’s coming from – I’m glad you want to see these films. Amazon or on the Beeb – if you can get it down in South Africa …

@ Dan – thanks for the compliment! I’m glad I’m getting my thoughts across … and I’m so glad I’m able to appreciate the film-making here and to be able to understand a little more about life in London in the 1980s … a difficult time …

@ Janie – thanks … Steve McQueen does make outstanding films – some so true to life, they hurt – yet are true accounts. Lovers Rock has been applauded as true to life …
They are available on Amazon … as well as here in the UK on the BBC.

Thanks so much for commenting and appreciating why I’m writing up these reviews of the films … I’m learning from them. Stay safe everyone - Hilary

Jacqui Murray said...

It is horrific, how we treat each other. At first, it might have been stupidity but that changed long long ago. The worst part is, we as a race haven't changed, just changed our targets.

Sigh.

Keith's Ramblings said...

I've never been drawn towards Steve McQueen's cinematic endeavours but after reading this I think I may have missed out on something! Another informative piece Hilary.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Of course, being of my generation, I hear the name Steve McQueen and think of Papillon and Great Escape. But this film sounds important and I will definitely check it out. Thank you.

Nick Wilford said...

A great review, Hilary. Definitely think these films look important because these stories probably aren't too well known among many even in Britain. And we're not talking about too long ago.

Jo-Anne's Ramblings said...

Now this sounds bloody good I lied it

Anabel Marsh said...

As I have to say to Birgit nearly every week - I don’t know any of these films!

Sandra Cox said...

Red, White and Blue sounds particularly fascinating.
Thanks for sharing.

retirementreflections said...

Hi, Hilary - I have no background in Steve McQueen's films, but I love how you are exploring this area in fascination and learning more about your social history. To me, this is very inspiring!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Jacqui – you’ve said it right … it’s terrible the way we continue to treat people … such a sad indictment on humanity …

@ Keith – I can’t say I was drawn … but honestly – he is an incredible visionary … so artistic in his creative world – he brings the story to us in simple ways … very clever … though I still don’t always understand – I learn though – and if we don’t look, then we can’t appreciate …

@ Joylene – yes, the other Steve McQueen – the British one … but I’m delighted you’ll be checking it out …

@ Nick – thank you so much. You’ve nailed it … these stories made into films about the people or the culture aren’t well known at all … but it’s good we have the opportunity to explore now.

@ Jo-Anne – thank you …

@ Anabel – me too … many of Birgit’s films have passed me by … but these are just brilliant non-mainstream stories about our British culture … letting us know what went on …

@ Sandra – Red, White and Blue is fascinating …

@ Donna – nor did I know much about Steve McQueen – but having been to the two exhibitions earlier on this year – I felt he was worth writing up – encouraged by Joanne. It’s being an interesting experience … which I’m enjoying: so much to learn … and to realise what was going on around me when I lived in north Notting Hill back in the 1970s. I appreciate your thoughtful comment.

Thank you one and all … stay safe and take care – all the best - Hilary

Elsie Amata said...

Hi Hilary, I haven't seen any of Steve McQueen's films but it sounds like Red, White & Blue really touched your heart and made you think. That's a sign of a great film.

Warmly,
Elsie

A Cuban In London said...

Thanks for featuring McQUeen on your blog. I'd already watched 12 years a Slave and knew about his Turner Prize piece. I've seen the four films in the series so far (Alex Wheatle is the next one). Lovers Rock is contextual. I wasn't born in Britain (the clue is in my blog moniker :-D) so lovers rock and blues parties were not something I grew up with. However, the interaction of the various characters reminded me of many parties I used to go to in Havana when I was in my teens (minus the weed). The scene when everyone is dancing to Janet Kay's Silly Games was a joy to watch. McQueen's photography (even when it's mainly interiors) is superb.

Superb post. I really enjoyed it.

Greetings from London.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Elsie - thank you ... I hope you'll take time to check out the films ... the first one was brilliant, but I did enjoy Red, White and Blue once I'd learnt more ... Steve McQueen is an outstanding director and film maker.

@ ACIL - many thanks, I really appreciate your comment - it means much. I need to read up more about Steve McQueen's career path and his approach to his creative talents.

Yes - I realise you're Cuban and have settled here and enjoy the mix of life you find in and around the London scene ... however obviously your parties in Havana were much the same as those here in various London suburbs. I know your musical knowledge is excellent ...

Your appreciation about Janet Kay's 'Silly Games' is beyond my ken ... but I'm learning (mighty slowly ... but learning!) and your creativeness allows you to understand Steve McQueen's way of working more than I do ... as I'm a dinosaur regarding the arts ... again I'm learning.

So it's great to read your notes ...

Thank you both of you ... great to read your comments ... take care - Hilary