I'll be posting some quickie reviews of films screening at the ongoing African Diaspora Film Festival here in New York City… starting with Menelik Shabazz's The Story Of Lovers Rock, which opened the festival, but is also currently on a 1-week run at Quad Cinemas in lower Manhattan, though I believe this is its last week, so see it if/while you can. You may not get another opportunity for sometime.
Call it a 90-minute trip down memory lane, Menelik Shabazz’s The Story Of Lovers Rock plays like a love letter to a style of music, the era in which it was born, those who were responsible for its creation, and those who embraced it, ensuring its longevity.
From its beginnings in the mid-1970s, in the UK, as an offshoot of Reggae – a romantic brand of reggae as Shabazz put it, that would eventually become an internationally exploited style of music – Lovers Rock served both as a tool of empowerment for its fans – a group made up of mostly young black men and women, first generation Brits, the children of immigrants primarily from countries of the Caribbean, searching for identity and a style they could claim as their own; it also provided healing for that same generation, in a time when the country was facing extreme racial polarity, and blacks especially were victims of institutionally-sanctioned prejudice and acts of violence by white racists.
The music was clearly an important cultural element that had quite an effect on the generation that inspired its creation, and the musicians it would later influenced, top-selling artists like UB40, The Police, Culture Club, and Maxi Priest.
And as music is often accompanied by dancing, Lovers Rock produced a style of dance that proved to be very important to the music; a style of dance called the scrub, or the rub, a slow, intimate dance that was all about bodies “scrubbing” or “rubbing” tightly against each other (usually in pairs), in darkened clubs, while the music, bouncing off the walls in these compact spaces, moved them physically and emotionally.
The film also speaks to a generational divide, between the young black Brits of today, who Shabazz (one of those young enthusiasts of the music during what he depicts as its most glorious period) suggests aren’t intimate in ways his generation of Lovers Rock lovers were, and are lacking in the kind of revolutionary spirit, thanks in part to differing socio-political climates (then and now).
But thankfully, Lovers Rock doesn’t use up minutes denigrating today’s youth, nor chastising them for their perceived lack of, shall we say, consciousness and even radicalism (when compared to their parents who came of age in the 70s and 80s), as much as it so clearly cherishes the memories of the music, time and place – a starry-eyed romanticism that I’d say director Shabazz would probably love to relive, or revive.
Call it a history lesson, but an entertaining one, a fusion documentary, which includes dance, live performances, archive footage and comedy sketches that were improvised, which help break up the reminiscing, peppering up what could have been an otherwise languid collection of interviews recalling the pleasure of the music style’s peak periods that, while initially captivating (especially if you’re interested in learning about that which you don’t know or never experienced), start to become a bit monotonous by the 3rd act.
And the *insider* nature of the film (like old friends coming together and evoking pastimes) may make it less a pleasure to watch for those who aren’t already somewhat familiar with the many musicians who are interviewed.
But, in the end, it’s director Shabazz’s obvious passion for the music, the dance it inspired, the place, time, mood, and spirit of the times that really propels the film.
A trip worth taking, despite its flaws, that should educate, entertain and even inspire.