Monday, 1 April 2013

[Review] Good Vibrations - Heart Strings

Good Vibrations (2012)

Director - Lisa Barros D'Sa, Glenn Leyburn
Country - Northern Ireland
Starring - Jodie Whittaker, Richard Dormer, Dylan Moran
Running Time - 102 minutes
Synopsis - A chronicle of Terri Hooley's life, a record-store owner instrumental in developing Belfast's punk-rock scene.

Cinema has not been particularly kind nor has it been entirely accurate in the portrayals of Northern Ireland and its people. Occasionally demonized, frequently generalized, above all else we are stripped of our nature. The most recent example being Steve McQueen's artistically rendered critical darling Hunger, a methodical poem of destruction that captured the nuance in its stillness, but not the spirit and the noise of its people. Too often it is only the context, the history, the violence and its far reaching affect that is seen, not the self-deprecating wit, the passions and the unbridled hospitality.

But Lisa Barros D'Sa and Glenn Leyburn's story of home-grown legend Terri Hooley, known as the father of Belfast Punk and founder of the Good Vibrations record label and shop, are here to show the world just why Belfast was and still is a fondly remembered hot-spot for so many of music's greatest talents.

A dreamy pre-credits sequence of young Terri skipping through his idyllic rose garden and discovering his passion for music in 50s folk, before his eye is shot out by an arrow fired from a neighbourhood kid because of his father, a trade unionist, has him dubbed a 'communist.' It's an important scene, it capsulate everything the film is about - the overarching tone running through Northern Ireland during that time (and this) and the reason for Terri's miniature rebellion, all wrapped in the films delicious black wit. Good Vibrations attempts a contemporary look at 'the troubles' (a word Terri finds as equally useless as 'revolution') with home footage and newsreels scattered throughout the running time in various forms. They don't gel with the films digital look, compared to the likes of Argo in which Affleck used lenses from the time in order to create a textual political tone. But they do provide the context needed to give Terri's campaign a sense of weight most music films fail to achieve.

Terri, played with a charming energy from Richard Dormer, represents a very important and largely ignored outlook in Northern Ireland, one of political apathy born from 60s counterculture. He explains early on that he used to belong to group of political and social radicals that soon disintegrated into just two sides when the first shots were fired. This is what attracts him to the power of punk, and convinces him to produce a band he hears at a local gig. From then on in it is a roller-coaster at the expensive of his long suffering wife played by Jodie Whittaker whom is acts with saintly patience and restraint beyond the limits of my understanding. Perhaps she realizes that Terri is man of his place and time, to withhold him would be to deny the country a much needed outlet. But as he closes his hand to money, signing his bands off for no more than £500, it proves too much for her and their child, they separate  leaving him to his own destiny.

Taking the boys on tour proves a minor success, but when they're stopped by the army upon return to Belfast they are quizzed on their motives. 'You mean some of these boys are Catholics and some are Protestants?' Says the Sargent upon discovering where they all come from. 'I didn't think to ask.' Replies Terri. 'You ever think about becoming a politician?' Jokes the Sargent before waving them on their way. The real life Terri Hooley has turned down a career in politics despite avid support from a Facebook fan page, saying that 'There are enough fools in Belfast City Hall, they don't need another one.'

Though it lifts the majority of its structure and scenarios from the long history of music films, from grimy locals to music-video style montages, Good Vibrations cleverly undercuts the sub-genre by giving itself entirely to the music and saying balls to the rest. The label's only real success comes half way in through the film, with The Undertone's Teenage Kicks. What looks to launch Terri and his extended musical family into stardom is in reality, their peak. There are no false promises, no forced optimism, sometimes it is best to make do with what you can - and in that case, D'Sa, Leyburn and all the rest have got you covered.

Terri himself is beyond saving, something he accepts at the end as he takes the stage to bless his ever
lengthening guest list. His path is one of a comet in a head on collision with the earth, tailed by a relinquished passion for music and what it brings together. However localized, that is his victory, to burn up into the world with the brightest of blazes. So what is there left for him to do other an illuminate as many as he can, leading the apathetic-angst ridden Punk rebellion to the anarchy of Belfast's streets, after all, New York may have the haircuts, London may have the trousers but Belfast has the reason.

Good Vibrations has closed and reopened time and time again since its launch we are informed through a text box that sits below the last image of Terri looking down upon his followers, his friends and his people. And so it goes, and so it goes, victory is variable. But that which Lisa Barros D'Sa and Glenn Leyburn hold is of the most triumphant order. Good Vibrations is a heart-filled ode to music, it's cross-generational, cross-national unitizing power and its ability to define and to lead an era. It is also an unapologetic chorus to the self-lead apathetic rebellion that in more ways than one, has held this country together over the years. Above all else though, and at time more relevant than any other, Good Vibrations is a love letter to the fiery heart that tears through the under belly of this fair city.


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