Good Vibrations (2012)

Posted by Ian Mantgani on 20th October, 2012

Telling the story of Belfast punk pioneer Terri Hooley, who started the record shop and label from which the film takes its title, the BBC Films production Good Vibrations is in its story a fascinating tale but as a movie suffers from the same problem as a lot of projects financed by TV – it’s sterile filmmaking about an energetic time.

Hooley discovered bands like The Outcasts and Rudi, but his breakthrough was The Undertones, who found instant fame when John Peel couldn’t help but play Teenage Kicks twice in a row. Good Vibrations goes from the early days, when he was a hippie DJ devastated at his music-loving buddies breaking up the party scene and dividing into factions throughout The Troubles. There are hints at power in the film’s setting – we see tower blocks with “Join the IRA” and “Free the POWs.” And there are one-liners that do justice to the importance of the history – when punk arrives, and RUC cops are hassling kids in a pub, Hooley interrupts with, “Excuse me, officer, but I’d like to report a civil war outside.”

We see the gamble to start a record shop in the dangerous Great Victoria Street, the fledgling days of the punk genre, Hooley’s run-ins with skinhead bullies, his attempts to shop Teenage Kicks around London when nobody was interested. (I don’t know how true to life the scene is, but it’s a funny moment when a wanky record executive rejects it on the basis that Northern Irish punk should have more grit and anguish, yah?)

The portrayal of all this has its heart in the right place, and Richard Dormer portrays Hooley with an infectious energy, and captures his voice perfectly. (So does the actor playing John Peel, though his vocal impersonation so incongruously matches his face that it’s as if he’s a ventriloquist’s dummy.) Good Vibrations is just too broad and antiseptic, though, scripted as a predictable series of triumphs and crises through canned scenes and formula turning points. The casting and digital cinematography do such a weak job of capturing the look of the supporting parts and a sense of period that every time a piece of archive footage pops up, we’re taken out of the artifice and pining for a filmmaking team with some kind of keen visual aesthetic. When Top of the Pops clips of The Undertones come on, the film just cuts between actors and the real-life footage. Were the directors too lazy to film a recreation of the TOTP footage themselves? Or place their actors in the archive TV as special effects? Did they even know how? Good Vibrations is just about good enough to make you wish somebody had made the same tale as a documentary.

Actually, somebody did, but it’s only 5 minutes long. See below…