Terri Hooley is a punk legend. No two ways about it. You young’uns who’ve not heard of him will have heard of Teenage Kicks by The Undertones – well, without Terri Hooley chances are you wouldn’t have. His record shop and label, Good Vibrations, launched a new generation of Northern Irish musicians into the spotlight, and The Undertones were just part of that.
Good Vibrations, directed by Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn, follows the true story of Terri’s efforts to improve the situation during the Troubles in Belfast… through the medium of music. Trying to stay neutral in the battle between Protestants and Catholics, Hooley is being threatened by both sides when he decides – with his wife’s support – to open a record shop on the most frequently-bombed street in Belfast. He declares the shop a neutral zone and enforces the policy through sheer stubbornness (and a little LP-based bribery to assorted gang members), but that’s just the beginning.
At a gig one night, he rashly promises a young band that he’ll record their single for them. Not one to let apparent impossibility stop him, Terri goes ahead and records it, sending it off to all the big labels and selling it in his shop. He soon finds himself swamped by other young bands from across Northern Ireland who want their chance to be pressed into vinyl and printed on record sleeves.
The film is filled with contemporary music – The Undertones, Rudi and The Outcasts stand out because, of course, they also feature in the actual narrative – and that really helps with the generally positive feel of the whole thing. Because yes, it’s set in the Troubles, and yes, some terrible things happen, but on the whole this film left the audience smiling. And – let’s be honest – dancing. The story has its ups and downs – it’s a bit of an emotional rollercoaster – and stellar performances, especially from Richard Dormer as Terri and Jodie Whittaker as Ruth, ensure that the audience are completely caught up in the heart-warming drama.
If you don’t mind me taking a moment to be nerdy and technical, I’ll just mention the cinematography – it’s unusual in parts but consistently good, and the way the film seems to be composed partially of old archive footage from the time lends a certain authenticity to the whole thing. These brief clips from newsreels of the time do a great job of reinforcing the wider context – a brief cut from the triumphant end of a gig to archive footage of a bombed-out street reminds the audience just how remarkable the circumstances of the film’s events really were.
Terri Hooley himself even makes a brief cameo wielding an accordion, which is generally a good sign in a film based on real events – the cameo, not the accordion – and I left the cinema with a burning desire to get on Google and find out more about both Hooley and the shop/label he founded. I also ended up on a massive YouTube link trail of Belfast punk, but that’s neither here nor there.
It’s a strange thing to say about a film set during the worst of the conflict in Northern Ireland – to say nothing of the events of the main characters’ personal lives – but Good Vibrations was actually the most uplifting of the competition entries I saw (though Wasteland certainly had its moments). There was a great buzz leaving the cinema and I, for one, was inspired by the story of a man who just wouldn’t be beaten.
Good Vibrations won the award for Best Script in Dinard this year, and I think that’s well deserved. I’d definitely recommend seeing it as soon as you can – you won’t regret it, unless you’re very squeamish, in which case you might regret the first minute and a half or so.
I’d give this film 4 out of 5.
Eleanor Musgrove (is rocking out again)
This review is of a film seen at Festival du Film Britannique du Dinard, 2012. The film was in the competition.