Sunday 1 December 2013

Good Vibrations (2012: UK/Ireland Dir Lisa Barros D'Sa, Glen Leyburn)

Good Vibrations is the supposedly warts 'n' all story of the indomitable Terri Hooley, a record shop owner in Northern Ireland who started up the 'Good Vibrations' label to bring the music of broke but talented Irish new wave bands to a wider audience. His greatest commercial achievement was the discovery of Derry boys The Undertones, releasing their 'Teenage Kicks' anthem to international acclaim, but losing out on the big bucks by letting the band sign to US label Sire. Along the way Hooley's wayward lifestyle sees both his health and his marriage suffer, but all is reconciled at the end via the now infamous Ulster Hall gig which, history records, rather than recouping the funds to get Hooley's finances back on track, ran at a loss because half the capacity audience had been let in free by Terri himself.

Hooley's story is an inspiring if frustrating one, and in the right hands could have offered an interesting study of one person's commitment to cut through the political divides of his country  using music and sheer bloody mindedness (bands on the Good Vibrations label often comprised both Catholics and Protestants). The directors of Good Vibrations unfortunately blow the opportunity with a film which, despite a terrific turn from Richard Dormer as Hooley, is pretty shallow and uninvolving. In fact Dormer's performance feels like it's strayed in from an altogether more serious film, and the decision to centre stage Hooley by rendering the other adult characters sketchy at best is a real problem. The use of real music and news footage blended with recreated band performances takes its cue from Michael Winterbottom's Tony Wilson biopic 24 Hour Party People (2002) although that movie had a lightness of touch which blended history and fiction rather more effectively. Clumsy as Good Vibrations is, I did like the scene where Hooley gets his epiphanic moment hearing 'Teenage Kicks' on the headphones in the studio, while The Undertones look on.

While there are certain similarities between Tony Wilson's and Terri Hooley's just-do-it-and-bugger-the-consequences approach to music promotion and business, Wilson's grasp of semiotics (and arguably more interesting band roster) provides better visual subject matter. A hundred odd minutes in the company of a muttering boozehound who manages to ostracize nearly all his colleagues, set in the gloomy beiges and sepias of 1970s Belfast and without the benefit of a decent script to elevate the proceedings past a few good one liners, makes Good Vibrations, if not a boring watch, an unsatisfying one. And as for the uncredited actor who appears as John Peel towards the end of the should be ashamed, sir.

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