Yeah. I said it: Good Vibration
s is the best and truest film about punk music and culture since Michael Winterbottom's critically acclaimed look at early 80s Manchester, 24 Hour Party People
Lisa Barros D'Sa & Glenn Leyburn's new film is an absolute revelation and captures the ecstasy of the music and the lifestyle that surrounds it better than any film I've ever seen. They may not have the same kind of high profile cast that films like 24 Hour Party People, Control, or any number of others, but Good Vibrations more than makes up for it with heart. This is a joyous celebration of a movement that has affected so many over the last 35 years, and is edging toward the top of my best of 2013 list already.
Belfast in the late 70s was not a happy place to live. The free love and rebellion of the 60s died a quick and unceremonious death at the hands of "The Troubles." Political differences, differences which can be debated, gave way to religious differences, which, as we all know, cannot. "The Troubles" were, in the typically British manner of wild understatement, the colloquial name given to the terrorist guerilla war between the Irish Republican Army (primarily Catholic) and the Ulster Volunteer Force (primarily Protestant), among many other smaller splinter groups. It was in the midst of this unending and seemingly nonnegotiable bloodbath that Belfast punk was born.
As usual, the kids found it first, playing loud, brash, and bracing music for themselves with no thought put toward expanding or exploiting their reach. However, it took the visionary idealist stupidity of Terri Hooley to put Belfast on the music map. Good Vibrations charts his and the music's rises and falls over a period of about five years or so from the late 70s to the early 80s. This is a time and place in punk history that has largely been forgotten by all but the most die-hard fans, and this rediscovery is likely to spark more than a few kids into action. Terri Hooley is and was a legend to a small part of this huge piece of music history, and seeing his story told is a beautiful thing.
The most obvious and apt comparison for Good Vibrations is the above-mentioned 24 Hour Party People, a meta-exploration of the punk/post-punk movement of Manchester around the same time. There will likely be some comparisons between the two films that favor Winterbottom's work, and I will admit I'm a huge fan, though that film did not give me the urge to stand up in my seat and cheer that Good Vibrations did. This film is a jubilant, exciting look at a movement known primarily for its irascible nature. That's not what drew me to it, though, it was the pure joy and communal relief we all felt out there on the dance floor, and that is what Good Vibrations is all about.
The film hinges, completely, on Richard Dormer's performance as the one-eyed eternal optimist, Terri Hooley. Just like any good punk, I'm always a hit hesitant about trusting anyone (a) over the age of 30, and (b) sporting a full beard, however, Dormer knocks it out of the park and his depiction of a man with unbridled, wide-eyed enthusiasm for this music and the kids that need it is magnetic. There is a sequence early in the film when Hooley first comes in contact with punk rock in a dingy club squished among a hundred kids half his age and Dormer absolutely sells it. I saw my own enthusiasm from when I was a child reflected in his eyes and he absolutely nailed it. Steve Coogan's turn as Tony Wilson was a tough act to follow, but Dormer does him in with no problem at all. This is the performance of the year so far for me.
For the last 40 years people have been trying to explain punk. Where does it come from? Why does it exist? Who is it for? The real answer to all of these questions is, of course, that there are no answers. Punk exists where punk is needed. For some it was a reaction to the end of the 60s. For some it was a reaction to the policies of a government no longer concerned with its people. For others it was a reaction to good old fashioned boredom. For Belfast, it was a reaction to watching people die on the streets every day. Punk music was alive, unlike so much else in this city under siege. Terri Hooley says it best in the film: "When it comes to punk, New York has the haircuts, London has the trousers, but Belfast has the reason!" Truer words were never spoken.
The film had its North American premiere at SXSW.
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