Good Vibrations and Spike Island at the London Film Festival
I had great plans for the London film festival, with many press screenings marked out on my diary. Unfortunately timing was against me, as it turned out to be a very busy period in my other two jobs (acting and teaching), and apart from “A Liar’s Autobiography,” which got cancelled (read the article here), I actually only ended up at two screenings. But they were good ones.
My regular readers (if there are such people) will be aware that I enjoy a bit of music from the 1980s, so I was in a positive frame of mind when I turned up to see Good Vibrations – The Story of Terri Hooley.
For every Richard Branson, there are probably hundreds of Terri Hooleys. Known as the Godfather of Ulster Punk, Terri was the owner of Good Vibrations record shop and label, was responsible for discovering the Undertones, and encouraged punk and alternative music to flourish during a dark time in Northern Ireland’s history. I imagine that there were people like him in towns and cities all over the UK and Ireland during the 70s and 80s; running record shops, managing and/or playing in bands, and organising events. Do these people ever make a profit in the long run or do their charming mix of naivety and idealism work against them in the end? Good Vibrations never released a top 40 record, and Terri sold the rights to “Teenage Kicks” for £500 and a signed photo of The Shangri Las (which he never got.) But that isn’t the point, as this film shows: Terri Hooley made a lot of people very happy, which was in itself no mean feat in Belfast at the height of the troubles.
This was a highly enjoyable film from start to finish. Richard Dormer made an excellent Terri, and I particularly enjoyed Jodie Whittaker’s performance as his wife. It’s hard to pick out anyone else as cast lists are not given out at press screening, but everyone performed very well. It would have been nice to have a few more female characters – maybe some girls who hung around the record shop for instance – but apart from that I completely loved it. One particularly memorable scene is when an RUC officer is hassling a girl in a bar for suspected underage drinking and Terri comes over and tells him he’d like to report a civil war. Scenes like these show the bravery of the character as well as the naivety and idealism.
Of course, being a film about music, the soundtrack is a major part of the experience. Set in a fertile time for Northern Irish music, the tracks chosen add to the energy and exuberance of the story, as obviously does the setting with its air of menace just under the surface.
Go and see this if you’re interested in music, Belfast, or just plain enjoy a good film.
Good Vibrations is a true story about a real man, with a real record shop/label, and the punk scene in Belfast, whereas Spike Island, my second choice of film, is a coming of age drama set in Manchester in the 1990s with the music of the Stone Roses providing more of a secondary theme. As such it worked well, and the soundtrack (a mix of the Roses and the characters own band, Shadow Caster) added greatly to the ambience and power of the film. The characters did seem to blend into each other a bit at points, and some of what could have been more potent moments could have been better explained (I was never sure why one boy joined the army for instance). Having more female characters would have added more variety, and this film does not have the excuse of being a true story as a reason for not doing so. Teenagers since the 1960s or 1970s onwards generally tend to hang around in groups of both sexes (I did) and the whole male bonding theme seemed to me a little old-fashioned.
That said, the music really lifts everything up, and the festival atmosphere of Spike Island and young love is captured perfectly (leaving aside the dubious morality of deserting your father on his deathbed to go to a Stone Roses concert that you don’t even have tickets for!)
Once again, I am hampered by a lack of a cast list, however everyone concerned gave a very competent performance, with Emilia Clarke standing out in particular.
Go and see this film if you enjoy a good coming of age drama with an excellent soundtrack, or want to recapture your youth!