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Friday, 26 April 2013

GOOD VIBRATIONS. FILM.


Terri Hooley was, and is, a unique character in the history of Northern Ireland. While everyone else in the North was closing down shops and businesses in the middle of the horror of the Troubles in the 1970s, Hooley decided to open up first a record shop and then a record label.

He discovered The Undertones and other punk bands at the time, and was at the centre of the punk scene of Belfast, in the late seventies.

This film is basically a biopic of Terri Hooley. He is a likable, energetic visionary, who manages to get things done with his charm and the force of his personality. He is also, however, impractical, disorganised, and liable to prioritise his business over his pregnant wife.

At one stage one of the other characters says to Hooley, "You can't just go charging into things like that." And yet that is exactly what he does, he goes head first into situations without thinking about them or planning them.

The sections dealing with the bands and the label are vibrant, full of music and booze and fun and energy. The second most joyous moment in film in the last twelve months (the first is the dance contest in Silver Linings) is when renowned DJ John Peel finally plays Teenage Kicks on his radio show, and Terri and his wife, and then the whole neighbourhood, dance in the street. It is impossible not to smile at their sense of a rare, undiluted triumph, something to celebrate, for once.

Yet there are strange lulls in the energy in this film that undercut the drive of the narrative. The film slows down a lot when we see Terri struggling with the paperwork of his business, or the conflicts with his wife, or his slightly unbelievable encounters with the paramilitaries on both sides who he convinces not to kill him. The pace is very uneven, joyous and manic, then slow and mundane.

Yet in general it is a very likable movie. It portrays Hooley as someone who, during the bloody years of the seventies, provided the youth of Belfast with a sense of pride, and something to hope for, in contrast to the mayhem that was going on around. He wasn't political in any way, but his was a voice that - by simple virtue of bringing people together in a love of music - opposed the accepted divisions in society, and gave an alternative vision to the people of his city. And despite the parts where the film drags, it at least succeeds in showing that, just by his very normality, Hooley was a force for good in a Northern Ireland that had forgotten what normal life was like.

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