Saturday, August 10, 2013

MIFF Session 16: GOOD VIBRATIONS: Place of Pride

When music guru John Peel does the unprecedented and plays The Undertones' Teenage Kicks twice in a row on his canonical radio show the protagonist of this film, Terri Hooley dances ecstatically in his dowdy Belfast home with his wife. A banging at the front door reveals the band and a small crowd of people associated with his record shop. He runs out into the street as they dance to the song and in a blinding spotlight raises his arms in imitation of Christ, giving himself up to bliss. But the light is that of a British Army chopper observing the revelry in case it's more sectarian violence.

This tale of a punk scene's birth and nurture along with the starry eyed and accidental promoter Terri is a thoroughly enjoyable ride through disappointment and triumph. In this case there is a pleasingly Irish oh-so-what to a lot of it which sets it apart from a great many other fictionalised music histories.

This genre suffers from a common malady in the dramatisation of key moments or achievements by the heroes of its tales. When John Lennon says "I'm talking about a hard day's night" in a Hamburg bar years before he should it's one of the few cringes that mar the otherwise wonderful Backbeat. The scene of Ray Manzarek coming up with the hooky intro to Light My Fire in The Doors is the same kind of thing. One of the worst is from a tv movie about he Beach Boys. They're taking a break from recording and ogle as a babe in a Thunderbird drives by. "She's having fun," says one. "Yeah," says another, "until her daddy takes her t-bird away." Someone else snaps his fingers. Ladies and gentlemen we have a classic!

This doesn't really happen in Good Vibrations but the moment Terri hears the freshly recorded Teenage Kicks in the studio cans and approaches the control room glass with a beatific stare it is at least funny but it does dilute the kingmaker John Peel's famous later response for the sake of a cinematic moment. When Fergal Sharkey names himself in full it feels like it's for our benefit rather than Terri's. Surely he would have just used his first name at that point.

But these are quibbles. What I really like about this film apart from his sheer amiability is its sense of place. There are reminders of the war zone nature of Northern Island during the troubles so frequent (most of them footage from the time, often jarringly on blown-up analogue video) that they acquire a kind of rhythm. It's no spoiler to repeat Hooley's own words about punk in Belfast: "New York had the haircuts. London had the treasures. We had the reason."

That strikes home for me. When the Saints' video was partially shown on Countdown in 1976 I was caught by it. When the full clip was played on Flashez I wanted it to go on for hours and, for a few minutes, time really did seem to stop. There was no comparing it with anything I knew. No one was calling it punk. I forced it up against the Rolling Stones of Get Off Of My Cloud or Have You Seen You Mother Baby (rather than Brown Sugar). And they were from Brisbane, not the more sophisticated centres of Sydney or Melbourne but dowdy old Brisbane. When the term punk rose in the parlance and I heard The Damned, The Ramones and, most cataclysmically, The Sex Pistols towards the end of that year the game had changed and I had chosen my team. Increasingly, the sense that Brisbane's punk scene arose from a need in opposition to the repressive Bjelke Petersen regime. They had the reason there, too (of course, less dramatically, but still, that was the feeling).

If there comes a time to tell the tale of the Brisbane scene the way London's was abstractly attempted in Jubilee, Melbourne's in Dogs in Space or Belfast's in this I know it won't avoid the pitfalls of the subgenre of music related films but if it smoothed them out as effectively and enjoyably as Good Vibrations does we'll be in fine hands.

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