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Terri Hooley may not be a household name, but to a music fan and punk lover in 1970s Belfast, he is a local treasure. Now, in his biopic ‘Good Vibrations’, named after the record store and label he owned in the city, the story can be told of how he gave punk a voice in a place city at a very troubled time.
Starring Richard Dormer and Jodie Whittaker, ‘Good Vibrations’ charts the journey of Terri (Dormer) from rock-bottom pub DJ to store owner and independent record producer. The Belfast Film Festival website lists the following synopsis, “Terri Hooley is a radical, rebel and music-lover in 1970s Belfast when the bloody conflict known as the Troubles shuts down his city. As all his friends take sides and take up arms, Terri opens a record shop on the most bombed half-mile in Europe and calls it Good Vibrations. Through it he discovers a compelling voice of resistance in the city’s nascent underground punk scene. Galvanising the young musicians into action, he becomes the unlikely leader of a motley band of kids and punks who join him in his mission to create a new community, an alternative Ulster, to bring his city back to life.”
He discovers one band, The Undertones, whose song ‘Teenage Kicks’ has gone on to become a punk anthem and covered by dozens of artists in the 34 years since its release. Yet, for the most part ‘Good Vibrations’ tells the story of a man who never achieves long-lasting success because he is led by sentiment and passion rather than any clear-headed business sense.
As a result, the film shows Terri’s marriage suffering, his finances waning, his drinking increasing and his focus wandering to the point where he is the victim of a brutal physical assault in his own store. Still, Terri’s resolve inevitably returns no matter how many times he gets knocked down, and it is this which drives the film through a somewhat meandering plot and ultimately unconventional conclusion. Terri’s optimism and idealism make him an incredibly endearing figure, due in large part to the sincerity and wholeheartedness with which Dormer brings to the role.
‘Good Vibrations’ launched the 2012 Belfast Film Festival, and it was clear from some audience feedback that it was a refreshing change to see a big-screen representation of Northern Ireland which did not exclusively detail the Troubles. Rather, this film operates on the level of almost any biopic, where the historical and political context remains mainly on the fringe while the personal trumps and failures elevate the narrative beyond any single cultural consciousness. Audience member Eamonn Knocker told Toonari Post, “I liked the fact that it was a part of Belfast history, that it was funny and sad, and that it’s a change [from films about The Troubles]“.
With the festival being bookended by ‘Whole Lotta Sole’, already previewed by Toonari Post, the message is loud and clear that Northern Ireland is acknowledging its past difficulties while still finding ways to move forward and explore new characters and untold stories.
Image Courtesy of Terri Hooley