Rock 'n' roll and the movies have not always enjoyed the most harmonious of mar- riages. Documentaries and concert films seldom capture the magic of life-changing music, and occasional gems like Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense or The Band's The Last Waltz seem like exceptions that prove the rule. Many of the great narrative rock movies use real life as jumping-off points for fantasy or satire, relying on humor and visual style to reflect rock's anarchic spirit — A Hard Day's Night, Rock 'n' Roll High School and This Is Spinal Tap are prime examples. Another is Irish indie Good Vibrations, which gets one screening in the New Orleans Irish Film Festival. Good Vibrations tells the mostly true story of Terri Hooley, the "godfather of Belfast punk" who founded a record shop and label against all odds in war-torn Northern Ireland in the late 1970s. It's an instant classic and the first film of any type to conjure the sheer exuberance and do-it-yourself ethos of the punk era almost 40 years after the fact.
Good Vibrations is set during what many in Northern Ireland call "the troubles," a time when the idealism and progressive politics of the 1960s gave way to civil war between Protestant loyalists and Catholic nationalists. The once-thriving capital city of Belfast became a dangerous, burned-out shell of its former self. Local DJ and music connoisseur Hooley decided the best way to take back his city was to open a record shop called Good Vibrations on Belfast's Great Victoria Street, known as "bomb alley." Punk rock arrived soon after, and Hooley found kindred spirits among now legendary young bands like The Undertones, The Outcasts and Rudi, and resolved to bring their life-affirming defiance to the world — one 7-inch vinyl single at a time — in an era when music was the exclusive province of large corporations.
On only their second feature, husband-and-wife co-directors Lisa Barros D'Sa and Glenn Leyburn artfully cut copious archival footage into their film without letting it overtake Hooley's tale. A sublime soundtrack balances punk with everything from Hank Williams to Lee "Scratch" Perry's dub reggae. Seasoned theater artist (and Northern Ireland native) Richard Dormer nails Hooley's maniacal drive to create community among the ruins. An eight-minute sequence that begins with Hooley quietly discovering he's recorded a classic, The Undertones' "Teenage Kicks" — and ends with the film joyously blasting the song into our ears — might move you to tears. Good Vibrations wears its heart on its tattered sleeve, declaring the power of music to make us laugh in the face of despair. What more could we hope for? — KEN KORMAN