With annual national film festivals such as the Russian Resurrection Film Festival having already taken place, and the Mexican Film Festival which is opening tonight, it is no surprise that Britain has risen to the occasion with the inaugural British Film Festival coming to Australia this year.
A celebration of British culture and film, there is a smorgasbord of films on the 2013 program. These range from One Chance, charting an amateur opera singer’s rise, to Philomena, a drama/comedy about a mother searching for her lost son. We had the pleasure of previewing Good Vibrations, a film about a record store owner in Belfast during the 1970’s-‘80’s, and his impact on the local punk rock.
Before the film, there were previews of some of the Festival’s featured films. It’s interesting to note that the films presented as the primary feature films were all dramatisations on real events. Whilst this was not exactly a bad thing, it was an interesting curiosity that the three films presented as the highlights of British film and culture were also based on factual events.
Another interesting aspect of the film festival was the inclusion of the top five “classic” British films, from a British Film Institute survey in 1999. At No. 1 was the classic The Third Man, and the list also included the 39 Steps, and Lawrence of Arabia, which is a delight on the big screen. Those with an interest in classic film, or of course, a general interest in British culture, will enjoy the British Film Festival’s 2013 program.
As mentioned above, the film that was showcased was called Good Vibrations, and was chosen as it was described as “having energy”. Well, that was true. The synopsis of the film is a story about an eternal optimist and music lover, Terri Hooley, and his trials and stories in Belfast, Northern Ireland during the 1970’s and ‘80’s. After deciding to set up a music store, in the face of disbelief and terror (and terrorism), Hooley ends up supporting local Irish punk bands, and begins his journey to becoming the “godfather of punk”. This ensured an excellent soundtrack, with the actual bands such as Rudi, The Undertones and The Outcasts featured.
The film is richer and more poignant with an understanding of Ireland’s civil conflict in that time period, but the film is good at creating the necessary atmosphere in the background. The audience receives constant visual and sonic reminders: television reports, radio news programs, and the occasional inclusion of actual news footage from the time help establish the dangerous, fearful backdrop of the conflict. While the violence seems to fade away as the film progresses, it maintains a steady, if not always obvious, presence in the background, occasionally giving way to violent outbursts such as when Hooley is assaulted by neo-Nazi thugs in his shop.
However, this backdrop focuses more on atmosphere than history – it’s possible to glean bits and pieces of what happened historically, but a quick read will almost certainly enhance your appreciation of this film.
Those who have an appreciation of early British punk will also find this film more enjoyable. Bigger bands like The Clash and The Ramones are mentioned, but the film focuses on more obscure, Belfast bands, with the soundtrack made up primarily of their songs. Still, it isn’t difficult to understand why punk resonated so strongly amongst Irish youths at the time. It was a rebellious, edgy and aggressive unifying point that allowed them to rebel against the constant conflict.
The primary message in the movie is that the power of music can overpower other differences, although that road isn’t always easy. While it can be overdone and kitschy in many movies, the “based on a true story” factor of Good Vibrations made this message more poignant, especially considering the dividing factors of religion and, to a lesser extent, ethnicity in Northern Ireland.
Another interesting idea explored is the concept of victory and glory, and what it is versus what it is believed to be. After Hooley has a go at his Socialist father, attacking him for his perceived failure in his political career (which spanned ten elections, with no wins), the Hooley elder states, after a frank analysis of his results, that “victory isn’t always what it appears to others.” This statement could equally be applied to Hooley, who by the end of the movie has a bankrupt business, several small-scale bands that haven’t amounted to a great deal, a separation from his wife and daughter, and is going to lose his house, but he is still shown in a victorious light, because of what he and people he believed in achieved in Belfast. These messages were certainly thought provoking, and gave the film a great deal of depth.
Overall, an enjoyable film in what promises to be an impressive festival. Anyone who has an interest in British films, either classic or recent, or British culture in general, should consider attending this event. The film Good Vibrations was enjoyable as well. Although enjoyment may be furthered by having an understanding of Irish, especially Northern Irish, history or the history of ‘70’s and ‘80’s punk music in Ireland make the film more enjoyable, the messages that are presented in the film are still very apparent and poignant. Overall, an enjoyable film in an enjoyable event. God save the Queen!