Sunday, March 8, 2015

Vibrations (Michael Paseornek, 1996)

Utah Saints! Utah Saints! Utah Saints! U-u-u-u-u-u-tah Saints! Ooh, I just knew something good was gonna happen when I saw that Vibrations, the ultimate how-to guide on how to be a double-amputee techno superstar, had a Utah Saints song on its soundtrack. Was there ever any doubt? I mean, would the Utah Saints ever be associated with something that is lame? I don't think so. Okay, now that we that got that out of the way (it's been a longstanding dream of mine to start off a movie review with a bit about the Utah Saints), let's talk about dates, shall we? Specifically, 1996. About midway through this rave-tinged classic ("Injected with a poison! We don't need that anymore"), I threw up my hands in frustration and said: There's no way this film was shot in 1996. In fact, there's no way this film was shot in 1995. No, this film reeks of the summer of 1993, pure and simple. After wracking my brain trying to figure out what year the movie was shot, we get a close up of a rave flyer. Of course, I didn't notice the date on the flyer the first time around, but during my third viewing (you have to watch this film multiple times to fully understand it), I noticed the rave, featuring The Shamen, U96, Moses On Acid, Fierce Ruling Diva and, yes, the Utah Saints, was listed as taking place on July 7, 1993. Vindicated that my instincts were totally correct, I let out a mild sigh of relief, and prepared to watch the film a fourth time.

Oh, and one more thing about that rave. If you were to say replace Moses On Acid with, oh, let's say, the Lords Of Acid (sticking with the acid theme), you would be looking at the greatest show ever. Seriously, I prefer raves to regular concerts. And the one being advertised in this movie would make [the original] Woodstock look like poorly acted dinner threatre.

Okay, I might have been exaggerating when I implied that I watched Vibrations more than once. But I will say this: It's the best film about a hand-less wino who becomes the toast of the rave community that I've ever seen.

I'd even go as far as to put it in the same league as Cool As Ice and My Demon Lover in terms of quality. I know, that's some pretty distinguished company right there, but trust me, I know what I'm talking about.

Unfortunately, in order to make a great movie about a double-amputee who finds redemption through techno, we're going to have to endure a pretty mawkish opening. It starts with T.J. (James Marshall), a rock musician who's going places. His band is front page news (they made the cover of The Woodfield Daily!), his girlfriend looks like Paige motherfuckin' Turco and his hair is... well, his hair is...

When I first saw T.J., I thought to myself: Leif Garrett circa 1977 just called, he wants his hairstyle back. But then, after doing some intense research, I was shocked to discover that T.J.'s hair looks nothing like Leif Garrett's hair circa 1977. If I was given another opportunity to compare T.J.'s hair to a celebrity from the late 70s/early 80s, I would definitely go with William Katt from The Greatest American Hero (circa 1981, of course).

However, I already said Leif Garrett (The Spirit of '76), and that's a shame I'm going to have to live with for the rest of my life. That being said, we all deserve a second chance, and T.J. gets one when he wakes up at a rave being held in New York City. Of course, the second chance I'm referring to doesn't occur immediately, but what occurs on this particular evening leads to a shitload of spiritual cleansing.

Oh, wait, I think I might have to explain how T.J. wound up asleep at a rave. You see, while driving to a gig in, let's say, Philadelphia, T.J. is tormented by a gang of drunks in a pick-up truck. Surrounding his car, one of the drunks gets behind the controls of a giant drill attached to a bulldozer and, well, you can pretty much guess what happens next.

How will T.J. perform his beloved rock 'n' roll music without hands?!? A despondent T.J. pushes away Paige Turco (ahhh, she's wearing shorts covered in butterflies, you dumbass), and flees to New York City to become a wino.

One afternoon, while looking for a place to crash, T.J. breaks into what he thinks is an abandoned warehouse, and passes out in a cardboard box. Suddenly, the fresh-faced wino is awoken by the sound of techno.

Staggering through the crowd (a sea of baggy t-shirts and undercut ponytails), a bewildered T.J. is shown the way to the door by Anamika (Christina Applegate), who, I'm assuming, thought T.J. was simply a raver who took too much ecstasy.

While walking home, Anamika is accosted by a couple of low-lifes. Anyone care to guess who comes to Anamika's aid in her time of need? Why it's Super Wino! Just kidding, it's T.J. Nevertheless, I liked how one of the low-lifes calls T.J. "Super Wino;" a low-life he may be, but he's pretty quick on his feet.

Just when the fact that the wino version of T.J. always appears to be clean shaven was starting to bug me, we get a crafty close-up shot of T.J.'s shaving kit. It's almost as if the producers were thinking to themselves: "No-one is going to buy a clean shaven wino." Then one of the producers must have chimed in and said: "Why don't we just show that T.J. carries around a shaving kit and a toothbrush." And just like that, they managed to undercut the criticism of countless undercut-sporting nitpickers and crybabies thinking about getting undercuts in one fell swoop. Well played, producers of Vibrations. Well played, indeed.

You might think: What kind of woman would let a wino stay the night? Sure, he rescued you from the witty low-lifes and he's kinda hunky (you know, for a wino without hands). But it's established early on that Anamika is a bit of a flake. Meaning, her to decision to allow T.J. into her home came across as somewhat reasonable.

She might be a flake, but Anamika draws the line at petty theft (she caught T.J. trying to steal twenty bucks from her wallet). Even though this sours their burgeoning relationship, T.J. is determined to prove to Anamika that he's not a complete fuck up. And the first step in this process is to give up booze.

Since T.J. can't get back in the groove of things with just Anamika's help, he reaches out to her fellow tenants; who include Simeon (Scott Cohen), a techno musician (and a dead ringer for Rockula's Dean Cameron), Geek (David Burke), a computer hacker (who says something to affect of "cyberspace is the only realm left to explore"), and Zina (Faye Grant), a cynical performance artist.

It's after these characters are introduced that the film really starts to shine as a substantive piece of filmed entertainment.

And things start to get substantive as all get out when Simeon introduces T.J. to techno. In what is easily my favourite scene in the entire movie, Simeon shows T.J. what techno is all about. And I couldn't have said it better myself, as I love techno.

With help from his new circle of friends, T.J. gets a new lease on life and re-emerges as Cyberstorm. At first you might think: Oh my God! He's looks ridiculous (T.J.'s Cyberstorm persona dresses like a gothic robot). Is it, though? One of the biggest music acts on the planet dress like robots. And don't make me bring up that asshole in the giant metal mouse head. So, before you snicker at Cyberstorm's appearance, you should actually thank him for paving the way for other faceless musicians.

That being said, if your mouth fails to become somewhat agape during the Cyberstorm concert scenes, then I'm afraid there's little hope for you.

It should go without saying, but Vibrations is a genuine cult classic and a must see for fans of early 1990s rave culture. "We're primal, heading for cosmic..."


  1. I just stumbled upon your movie blog. Looks awesome. You should add me to your acquaintances, especially if you're into tabletop roleplaying games at all (like D&D).

    1. I don't play D&D or D&D type games, but thanks for dropping by.