Friday, November 8, 2019


Michael Paseornek

T.J. (James Marshall) is the leader of a garage band destined for its first big gig. On the way to the show, he runs afoul of drunk rednecks who accidentally crush his hands while destroying his car. With his musical career in shambles, T.J. runs away and lives on the streets of New York. There he meets Animkia (Christina Applegate) who works at a local dance club. Anamika and her roommates use what they have to build T.J. a set of mechanical hands and the techno superstar known as Cyberstorm is born.

I do my best to go into any movie holding on to the chance that it will hold something valuable or at least memorable. I went into Vibrations expecting to goof on it just a little bit, the plot description alone felt earnest and 1990s enough that I knew it was going to be hokey and silly. I was correct, Vibrations is overly serious and sincere to a fault and it utilizes many tropes of its era, but it also won me over with those aspects. Perhaps that’s just the nostalgia talking.

I went to college in the 1990s, and while grunge was held up as the musical signifier of my generation,  I really found my connection in techno. The scene had been long established and the music was finally breaking into the mainstream around 1996 with MTV dedicating more air time to ‘electronica.’ Living in the Midwest I had zero access to any real rave scene and living with anxiety kept me from going to any dance clubs, so my explorations of electronic music were largely confined to buying CDs out of the tiny techno section of my local music store and listening to them as I drove around. This might have been an atypical way to engage in music that primarily designed for large groups on drugs, but its what I had. I have always been taken by the energy and emotiveness that electronic music can communicate from the seemingly cold confines of technology. It can be joyful, angry, and often irreverent. Surprisingly, Vibrations manages to tap into some of this emotion for me.

"I don't know how to get these things out of demo mode."
The scene of T.J. losing his hands never shows anything graphic but it is still played for horror. His recovery and depression are handled with a seriousness I wasn’t expecting. This grates against the sillier parts of the movie that come in later with the jokey roommates and the creation of the robot hands, but it still manages to keep an emotional honesty threaded throughout the story. T.J. suffers through crippling depression and alcoholism after his accident, but he still rises to the occasion in an emergency. These brief heroic interludes keep the movie from being a dour slog as we wait for him to get his mechanical hands.

Vibrations displays a very sanitized image of rave culture and in fact only really gives it the briefest touch, since this is a film from 1996 it wouldn’t be complete with taking some time to talk about Generation X and virtual reality. It is a very shallow time capsule of popular culture from the time, but the film means what it says, it just doesn’t allow itself much time to say these things. The underbelly of 1990s media is here too, we have quite a few men who harass and assault women and every character is safely straight and white. There is an interesting side plot where T.J.’s friend and serial sexual harasser, Simeon (Scott Cohen) confronts Anamika’s boss about attempts to coerce her into sex. I would like to think this was an attempt at character growth but the moment is never expanded on.

Ravebot or Doctor Who costume? You decide.
It also wouldn’t be a movie about techno and raves without some music and Vibrations pulls out some fun tracks. I found my head bobbing to those moments and with a decent sound system that music still delivers. T.J.’s Cyberstorm persona adds some much needed visual flair to the proceedings. It’s during these moments that Vibrations transcends its own hokey rags to riches story and becomes something engaging and fun.

No comments:

Post a Comment