24 Hour Party People

Dir: Michael Winterbottom, 2002. Starring: Steve Coogan, Lennie James, John Thomson. Cult.
24 Hour Party People
Along with Julien Temple’s posthumous Sex Pistols doc The Filth & the Fury, 24 Party People is the greatest movie ever made about British music from the punk and post-punk era. The film is based around the recollections of Factory label boss Tony Wilson and his visionary posse of Mancunian fuck ups, geniuses, and all manner of eccentrics who helped to create the Manchester music scene of the early 1980s. With the noticeable absence of any musical contribution from the Smiths the film is a brilliantly edited survey of a northern British cultural explosion that epitomized the despair, and later, the boundless hedonism of a fervently creative moment in the darkest days of Thatcher’s Britain.

Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan) is the most entertaining phony you could possibly imagine. He is so good at talking up his city (Manchester), his bands (the Factory roster including Joy Division and later New Order and the Happy Mondays), and his artfully ridiculous way of running a label, that it’s almost impossible not to like him even if it’s never clear whether his conviction is really in his artists or in his ability to sell them. Coogan is the natural fit to reinterpret Wilson’s art of the blag as his Alan Partridge character is a similar creation but without Wilson's charm.  

Wilson goes from a Cambridge educated TV news reporter to a punk true believer after witnessing a much mythologized Sex Pistols show in Manchester where they were supported by the Buzzcocks. Wilson becomes an obsessive champion of the new music, the new thing, promoting it on his own rock TV show. He soon discovers Joy Division and becomes convinced that he is witnessing something seminally important, eventually becoming their manager and label boss. The film is roughly divided into two halves. The first chronicles the inception of the Factory label and the rise and tragic fall of Joy Division and Ian Curtis in particular. The second half focuses more on the ecstasy fuelled shenanigans of the later Factory stars Happy Mondays and the Hacienda nightclub that Wilson helped to start. The music and the drugs formed a nexus that dominated early 90’s British youth culture and, as with anything as combustible as drug and youth culture, it eventually flames out. Wilson, though, was unbowed and he remained, up untl his death in 2007, the biggest champion of his city and the music that it spawned.

One thing that the film gets so right is in its refusal to sentimentalize the story the way so many hoary old cliché-ridden rock biopics do. It’s a sprawling, mockingly self-referential tale of drugs, delusion, geniuses, degenerates, and some of the greatest pop music the twentieth century ever produced. Cameos from people like Howard Devoto (Magazine) and Mark E. Smith (The Fall) give further proof to the authenticity of the whole endeavor. It’s funny, a little scary, and the music is the best.    
Posted by:
Jed Leland
Mar 28, 2012 5:57pm
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