I think John Cassavetes said it best about music: “It makes you feel like living. Silence is death."
There’s just something about music. Every one of us has our own unique tastes and I cannot imagine a world without it. There’s just so damn much of it that has constantly been revolutionized within the past half-century alone and now it feels like all the new stuff is just recycled leftovers.
Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People takes us back to a time when music was still at its most pure and chronicles the rise and fall of Factory Records, the label that helped put some of the most innovative pop music on the map. The film spans the late 70’s through the early 90’s and chronicles the Joy Division era, followed by the heydays of the “Madchester” music scene. This is all shown through the perspective of TV show host and eventual Factory Records label owner Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan).
Opening up amidst the Manchester music scene, Tony documents the infamous Sex Pistols performance at the Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall. While only about 40 or so people attended the show, he informs the viewer of how monumental this event was and how it struck the attendees like a bolt of lightning, causing a number of them to go out and make their own kinds of noise. As these fellow artists and musicians became influenced to write and perform a new sound, Tony, on the other hand, had much bigger plans.
With his distaste of pop music and being influenced by the rise of punk rock, Tony decides to make himself a concert promoter, investing in a local venue for artists and bands to perform and get their sound more recognized. Here he meets and befriends the band that will become Joy Division, along with their volatile frontman Ian Curtis (Sean Harris) and manager Rob Gretton (Paddy Considine). Tony feels the most brilliant step to take now is to form his own record label in order to support bands like Joy Division that are looking to break out of the norm and not be dominated and pressured into selling out. In order to convince everyone of his devotion to never selling out as well as guarantee any band on his label will have complete artistic control, Tony signs a contract stating so...in his own blood.
Tony is such a great character; a charming screwball. He’s so delightful to watch that it’s hard to not forget how much of a douche he is with all the bad choices he makes and how it just continually brings him and Factory down. The viewer really doesn’t get much of a look at his personal life. As Tony himself states, this is because he isn’t the main character, so to speak, but more of a guide for the audience. As he best puts it in the film, “…I’m a minor character in my own story. This is a film about the music and the people who made the music...”
As the story moves from Joy Division’s evolution into New Order, it seems like the film is becoming more melancholy than fun. That is, of course until crazy Shaun Ryder (Danny Cunningham) and his drug-induced band enter the picture. Shaun is the leader of Happy Mondays, a new group that fuses together sounds of psychedelic rock, funk, and dance to create a groundbreaking experience that would epitomize Madchester. It is also around this time that Tony convinces Gretton and the rest of his partners to invest in the notorious Hacienda. The nightclub becomes a haven for the rave and dance crowd.
24 Hour Party People is one hell of a fun and unique ride. If you think I’ve said too much, I haven’t. I’ve only introduced you into this amusing, epic ride of a world that has come and gone. It’s not at all your typical rock biopic; the character Tony Wilson breaks the fourth wall throughout the entire film. He’s also the host of a show where he has to talk at the camera, so he’s basically going back and forth talking to the fake audience and the real one. It manages to do this in a fun way without feeling at all confusing or overwhelming. The film is shot to evoke the feeling of a fake documentary while also taking real-life footage of concerts and juxtaposing it with footage shot for the film. There are times when a camera crew is walking around with Tony and while I’m sure it’s supposed to be the crew for his show within the film, it still adds to this mixed-up effect.
The performances were anything but disappointing. I was never really into Steve Coogan before, who’s perhaps best known to American audiences as the director in Tropic Thunder. He really shines in this film as the audience’s escort through a decadent and unrestrained backstage. He’s so spot-on in portraying this character that has the mind of a charming, egotistical whore of a businessman while trying to remain as down to earth as possible. Paddy Considine is always great to watch and I found his character to be increasingly interesting the more he ages. Sean Harris as Ian Curtis and Danny Cunningham as Shaun Ryder were excellent scene-stealers, but I feel it was Andy Serkis as the eccentric record producer Martin Hannett who robbed the movie blind. Forget Lord of the Rings, Serkis needs more recognition for this role because he completely dominated the screen the few times he was present.
Another key aspect I noticed was how the film will purposely distort the fact with lore and rumors. To this, the character of Tony Wilson simply quotes the great John Ford, saying “…When you have to choose between the truth and the legend, print the legend”, and that’s a great way to sum up this film. It’s a true story that refuses to be taken seriously; that prefers to entertain over enlighten, and while you’re watching something based on reality, it's their intention that you never really know fact from fiction, and that to me is the genius of 24 Hour Party People. It’s a thrilling, interesting and engaging experience that does anything but bore.
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