24 Hour Party People

| October 2, 2002

Michael Winterbottom, known for such films as Jude and an episode of the dark, dreary television show Cracker, directed this light hearted look at the Manchester music scene from 1976-early 90’s. It is a far departure for him and based on those movies alone I really would not have guessed he was involved in 24 Hour Party People. When I started reading about the film I realized he is also from Manchester. I have always loved when people make movies about their own home towns because they have such a genuinely honest feeling to them, maybe not always based in exact facts and sometimes preposterous in nature but always with a sense of truth and genuine understanding. Take, for example, John Waters and his lovingly charming look at Baltimore with his film Pecker or writer Lona William’s film Drop Dead Gorgeous, an honest portrayal of a small town beauty pageant similar to one she won.
24 Hour Party People is the general story of the Manchester music scene and specifically focusing on Factory Records and Tony Wilson. Factory Records is the label responsible for bringing to the world Joy Division, Happy Mondays and New Order. You will notice I did not say they signed them, but rather brought them to us and the reason for my particular wording is that Factory Records was not a business. It was a group of people who recognized talent and went that extra step to assure artistic freedom, by not dealing in contracts and all the other traditional things record labels are known for. I use the term “recognized talent” in the broadest sense, because I don’t feel Tony Wilson is a person who necessarily understands good business or great talent, but rather is merely a very lucky man. He was in the right place at the right time and knew what he liked. None of his ventures with various bands or even the Hacienda, one of the most popular clubs in the world made him a rich man. These things just got him a place in music history and I’m not even sure he was doing it for that. He seemed to deal with these bands and the insanity that followed them for some inexplicable reason. The movie doesn’t explain it, because I feel Tony Wilson, himself can’t explain his own reasons.
Tony Wilson says himself, “Factory Records are not actually a company. We are an experiment in human nature. You’re labouring under the misapprehension that we actually have a deal with, er, with our, our bands. That we have any kind of a contract, er, at all, and I’m afraid we, er, we don’t because that’s, er, that’s the sum total of the paperwork to do with Factory Records, deal with, er, their various bands.” The paperwork he is referring to is a scrap of paper with which he wrote in his own blood how the bands own everything and Factory Records owns nothing.
Steve Coogan, who is a well-known actor from British television, plays the character of Tony Wilson. I had neither seen nor heard of Steve Coogan before this movie but he seemed to be very much in tune with the character and what was expected.
One aspect I really enjoyed in the film, which tends to be something that would normally keep me irritated throughout, is the fact we didn’t get to know the characters very well. We never really understood many motives or their general characters and this is probably an accurate portrayal of how they lived. These guys seemed more like party friends, instead of real friends. They were the kind of people you meet late in the bar and hang out with all night drinking and partying but really know very little about their day-to-day lives.
Many critics have said the movie was boring because they couldn’t “get” the characters because they lacked substance. From JoBlo’s Movie Emporium,
“For me, the film went on for too long, delivered very little substance, offered zero interesting characters with no depth and ultimately just bored the crap out of me. Oh by the way, some of the stuff depicted in this movie didn’t actually happen either so don’t go believing everything you see in there either. So what’s the fuckin’ point?! Like I said…I guess I just didn’t “get” it.”
Well, the “fucking point” is that it is rock and roll, which if done correctly also lacks substance, offers little depth and isn’t always the truth, so a film about rock and roll should offer the same. I thought 24 Hour Party People never tried to be more than one person’s snapshot of a fun time in Manchester history. The film makes fun of itself continuously throughout which is another quality I find endearing.
I knew nothing about the Manchester party/music scene nor did I know the music of any of the bands. I am truly a pop culture hermit, as I know nothing about music or television of any kind and I still liked this movie. It was a kinetic ride through a period of history, made by people who have true feelings about their hometown. That’s all I need to know to enjoy it, and I did.

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