Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published September 13th 2019
Fun film celebrating great music
I was going through the local cheap shop last week and I came across a double DVD pack. Now, other things have got in the way in the meantime, but I have managed to watch one of these films, and I wonder why on earth I had never watched it before.
24 Hour Party People (2002)
Directed by Michael Winterbottom Produced by Andrew Eaton Written by Frank Cottrell Boyce Starring Steve Coogan
This film is a comedy-drama about the Manchester music scene of the late 1970s to the early 1990s. Now, I should have seen this film when it came out – I am a fan of New Order, liked Joy Division, and found a lot of the music coming out of England at that time was pretty good. But, for whatever reason, it has passed me by until now, when I get a bare-bones DVD of the film as released in the theatres. I am an idiot for not seeing this earlier.
It is genuinely funny and at the same time quite moving.
The story focuses on Tony Wilson, who started Factory Records, and was involved in the middle of the Manchester music scene. Like, right in the middle.
But while this is a straight-forward telling of events, it is more than that. Coogan (as Wilson) breaks the fourth wall a lot. And, damn it, if it doesn't work. He lets us know what's going to happen, what has happened, where things stand, everything. It's like having an insight into his internal dialogue, and it is done brilliantly by the writer. But there is one scene about 20 minutes in that sticks out in this vein for me – Wilson describes how Howard Devoto had sex with his wife in a toilet after his wife caught Wilson getting a blow-job from a prostitute. And then the real Howard Devoto appears onscreen to tell us that that didn't happen!
Oh, and he's not the only person portrayed in the film to make an appearance, and near the end, Coogan gives a run-down of them all, including the real Tony Wilson himself playing a role. It is quite the mental bizarre world, but, again, it works.
Real footage from the era is intertwined with the movie, giving a sense of solidity. But what really stands out is the glorious music of the era. The songs are the reason this time in Manchester is remembered so fondly, not the Haçienda nightclub or Factory Records, but the music that managed to get around to even the other side of the world where a bunch of Australian kids heard it and fell in love with it. The film does not forget that and the soundtrack is alive with songs and snippets of songs and bare skeletons of songs that most viewers who were around at the time remember and remember well.
Some things did not feel right. Ian Curtis dying halfway through barely had an impact, and the Happy Mondays wasting money and just scoring drugs was played off as some sort of youthful indiscretion. But for all that, it is a very affectionate look at a time in music history that is often passed over for the later excesses of Britpop (Blur v Oasis and all that) and the slightly earlier and then contemporaneous Sex Pistols and subsequent punk movement. Outside of England, the Manchester music scene barely resonated (some Australian kids notwithstanding), which is a shame, because the music that came of it is amongst the best.
It is important to remember that this is a film, not a documentary. An excellent documentary about the early Manchester music scene of this time is probably found in Joy Division, looking at that band as the centre of it all, the clear dislike Peter Hook has for Bernard Sumner coming through too often notwithstanding. This is a comedy film, and it is genuinely funny a lot of the time, while the drama is there where it needs to be, though I feel too downplayed in parts. But it is just a movie and should not be taken as truth, just as a version of the truth modified for a wider audience.
As to the acting, some of it is incredible, but this is Steve Coogan's film and he steals it, lock stock and barrel. As he is central, from the opening where he is one of the few TV presenters to put punk rock on the tube, through to the final bankruptcy, he is in nearly every scene, and yet he does not so dominate that the audience tires of him. He is the centre of a maelstrom, but not always the cause, often looking, and we get to see it from his eyes. Or when he gets stoned and thinks he's talking to God… who looks like Steve Coogan. It's complicated. But funny.
Wilson is portrayed as the smartest man in the room, quoting from Yeats, spouting insane facts about broccoli and the James Bond franchise, and yet he is not the wisest. Big difference. But Coogan makes him lovable for all his failings.
This is a fun film, a little bit of nostalgia for some of us, an awakening of a scene others might know nothing about, but it is a really good film. I wish I'd seen it years ago, when it first came out; I'm glad I've seen it now.