Director: Michael Winterbottom
Stars: Steve Coogan, Lennie James, John Thomson
Growing up in the 80’s I developed an eclectic taste in music. But more often than not my teen angst and youthfully rebellious ear tended to bend more toward bands like Depeche Mode, Concrete Blonde, The Cure, Sex Pistols, and New Order. So I was delighted to not only discover a movie that chronicled the boom of the Manchester Music scene, but that the film itself would be just as enjoyable as the musical maestros it portrays.
24 Hour Party People depicts Manchester’s music culture from 1976 to 1992. More specifically it follows Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan), a fluff piece reporter for Granada Television who, in June of 1976, attends a concert at the Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall. That night Tony witnesses one of the first live performances of the Sex Pistols and, although the performance was only attended by 42 people, he knows an historical moment when he sees one.
Tony wants to bring this music to the masses and begins promoting punk rock concerts. Eventually he starts his own record label, Factory Records, featuring bands like the Buzzcocks, Joy Division (later to become New Order), A Certain Ratio, and the Happy Mondays. In 1982 Tony and his partners open the nightclub, The Hacienda, which becomes hugely popular (this was Manchester’s equivalent to New York’s Studio 54) and even sparked the birth of the rave culture.
But although Tony has a keen sense of music, his business sense is a bit tone deaf. Despite the huge success of both Factory Records and The Hacienda, poor business decisions, failed marketing campaigns, and a constant party atmosphere leave Tony and his partners hemorrhaging money. And just like our favorite songs, all good things must come to an end (unless you put the song on repeat, but that’s counter intuitive to the metaphor).
24 Hour Party People feels like you’re watching a documentary. Tony Wilson was a real person, Factory Records was a real label, The Hacienda an actual nightclub, and all the bands are actual bands, most of which are available for download on iTunes. But of course all the players are portrayed by actors (Sean Harris is spot-on as the troubled lead singer of Joy Division) and the story, although based in fact, leans heavy on poetic license based off rumors and musical urban legends.
But this is the type of film that embraces its embellishments, which only adds to its charm. The character of Tony is telling his own tale, and in doing so he frequently breaks the fourth wall to address the audience directly. In these moments he’s “crying foul” on his own film, letting the audience know when the truth is being stretched, or when certain information has been omitted. In most movies this would be distracting and tend to take the viewer out of the narrative, but here it absolutely works and somehow manages to make it more realistic; you believe that this is actually Tony Wilson simply reporting on his own life.
Although it’s no This is Spinal Tap, 24 Hour Party People is still a fun, somewhat mockumentary film on the music industry, fueled by plenty of British wit and charm. Steve Coogan is fantastic as Tony Wilson and Andy Serkis is brilliant as the crazed, genius producer, Martin Hannet (although never once does he say, “My precious”). This film will have you longing for the days of big hair and acid wash jeans, where Frankie says Relax and Madonna was about as close to a virgin as a senior on prom night. And with such an amazing soundtrack, afterwards you’ll find yourself jumping online to download some of the best music the 80’s had to offer.