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3 reviews, 23 user ratings

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24 Hour Party People
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by PyThomas

"'Madchester' gets the biopic treatment, and it's a fine one at that."
5 stars

I was grooving to New Order in high school. I was introduced (by way of MTV's "120 Minutes") to The Charlatans, Inspiral Carpets and Stone Roses when I was in college. Manchester, England looked like a hell of a place to party at that time. I was predicting great things for Happy Mondays, thinking these guys could get just as big as Nirvana.

All that came to a crashing end by 1993, but fortunately New Order was (and is) still in existence, even if they do suffer from the Boston Syndrome (a lethargy-inducing disorder that causes you to take six-plus years to make a new album). Still, I can't help thinking: What if Factory Records DIDN'T go belly-up that year? What if New Order had the full force of the Factory promotion machine behind them? What if the Happy Mondays didn't break up in 1992?

Well, time has gone by, and through the years I wondered if anyone would care enough about this interesting era in British music to immortalize it in film in some manner. Since the Seattle grunge movement started happening just as the Manchester scene was petering out, I wouldn't have been surprised if Tony Wilson and his Factory legacy was forgotten in the wake of the media storm surrounding Pearl Jam, Soundgarden et al.

That's why this film, directed by Michael Winterbottom, is such a blessing to me. The story is told in an odd way, yet it fits the odd times perfectly. Steve Coogan portrays Mr. Wilson as an adventurous eccentric who isn't afraid to take risks, even if it means crashing and burning in a horrible way (as foreshadowed by his hang-gliding excursion). A sparsely-attended Sex Pistols concert in 1976 inspires Tony and various future band members to get a music movement started in the dreary industrial port city of Manchester.

Tony gets Factory Records rolling by writing a contract in his own blood (and framing it), stating that all of Factory's artists will have complete creative control over their works and are free to "fuck off" whenever they wish. He opens a club called The Factory, and while there's not much of an audience at first, bands such as A Certain Ratio, the Buzzcocks and Joy Division still play on in earnest, and we are treated to the haunting yet alluring sounds of their brand of New Wave. Listening to the music and seeing their growing following, Joy Division seemed especially poised for greatness. Yet lead singer Ian Curtis (Sean Harris) was a fragile sort, prone to epileptic seizures and bouts of depression. His eventual suicide and consequential funeral is treated in slightly comical yet overtly respectful fashion. This marks the definitive end to Joy Division (whose surviving members would continue on as New Order) and the somber era of Factory.

The picture goes from stark gray to wildly multicolor once Happy Mondays enter the scene. Shaun Ryder (Danny Cunningham) and the mysterious "Bez" (Chris Coghill) are serious party animals, and they and the other band members get constantly hopped up on drugs and alcohol. As we make the shift from dour post-modern rock to trippy and groovy techno, a new and bigger club opens up called the Hacienda, and we witness the proliferation of the mood-altering drug Ecstasy. Soon it's the drugs that are sapping Factory dry of cash, along with Tony's penchant for buying expensive furniture or artwork (or both in the same piece). And Happy Mondays wanting to record their next album in Barbados isn't helping financial matters, either.

The most notable (and probably intentional) absence from this history of Manchester music is The Smiths. There's no mention of them except at the very end, when Tony is on the roof of a building supposedly having a conversation with God. (I TOLD you this story would be an odd one.) It was probably for the better anyway... Morrissey and his gang didn't need Factory or the Hacienda to achieve their fame, and a separate movie could be made out of the Smiths' trials and tribulations alone.

You get used to the "It's Garry Shandling's Show"-style narrative early on, as Tony and a few other people in the film break character and show what's going on (or what really DIDN'T happen) by talking to the camera. The screenplay is mostly improvised and somewhat sensationalized, but to quote Mr. Wilson himself: "If you are given a choice between printing the truth or printing the legend, by all means print the legend." Mr. Winterbottom goes the extra mile and casts various Madchester-era band members in bit parts (like Happy Mondays frontman Shaun Ryder playing his own father). Even the real Tony Wilson himself gets a cameo as a director for Granada TV, not to mention a position of "Special Consultant" for the film. The soundtrack, of course, uses music from that time, and by itself the songs are magnificent pieces of work; here in the film it's icing on the cake... special kudos to music supervisor Liz Gallacher for weaving the songs seamlessly into the screenplay.

Even if you're not a fan of this kind of music, or have never heard it before, "24 Hour Party People" stands on its own as a whimsical, off-kilter look at how a record label is run in an unusual way. You don't even have to be hopped up on Ecstasy to enjoy it.

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originally posted: 12/30/02 13:40:48
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2002 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2002 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/18/06 Jill Rubbish! 1 stars
11/05/05 tatum Fantastic; truly a great and funny film 5 stars
8/11/05 The Grinch Entertaining look at a rare time. 2nd act sucks though, Because the Happy Mondays SUCKED 4 stars
5/17/05 Indrid Cold Witty, funny, and fairly interesting. Somewhat incoherent at times. 4 stars
5/16/04 JLRoberson Completely inaccurate and wallows in it. Loved this film. 5 stars
11/25/03 K8 so so good, especially the lush tribute to the amazing Ian Curtis - excellent soundtrack... 5 stars
10/19/03 Goofy Maxwell wtf?! Is this music?...Oh, that's kinda cool...hmmm, I dig it...Omigod, it's over already?! 4 stars
8/04/03 Taylor Fladgate Powerfull story of late 70's & 80's music scene in Manchester 4 stars
6/11/03 Rocky OH YEAH!! 5 stars
6/08/03 earl hoffert brilliant 5 stars
5/20/03 Mr Green I HATE IT 1 stars
5/20/03 Mr Black What a big waste of time 1 stars
5/18/03 frank just stupid thats all 1 stars
3/12/03 puckfreak Cool flick, esp. for music lovers 4 stars
1/13/03 Osprey Best film I've seen in a long time. 5 stars
12/09/02 PyThomas Oooooooer! Bloody Fookin' Fabulous! 5 stars
10/04/02 Tim EEEEExcellent! 5 stars
9/21/02 sean gothman Like a breath of fresh air, without that fresh air smell. 5 stars
9/12/02 Heather Nostalgic look at the Madchester scene of the 1980's, Steve Coogan is great as Tony Wilson 5 stars
9/08/02 Robert Entertaining and amusing, even for someone who knew nothing about this music beforehand 4 stars
9/07/02 R Williams Brings it back if you knew the times. 4 stars
9/05/02 Dominik Duprelle Check this out-if you know the Manchester scene-if you don't this is still interesting 4 stars
8/16/02 MR Full of wit! 4 stars
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  09-Aug-2002 (R)
  DVD: 21-Jan-2003

  05-Apr-2002 (18)

  20-Mar-2003 (MA)

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