With so much material on the post-punk era in print, its
representation in cinema seems mysteriously absent, with the
exception of Alex Cox’s Sid And Nancy and a
small number of documentaries. This lack puts a lot of weight
on 24 Hour Party People, as it is forced to represent
almost single-handedly an entire musical and cultural movement.
How does the film hold up to all this pressure?
Some people aren’t going to like 24 Hour Party People.
Entertainment Weekly called it “an insider nostalgia
trip for graying art punks.” Meaning, I can only assume, that
just those who actually lived through the era or who are hip
to the scene will enjoy the film. I think they have it backwards.
The people the film is going to most alienate are precisely
the people who have something at stake in this era. For 24
Hour Party People is not really about the music, per se.
It is about Tony Wilson, journalist, game show host,
club owner, entrepreneur, and, of course, head honcho of Factory
Records, a record label that helped define the post-punk era
with the likes of Joy Division, New Order, A Certain Ratio,
The Happy Mondays, Duritti Column, and others. Despite
all the talented and innovative bands (each certainly worth
an entire film to themselves), the movie remains Tony’s—a
point he doesn’t seem to mind. After a brief rise-and-fall
episode with Joy Division, the Happy Mondays are the only
other band given any screen time in the film. So if it’s the
‘secret’ history of rock (which is what most of the written
work on this era is about) or a visual representation of all
your favorite bands you’re looking for, this might not be
the movie for you. But if atmosphere, mood, and sense of time
are important for you in regard to a recreation of history,
look no further.
Tony Wilson, our guide through this journey into the underworld
of Manchester, is not easy to define. Despite being the axis
everything this rather frenetic trip through history spins
around, it’s difficult to get a sense of Tony the man. As
soon as you develop a hypothesis about him, he turns around
and challenges your understanding. For instance, Tony never
signed any band on Factory Records to a contract, giving them
complete artistic freedom. “I saved myself from ever having
the burden of selling out,” he says. He was never in it for
the money. But, after the money starts coming in, Tony lives
the life of a mogul, complete with a Jaguar, a high-rise studio
apartment, and conference table for the Factory office that
cost him thirty grand! If that’s not selling out… “I am being
postmodern, before it was fashionable,” he rightfully says.
It all seems rather strange, but never out of character.
Even in the beginning of the film, Tony doesn’t make much
sense. He starts out as a journalist working at a television
station doing stories on anything from hang gliding (a very
funny scene) to the small person who washes the elephants
at the zoo. Then he seems to find his niche hosting “So It
Goes,” the only show bringing new (cool) music to the masses
every week. But the show proves not to be enough for him;
he wants to have his own club and his own bands. And he gets
what he wants… only to let it all fall apart. The strange
part is that he really doesn’t seem to mind. Or does he?
Herein lies the brilliance of 24 Hour Party People,
a film that defines nothing but says so much. Its unknowns—like
whether or not Tony ever really had a passion for what he
was doing, for the bands, or even for the culture he helped
to create—leave the place and time to speak for itself. We
are left to form an opinion of all this uncertainty and change
for ourselves. All we get is the music, the city, and, of
course, the dancing.
24 Hour Party People provides a feeling of history
in the making. And that is just as important as any fact.