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24 Hour Party People (R)
United Artists
Official site
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Producer: Andrew Eaton
Written by: Frank Cottrell Boyce
Cast: Steve Coogan, Shirley Henderson, Paddy Considine, Sean Harris, Danny Cunningham, Lennie James, Andy Serkis, John Simm

Rating: out of 5

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.

—Eric Vanstrom


hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

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