Sunday, October 11, 2009

Best British Films: 24. 24 Hour Party People

After an insanely busy week in my personal life, I'm finally getting around to another film from The Observer Film Quarterly's 25 Best British Films in the Last 25 Years (see sidebar). Today I'm watching 24 Hour Party People, Michael Winterbottom's story of the Manchester music scene from 1976 to 1992.

Steve Coogan plays television reporter Tony Wilson, who finds his job reporting on frivolous pastimes unrewarding. He attends a Sex Pistols concert and sees it as a historical event. He enters the music business, promoting punk rock concerts and starting Factory Records with his friends. The label's first major sign was Joy Division, whose contract was written and signed in Wilson's own blood, giving the band complete creative control over their own music.

Factory Records rides a roller coaster of successes and failures, thriving after the opening of The Hacienda, an enormously popular rave club, and grasping at straws after such setbacks as the suicide of Joy Division's lead singer. The film portrays these events with a kind of inspired madness, necessary for emerging the audience in this kind of crazy cultural phenomenon.

24 Hour Party People appropriately takes its name from a song by the band Happy Mondays, another Factory alternative rock band. The characters live in a haze of sex, drugs, and most importantly, a vivid new musical age. Winterbottom uses Wilson's role as a television personality to set up the film as an informative news documentary, and it works well. Coogan is the perfect man for the role, a reporter who takes himself too seriously to be taken seriously.

This movie has perfect understanding of its characters, its time, and of course, its music, and is a wonderful, nostalgic, acid-fueled trip to a musical revolution. ****/4


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