24 Hour Party People: the unbelievably true story of one man, one movement, the music and madness that was Manchester.
Following from last week's screening of Velvet Goldmine, 24 Hour Party People departs from the flamboyant, sexually ambiguous side of glam rock in the 1980s and explores the fun, raucous ride that was the Manchester Movement. In one of the earlier scenes of the latter, posters of Pink Floyd and David Bowie are hastily ripped off a wall — a powerful metaphor signifying the compelling change that was happening during that time.
Intelligent, engaging, and teeming with youth and energy, the sometimes frantic narrative (shot in mockumentary style) was just mind-blowing in the true sense of the word. I appreciated how post-modern and fragmented it was (and perhaps Tony Wilson, who prefers to be "post-modern before it's fashionable" would feel the same way as I do). I really loved how the film was interspersed with genuine concert footage …
… such as clips of the famous Sex Pistols gig at the Lesser Free Trade Hall.
And those scenes of the bands playing in dark, grimy venues — complete with the audience wildly dancing along to the music, with drugs and alcohol fueling their veins — were just phenomenal. Unforgettable scenes include the Joy Division gig attended by moonstomping, sieg-heiling skinheads, and adolescents tripping on crateloads of drugs at the Hacienda.
Speaking of the Hacienda, here is some actual footage of the club back in its heyday …
… and a tour of its interiors back in 1997. Kick-ass, I must say.
I think the film's visuals very much captured the essence of that point in time when, against the backdrop of bleak 1976 Manchester, the youth were beginning to assert themselves — and to some extent, rebel — against the dominant social order, resulting in a pivotal (yet in some ways, anarchic and downright mad) musical revolution of sorts. There was just something about the raw grittiness and intense vibrance of these clips that was so genuine and evocative of the spirit of punk and new wave youth culture. Add to this verisimilitude the many cameo appearances by the ghosts of music's past, such as Vini Reilly of the Durutti Column and Clint Boon — definitely a wet dream for any music fanatic. (It's a pity though that a certain incredible British band were mentioned only in passing.)
The story arc I particularly enjoyed from the mockumentary was the rapid rise and (just as rapid) fall of Joy Division. (The band borrows its name from the Joy Divisions, or groups of Jewish women who were kept as prostitutes in Nazi concentration camps. The plot of House of Dolls, a 1955 novella by Ka-tzetnik 135633, is heavily centered around this). Sean Harris does a brilliant depiction of the highly talented but troubled and erratic lead singer Ian Curtis, whom Tony Wilson hails in the film as the musical equivalent of Che Guevara. Everything from his awkwardness to his bizarre dancing style (which I thought was incredibly spot-on) felt so real that it was almost eerie and heart-breaking.
Isn't the resemblance just so uncanny?
And just to see how the rest of the actors measure up,
here's a comparison of the Joy Division boys and their 24 Hour Party People selves.
Members of Joy Division remember Ian Curtis' infamous dead fly dance.
And this is Joy Division's Atmosphere, the song that played after the death of Ian Curtis in the film.
The official trailer for yet another film about the rise and fall of Joy Division.
Who does the better Ian Curtis portrayal? You be the judge.
And finally, the original video of Love Will Tear Us Apart, for all you Joy Division fans.
And of course, there is Tony Wilson, the pivotal character who also happens to be a walking contradiction of sorts. While he is a cheesy local TV reporter delivering hilarious segments of news (some of which bordering on the downright absurd, like that midget who bathed elephants), he is also a pompous, Cambridge-educated journalist who likes to cling to his lofty dreams of being taken seriously in his chosen profession. (Ironically, I must say, while he would tell his producers to "fuck off" after every embarrassing news segment he'd deliver, he would be portrayed a few scenes after with a report even more bizarre than what he had to begin with. In my head, if he was so adamant about telling people to fuck off, I'd imagine he'd have walked off the set many news segments ago — and I really wonder why he hasn't.) And let's not forget that shady life of his as a con man, womanizer, and philandering drug addict. Fast-talking, cunning, and manipulative, he is master of turning virtually unknown bands into superstars (with their success perhaps rivaling only that of The Beatles who had emerged from Liverpool seventeen years earlier).
I particularly love how Tony weaves in and out of the story through alternating news segments and biographical events, engaging and disengaging himself from his world. Using dialogue addressed directly to the viewers, he introduces characters, reveals future plot twists, cracks jokes, delivers the news — all in a dry, devil-may-care attitude. The technique is a wonderful, surreal addition to the film's mockumentary format, making the excessive lifestyle of rock and roll very vibrant, real, and raw. It's delightfully postmodern with fragmented nature, and so is Tony with all his contradictions (or should I say, tendencies towards hybridity?). Call me crazy but I would love to hang out with that guy sometime — you know, share a conversation about our favorite bands over spiked cookies and beer. That's how much I've fallen in love with that cunt. That cunt who had done something so incredibly huge for music history, but was noble enough to sit back and let it all go.
Meet the real man who changed the world. (His hair isn't that bad, really.)
Despite the enormous popularity and cultural impact of Factory Records or the Hacienda, he never made a fortune.
And I believe I shouldn't forget to mention this — the film made me think of a few of things from my Intro to Media Studies class, particularly with references to post-modernism, avante garde, and the culture industry. We see Tony always on the outlook for provocative sounds that the world had yet to hear, but as his avante garde discoveries were slowly incorporated into pop culture, there was a constant need to find something new — to move ahead of the prevailing culture that was menacingly sneaking up from behind. Yet after a dizzying string of raucous scenes portraying the grand lifestyle of money, drugs, sex, and alcohol, the narrative eventually collapses, in true post-modern fashion.
Or should I instead say, Boethius' wheel finally casts Tony and his mad crew into the depths?
Regardless of my choice of terminology, the culture industry finally takes over, swallowing whole Tony Wilson, Factory Records, and the Hacienda. They become victims of their own excesses, of their stupid business moves. All that remains are grand, drug-induced delusions — and to some extent — mere ghostly images of the madness that once was. But they don't seem even the least depressed about it. In fact, there seems to be something so grand and heroic about them watching the entire Manchester Movement go down in flames.
And just as a side note, Tony Wilson regards Shaun Ryder of the Happy Mondays as the greatest poet since Yeats. I think it's completely absurd to compare Kinky Afro to Sailing to Byzantium, but it was a hilarious addition to the film, nonetheless.
Son, I'm thirty,
I only went with your mother 'cause she's dirty,
And I don't have a decent bone in me.
What you get is just what you see, yeah!
The movie most probably isn't a completely faithful to what had really happened in those days — and I would definitely bet my lifetime savings on that — but with its terrific blend of fact and fiction, of dry wit and sincere poignancy, it was definitely an exhilarating, visceral, and genuinely nostalgic roller coaster ride. As the adage by John Ford goes,
"When forced to pick between truth and legend, print the legend."
24 Hour Party People does precisely that.
Some interesting film reviews you might want to read:
(c) 2009; the girl with kaleidoscope eyes (070093)
Rock Music: Beyond the Grit
24 Hour Party People is a mockumentary of the rock music scene of Manchester in the '80s. From the infamous concert of the Sex Pistols at the Lesser Free Trade Hall (see above post), the film tracks the emergence of a new music scene comprised of bands such as Joy Division, New Order, A Certain Ratio, and the Happy Mondays. In many scenes throughout the film, director Michael Winterbottom merges authentic and recreated footage, not to mention factual and legendary tales, to blur the line between what is real and what is fancy. The splicing of actual concert footage of the Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks, and Siouxsie and the Banshees gives the film the gritty, realistic tone that I felt was lacking in the first film we viewed, Velvet Goldmine. The shaky camera technique made me feel as if I were really part of the small pogo-ing group at the beginning or the large raving mob at the end. This grittiness, for me, more accurately conveys the experience of rock music for a fan as opposed to the polished, music-video-like scenes in Velvet Goldmine that came off as more of a parody of actual glam rock (which, we discover in that film, is not very glamorous at all). I think 24 Hour Party People is closer to This is Spinal Tap, another mockumentary about a fictional rock band. While 24 Hour was a 2002 film set in the '80s, Spinal Tap was a 1984 film set in the '70s. Both are comedic commentaries on the role of a specific rock genre in society, and both employ reflexive techniques such as mocking its own medium and breaking the fourth wall. But while 24 Hour is based on real bands, the film itself is not to be taken as truth; it is essentially a love letter to a notion of rock music – not so much a portrayal of how things were, but how we'd like to remember them to be.
Trailer for a similar film, the 1984 mockumentary This is Spinal Tap about a fake heavy metal band
(note the Tony Wilson-esque literary reference to Hemmingway at the end)
When discussing 24 Hour, it is impossible not to mention the portrayal of Joy Division, which is the main focus of the whole first half of the film. It is also inevitable that it will be compared with Anton Corbijn's 2007 film Control. Corbijn was a contemporary of the band and he, in fact, directed the "Atmosphere" music video that plays in 24 Hour after frontman Ian Curtis's death. While Control is for the most part considered to be biographical, Stephen Morris (drummer of Joy Division) had this to say about the film: "None of it's true really. It's sort of true, but you have to take liberties when you're making a film because the truth is too boring." This goes for the making of 24 Hour as well, which is less of a biopic of the subjects and more of a nostalgic tribute to the Manchester Movement.
A fanvid juxtaposing Sean Harris (24 Hour) and Sam Riley's (Control) portrayal of Ian Curtis
We are guided through the course of the film by Tony Wilson (played by Steve Coogan), a real life music mogul who helped bring about the Manchester Movement. He is a pretentious sophisticate who likes to brag about his status as a "serious fucking journalist," yet covers nothing but fluff pieces on his news show. He frequently quotes literature and philosophy, making things more serious and profound than they actually are. As he walks us through the birth and aftermath of post-punk, he casually using religious imagery to compare the small audience at the Sex Pistols' concert to the Last Supper, saying that the 42 people in attendance would later "go out and perform wondrous deeds." He is aware of the audience and is seemingly omniscient to what's going on, occasionally dropping comments on how things really happened and how the real people were involved in the making of the film. He continually orchestrates the way events are portrayed on film as if he is the director, or a god. True enough, at the end of the film, he has a drug-induced hallucination of God – in his own image and likeness.
Steve Coogan with the real Tony Wilson in 2002
During Tony Wilson's encounter with "God" (see above post), a band is mentioned in passing as one that Factory Records should have signed. This brief mention of my all-time favorite band, The Smiths, surprised me given the history of the band and its rejection of commercial music standards. This brings me to my main points about the film: its portrayal of the Manchester Movement, and its message about artists and their creations. The Smiths were an independent band formed in Manchester in 1982, the same year the Hacienda opened. While the Hacienda became more and more popular among young people, it evolved from a small gathering of indie musicians into the rave culture that emerged in the late ‘80s (in the film, Wilson describes this shift in music genres as a "double helix"). The Smiths actually played at the Hacienda in its early years, but generally rejected the kind of dance music that was becoming more popular at the time. In the film, amidst a mad rave crowd in the club, Wilson looks from the crowd to the camera and points out, "They're applauding the DJ. Not the music, not the musician, not the creator… but the medium." This for me is the most important scene of the film, because it shows how all art (whether music, film, or otherwise) runs the risk of being commoditized by its industry. From Rock and Roll to Glam to Punk to New Wave, each music movement has its time and place. Like the Boethian Wheel, they rise and fall with the change of society and culture, fated to either live on in the hearts of fans or fade away as mere players in a fad past its prime.
The character of Tony Wilson at the Hacienda, talking about rave and the "Beatification of the Beat"
In the advent of the rave culture, music had changed drastically and was now even more manufactured than ever. This superficiality is characteristic of rock music in general and the way all performance art is partly dependent on the meaning given to it by its audience. Rumor has it that The Smiths walked away from Factory's advances in an effort to disassociate themselves from the other bands of the label. I personally think that this rejection of the newly budding rave genre is reflected in the song "Panic" (1986) when frontman Morrissey sings: "Hang the blessed DJ because the music that they constantly play says nothing to me about my life" (FYI: In the DVD, there is a deleted scene where a young man plays the part of Morrissey. The real Morrissey had The Smiths songs removed from the film, so this was probably why this scene was deleted, as well). The bands under Factory Records had no official contract so that they would be guaranteed creative freedom over their art. But what good is this freedom if the artist is overshadowed by his art? Does meaning come from the creator, the creation, or the audiences that receive it? Is the author really dead? 24 Hour Party People answers none of these questions, but lets the viewers decide what to take from the film.
Tony Wilson claims that the audience shouldn't dwell too much on the drama of his personal life because "This film is about the music and the people who made the music." This is contradicted by the fact that the whole film is about himself and his "heroic flaw [of] excessive civic pride" in Manchester. It was not about the tunes, but about the times that he helped create. The film boasts of the legends of post-punk and new wave, and like all legends of creation, it is partially based on fact. But as Tony Wilson (mis)quotes John Ford, "When you have to choose between the truth and the legend, print the legend." Whatever the real Tony Wilson's intentions were in fueling the post-punk movement (or even Michael Winterbottom's intentions in creating this film, for that matter), we as audience members ultimately judge the worth of their creations. It is obvious that both artists are in love with rock music, and this passion is probably the most real thing that we get off the screen. As Roger Ebert says in his review of the film, "The movie works so well because it evokes genuine, not manufactured, nostalgia." But these two men are nevertheless part of an industry whose goal is to attract audiences to an art form. Wilson knew it and became a music legend. Winterbottom knows it and is gradually becoming a film legend in his own right.
Submitted by cherrycokejunkie (Student ID #061086)
"The Genius, the Poet and the TWAT"
24 Hour Party People's soundtrack cover sleeve features the three principle characters in the film: Ian Curtis as the "Genius", Shaun Ryder as the "Poet" and Tony Wilson as the "Twat" and rightly so!
Tony Wilson, excellently portrayed by Steve Coogan is, according to the previous posts on this page, a notion of how we want to remember the characters that played real parts in the 70's explosion of punk rock music in Britain, specifically Manchester.
Tony Wilson says in the film that "if you were to choose between truth and the legend, better pick the legend". The film itself plays along these lines: portraying realistically, almost journalistically (some parts of the film were shot with Wilson introducing bands in his show, Granada), and almost fantastically the events that transpired in the truth-legend lore of the Madchester era.
Two groups surface as the main focus of Tony Wilson's desire to become the biggest music record label manager: Joy Division and the Happy Mondays. Almost completely opposities of each other, Tony Wilson becomes the common denominator in the interplay of music, truths and legends.
He presents the creation of Joy Division as an event triggered by the Sex Pistols' gig. Wilson also presents the characters of the film: Martin Hannett, the members of A Certain Ratio, members of the Durutti Column etc., but in and through his interactions with these bands and personalities, why is his personality the one the film tries to make more and more known to us?
Joy Division's common, archetypal descriptions often include: dark, angry, harmonic, sound-with-space, different, energized by Ian Curtis' anguish and passion. After Curtis's suicide, Wilson then goads the town-crier to here ye here ye Ian Curtis' death, like a tribute, and then before his wake, he "consoles" and "reinforms" the viewers, who if by chance are fans of Joy Division, that certain repetitive notions about Curtis' death might not be so "legendary" after all, that he is just a normal person who was unlucky to have problems at the age of 23. But, what remains truth and legend is Joy Division's influence and Curtis' genius, so to speak.
The Happy Mondays were a different breed altogether. Portrayed as the outcome of the sudden visit of a space-craft to shabby Manchester revealing the "alien" origins of Bez, and the introduction of the Ryders as bird-killers starts a legendary tale of the originators of rave music. Coupled with dance music, punk riffs and electronic disco sounds, the Happy Mondays were as exotic as any punk band in Madchester. Taking their song as the eponymous title of the film, the band's "poetic" value, the ecstasy-infused, working class ramblings of Shaun Ryder and co., serve as truth, while their escapades in Trinidad and Tobago and the tape-hostage situation are all protrayals of "legendary" stories reinforcing the truth-myths of the persona of the Happy Mondays as a group.
But really, the driving force for all of this is the TWAT, Tony Wilson, who views himself as God, in his image and likeness. If you've watched Tropic Thunder, where Steve Coogan plays a British director of an American film, he mentions that "the helicopter is God, and I am Jesus Christ, his son". In my opinion, this allusion to Coogan's portrayal of a god in 24 Hour Party People increase Coogan's own truth and mythic "legend", a reflexive cross-over from two films from different genres. Is he really god-like, or is he just a person with swagger enough to influence a generation of musical movements? Maybe both.
-submitted by 062867
The film 24 Hour Party People by Michael Winterbottom, in the character of Tony Wilson, breaks this “fourth wall.” In fact, the appeal of the film is that this character, in all his arrogance, self-importance, pride and egotism, speaks to his audience. He expresses his thoughts and narrations to the audience as if they were his conscience. To the other characters in the film, he is pompous, but to the audience, he is a friend. Tony Wilson is friendly only because he personally, yet impersonally, talks to us. Personally because it's as if he is talking to you and only you; impersonally because we have to remember that this is a film — and an illusion — and a character on film will never be able to talk to you personally. As an audience member, you feel special that the star of the show is talking to you—you of all people. It seems as if he is only entertaining you. He flatters you into liking him by using this technique. By his charm and wit, you are not a distant being from the story happening on screen, you are a part of it.
This emphasizes the power of film. There was a specific quote in the film during the scene when the Hacienda was filled with customers, who were dancing and getting intoxicated. Tony Wilson narrates, “And tonight something equally epoch-making is taking place. See? They're applauding the DJ. Not the music, not the musician, not the creator, but the medium.” In this case, film is the medium. It is the manner by which this illusion takes place right in front of our eyes. It is an illusion because it may have been true at some point in the past, but it is a mere imitation when it is on screen. It is a perception of reality that is erroneous. It fools you for those hours into thinking that what you saw was real—and you applaud the film after watching it for fooling you well enough that you were submerged into that world.
My favorite thing about this film, besides the soundtrack (or score), is the dialogue. This film has so many memorable quotes that might as well be on the rock bible (if there were any). One of the quotes i like is when Tony Wilson says, "Jazz is the last refuge of the untalented. Jazz musicians enjoy themselves more than anyone listening to them does." It is such a generalization that discusses the disparity among lovers of different genres. Some may love jazz, but only a select people do; and Tony Wilson just blurts out this line that is, more often than not, true. He didn't mean it as an insult, he was just saying it as something he deems is true.
Another favorite quote of mine is not actually something i can quote here. It is the contract on the wall of the office in factory records. When another record company offered to buy Factory Records, it could not because Factory Records does not officially own any bands. I thought this was a genius idea because in order for them not to literally and figuratively "sell out," they must not be able to own any bands which they can sell. They give their bands (which aren't really their bands) money to create a record, but they do not have a say in the record that is made because they do not technically own the band. Instead, they give the band total creative control. This proves that not only is Tony Wilson passionate about the music, he is willing to put his money at stake in order to give the band freedom in creating the music they want. This ultimately led to the downfall of Factory Records but what was admirable was that Tony Wilson was able to stand his ground on the music scene.
-submitted by 060164