24 Hour Party People FILM review

Film / Video Reviews
24 Hour Party People FILM review
Aug 9, 2002, 21:12

24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE directed by Michael Winterbottom; United Artists Films, 2002

When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

Tony Wilson is not only conscious of John Ford's dictum, he's living proof of it. Wilson, the center of attention in Michael Winterbottom's brilliant ode to the Manchester music scene, is a megalomaniac—the kind we rarely see on screen. He sees the future of music. He believes he can grow immaculate flowers in the dustbins of dreary Manchester, England. He even sees God, in his own image, of course. But Wilson, played brilliantly by Steve Coogan, is also charming, witty and self-effacing enough to get away with it, and to make 24 Hour Party People an enchanting legend of a dreamer who tries to bring water to the desert.

Wilson is a real person. In the 1970s, he worked as a TV broadcaster in Manchester doing zany human-interest profiles on all sorts of subjects: everything from a midget elephant trainer to an elderly man who built the city's first canals in the 19th century, but could barely remember how he did it. In one segment, Wilson even went hang gliding. He flew high and crashed hard, like Icarus. “Remember that,” Wilson says, in one of many scenes in which he steps out of the film to confess to or address the camera. Then, as if on cue, Wilson embarks on his own crash-and-burn story.

It begins in 1976, when the Sex Pistols played their first show in Manchester in front of 42 people. But, then again, “How many people were at the murder of Julius Caesar? Five,” says Wilson. “The smaller the attendance, the bigger the history.”

For much of 24 Hour Party People, you get the feeling that history is being made and made up on the spot.

These are the facts: Wilson formed Factory Records, the label that spawned seminal acts such as Joy Division, New Order and Happy Mondays. He pioneered the early 80s Manchester rave scene via his club, The Hacienda. The bar ultimately tanked: No one drank; they did Ecstasy instead.

Unlike most music films, though, 24 Hour Party People is less concerned with facts than the story that connects them. Winterbottom is deft at contrasting the dreariness of Manchester with the lofty, often out-of-touch schemes of his colorful characters. He also lets Coogan steal the show. With his floppy, long hair, Coogan reprises Wilson as a postmodern Oscar Wilde. In one of the film's most hilarious scenes, Wilson starts talking about his second wife, out of the blue, after a series of megalomaniacal musings. He then proceeds to cut himself off. “This is not a film about me,” says Wilson. “I'm just a minor character. This is a film about music.”

Actually it's a film about both: a legend in his own mind who imposed his legend on the music world. In the process, he made it fact and made some legendary music.

-John Petkovic

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