Beginning during the dawn of Factory Records--as Tony Wilson throws himself off a cliff for Granada TV--24 Hour Party People
attempts to capture the essence of the ill-fated label which spawned Joy Division/New Order, The Happy Mondays and the venue that started modern Club Culture, the Hacienda in Manchester. Director Michael Winterbottom takes a very different approach to most music biographies, by making the film self-aware that it is a film and ironically looking at its own role within the history of the "Mad-chester" scene.
Inspired by Wilson's autobiographical musings, the film is narrated in character by Steve Coogan as Wilson. He offers sporadic moments from his life--his "career" as a presenter at Granada and his several marriages--which in turn influence the destructive nature of the label he founded. Coogan's Wilson gives monologues to camera which remind the audience that what they are watching is only his perspective. Yet with Coogan in the title role it's impossible to ignore the similarities between Wilson and Alan Partridge; and although this adds instant humour to the film it also instantly pins Wilson with the comic "Partridge" tag of fated fool. The cinematography, on the other hand, tries faithfully to embody the feeling of the times, from grainy celluloid for the punk-like Joy Division gigs to bright, clean-cut images for the birth of the Hacienda. The film also benefits from an amazing soundtrack and strong supporting characters. It all adds up to a picture that's purely British in character: imbued with irony, down-and-out inspiration, and a touch of the surreal.
On the DVD: 24 Hour Party People comes as a two-disc set, but there really is little need. Disc 1 is loaded with great extras, such as the deleted scenes, commentaries and Mad-chester musings, but the second disc is a little on the dull side. This really could have been just a single great DVD. There's an excellent screen and audio transfer that brings both the music and the lurid colours to life and the disc also offers that all-important function for hardcore clubbers: a hard of hearing option. --Nikki Disney
An ingenious docudrama on the Manchester music scene of the 1980s and 90s. 24 Hour Party People traces the rise and fall of bands like Joy Division, New Order, and Happy Mondays--bands whose success in the U.S. was limited, but whose impact in Europe (and England in particular) was phenomenal. It all centers around the record label that spawned these bands, Factory Records, and its impresario Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan), a man both ludicrous in his self-absorption and brilliant in his willingness to go out on a limb for bands he likes. Coogan, a British comic, gives a remarkable and deeply funny performance that manages to be simultaneously sincere and ironic. The movie communicates what was great about this time without any false majesty--the squalor and disasters are as crucial to this portrait as the wild successes. The soundtrack, of course, is superb. --Bret Fetzer