24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE(director/writer/editor: Michael Winterbottom; screenwriter: Frank Cottrell Boyce; cinematographer: Robby Muller; editor: Trevor Waite; music: Liz Gallacher; cast: Steve Coogan (Tony Wilson), Chris Coghill (Bez), Paddy Considine (Rob Gretton), Danny Cunningham (Shaun Ryder), Sean Harris (Ian Curtis), Shirley Henderson (Lindsay Wilson), John Simm (Bernard Sumner, New Order lead singer), Andy Serkis (Martin). Leny James (Alan); Runtime: 113; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Andrew Eaton/Gina Carter; United Artists; 2002-UK
“The film’s glaring weakness was that everything was seen through Tony Wilson’s eyes.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

“24 Hour Party People” derives its title from the hot-to-the-touch song by Happy Mondays. The film revolves around Cambridge-educated, Manchester, England’s Granada TV news reporter-turned-punk-rock impresario, the irrepressible, Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan). It’s all about his bountiful love for his city, his huge ego, and the maddening pop music scene he gave a venue for that put Manchester on the rock ‘n’ roll map. Tony never quit his day job on the “idiot box,” so the film is punctuated with him doing such human interest stories throughout — as the one of the duck that herds sheep. Michael Winterbottom’s fun mockumentary chronicles the rise of punk-rock in 1976 and the post-punk scene throughout the 1980s and continues onto 1992 (the closing date for the Hacienda dance club he founded in 1982).

It’s a gaudy world of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll that Winterbottom and his screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce have caught the authentic pulse of, and they were aided by the expert help of the real Tony Wilson. This energy packed film was shot in digital format by the great cinematographer Robby Müller, who has worked with the likes of Wim Wenders and Jim Jarmusch.

The untalented and crass Tony Wilson’s 15 minutes of fame, which was prolonged into years, came as a result of him being among 42 people in Manchester for a 1976 concert of the talented but unknown Sex Pistols. Since Great Britain’s three major telly stations refused to put any punk music on the air, Tony seized the moment and featured the band on his weekly program and since they became such a smash hit he soon was presenting other punk bands at the local Russsell Club.

Soon afterwards Tony and his smooth business adviser friend Alan Erasmus (Lennie James) and the volatile band manager Rob Gretton (Paddy Considine) formed Factory Records, a collective enterprise whose contract was written with Tony’s blood (since no one owned anyone else, this would prevent them from “selling out”). Then followed the opening of the Hacienda nightclub and a continuous search for talent. This group of freaky businessmen would change the face of rock music, and would also see their fortunes rise and fall.

Whatever his faults Tony Wilson has the zeal and temperament for the absurd punk-rock scene, even though he’s pushing middle-age and is a bit older than the acts he presents. He’s also quite glib and is moved from time to time to offer literary quotations and provide biblical allusions to the “Last Supper.” He does that whenever there’s a small crowd and he wants to impress on the listener it’s not the size of the crowd that counts.

Even though in one of Tony’s addresses to the camera he says he’s just a minor character and that the music is the story, this is obviously not so. The film is all about his zany and quixotic personality, and his self-destructive actions that drove his wife Lindsay away from him. He’s pictured as a gigantic figure (actually he’s a gigantic bore and a pain in the ass) who seems to recover fast from all the things that keep going wrong, and is fueled by a passion to make things happen and with him being a major part of it. To his credit, greed doesn’t seem to be one of his vices. He has no problems spending huge sums of money on frivolous things, such as £ 30,000 for a table in his Factory Records office.

After the Hacienda opened it was slow to catch on until the Manchester crowd came to accept it as its very own spot. It was there that Wilson discovered many of the punk rockers who achieved fame such as Happy Mondays, Joy Division (the controversial name was derived from the corps of young women kept in the camp for the pleasure of Nazi officers on leave), and New Order (the new name for Joy Division). The producer was the gifted but eccentric and hard-living Martin Hannett (Andy Serkis). Ian Curtis, the intense lead singer of Joy Division, hung himself in 1980 before a tour of America. The band then had a successful rebirth as New Order under lead singer Bernard Sumner (Simm), despite that not usually happening to a band that loses its lead singer.

Wilson considered Yeats as the greatest poet since Dante. He was the only one who thought that the notorious drug-abuser, Shaun Ryder (Danny Cunningham), the lead singer of Happy Mondays, was the equal of Yeats. Everyone else thought the reckless Shaun was a rowdy, a troublemaker, and terribly stupid. It’s extremely doubtful if Shaun ever heard of Yeats or read him. In any case when Happy Mondays failed to deliver a recording album after being sent to Barbados at a great expense, it contributed to the collapse of Tony and his friends’ musical empire. Hacienda closed despite being packed, as its stoned customers preferred taking the ecstasy drug over spending money at the bar.

All these post-punk characters led colorful lives, and Winterbottom and crew do an admirable job of catching their craziness onscreen. I would imagine that this film is tame in comparison to the real events that took place, but it’s good enough to give those outside that scene a taste of what things were like. Coogan, a British comedian, delivers a winning oily performance, as he’s able to bring self-effacing comedy to his character who is both petty and lovable in the same breathe. The film’s glaring weakness was that everything was seen through Tony Wilson’s eyes.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”