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Posts Tagged ‘24 Hour Party People’

From the Hootoo archive. Originally published April 18th 2002:

Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People is the vaguely true story of 15 years in the strange double life of Anthony Wilson, by day a local TV news reporter, by night a self-declared visionary pop impressario and music business mastermind, a man who played a crucial role in the rise of club culture (and drug culture), a man fundamental to the regeneration of Manchester, the man who gave the world Factory Records, the Hacienda nightclub, New Order, and the Happy Mondays.

In the film Wilson is portrayed by the comedian Steve Coogan, a shrewd choice as Wilson’s image – a pretentious, middle-class faux-intellectual prat surrounded by working-class pop warriors – isn’t too far removed from that of Coogan’s most famous creation, Alan Partridge. Coogan plays the image, and neither he nor the script try particularly hard to uncover the real man. The film openly admits to being more interested in legend than truth – at one point Wilson discovers his wife (Shirley Henderson) in flagrante with Howard Devoto of the Buzzcocks, at which point the real Devoto pops up and makes it absolutely clear he doesn’t remember this actually happening. It’s a neat post-post-modern moment, but this kind of deliberate, ironic distancing means that serious events such as the suicide of singer Ian Curtis (played by Sean Harris) lack any real emotional impact.

It’s played mostly for laughs anyway, by Coogan and other TV comics like John Thomson, Peter Kaye, and Keith Allen. Obviously some impersonation of quite famous people is required, with variable results: John Simm is spookily convincing as Barney Sumner, but the guys playing the Happy Mondays have only a fraction of the charisma of the real Shaun and Bez, and Ralph Little is simply too young-looking and un-hairy to play Peter Hook. There are cameos from survivors of the scene, too: the real Tony Wilson, Horse from the Mondays, Mani from the Stone Roses, Clint Boone from the Inspiral Carpets, and many more.

It’s all shot on digital video (which if nothing else allows archive concert footage to be edited in less incongruously) and Winterbottom’s direction is suitably sardonic and arch. But there are no real insights into the 80s Manchester scene, and probably not much to attract those who aren’t already into this kind of music. It’s really not bad at all, but for a film with this kind of raw material to work with, the fact that in the end 24 Hour Party People is only not bad and quite amusing is in its own way a significant criticism. Fantastic soundtrack, though.

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