Wednesday, March 28, 2012

24 Hour Party People

Directed by Michael Winterbottom and written by Frank Cottrell Boyce, 24 Hour Party People is the story about the rise and fall of Factory Records from the late 1970s to the early 1990s told by its founder in a Granada TV reporter named Tony Wilson. The film explores Wilson’s desire to showcase something new in the advent of punk as he would launch the careers of acts Joy Division/New Order and the Happy Mondays all hailing from the city of Manchester. Starring Steve Coogan, Shirley Henderson, Lennie James, Paddy Considine, Danny Cunningham, Paul Popplewell, Sean Harris, and Andy Serkis. 24 Hour Party People is a whimsical yet truly original docu-drama from Michael Winterbottom.

Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan) is an unhappy reporter for Granada TV as he attends a local concert with his wife Lindsay (Shirley Henderson) and friend Alan Erasmus (Lennie James) where playing at the show were the Sex Pistols. Along with many soon-to-be-famous figures attending this legendary concert, Wilson creates a show called So It Goes that becomes a hit in Manchester as it explored this new wave of artists emerging from the punk scene. Tony decides to end the show in order to create a showcase for local bands as it would include Joy Division managed by Rob Gretton (Paddy Considine). Though Tony would later have a liasons with a couple of hookers, Lindsay would in turn have sex with the Buzzcocks’ Howard Devoto (Martin Hancock). With the help of Erasmus and Gretton, Tony decides to form his own label called Factory Records as he signs Joy Division to the label.

Joy Division becomes a success, with the help of its troubled producer Martin Hannett (Andy Serkis), but the health issues of its singer Ian Curtis (Sean Harris) nearly derails everything as a tour to the U.S. is about to happen. Instead, Curtis’ suicide would end things as Lindsay leaves Tony who forges ahead with the label’s next venture in a club called the Hacienda. With Hannett gone from the Factory Records label and Tony unsure about the label’s future as well as the future of the Hacienda. Joy Division is revived as New Order where their song Blue Monday becomes a hit despite the expensive packaging by Peter Saville (Enzo Cilenti). Then a new local band emerged in the mid-1980s called the Happy Mondays would arrive with a new sound as Tony signs them to the label.

With Hannett returning to produce the Mondays’ second album Bummed, a new culture was emerging as Manchester became the capital of cool while the local music scene became massive. The Hacienda becomes the place to party as Tony becomes enamored with success and gains a new girlfriend in beauty queen Yvette Livesey (Kate Magowan). Yet, things would eventually fall apart due to financial mismanagement, Martin Hannett’s death, and the drug use of Happy Mondays’ vocalist Shaun Ryder (Danny Cunningham). All of this would force Tony to do something that would be against everything he stood for.

Most music bio-pics or stories about a certain music scene/time period often deviates to certain formulas. What made this film stand out from the rest is the fact that it doesn’t play by the rules. Instead, the fourth wall is often broken by its protagonist Tony Wilson as he would comment on everything that is happening in this 16-year period of success and failure. At one point, the real Tony Wilson appears directing a TV show as its doppelganger would point him out to emphasize the absurdity of this film. While Wilson may claim that he’s just a supporting character in this film as it’s about the music and the men who made that music. There is clearly no doubt that he is the most interesting person in that story.

Frank Cottrell Boyce creates a screenplay that plays with the rise-and-fall formula by doing the one thing most music bio-pics or docu-dramas often do which is to take dramatic liberties with the real story. It’s something that is frowned upon by music critics and historians who feel that it takes away from the real story. What Bryce does is that he plays up to these exaggerations by having the audience be aware that some of the moments that is shown on screen is an exaggeration. One key scene is where Tony catches his wife Lindsay having sex with Howard Devoto as there’s a janitor stating “I don’t remember any of this happening”. That person is the real Howard Devoto as Tony would later admit that it never happened but Tony would counter that by stating that he’s sticking to the legend of what happened.

It’s the exaggerations, breaking the fourth wall, and not playing by the rules that allows the story to be more than just what it is expected in its genre. Boyce’s script is filled with lots of humor as well as pretty accurate portrayals of the individuals who would help contribute to the history of British popular music. Ian Curtis is portrayed as a troubled genius. Shaun Ryder is portrayed as a drug-addicted writer that Tony claims is the greatest Poet since Yeats. Rob Gretton is portrayed as a short-tempered man who is willing to get into fights with everyone. Peter Saville is known as a guy who creates these great posters and art work yet would often miss the deadline. Then there’s Tony Wilson who is portrayed as many characters would often call him. A twat. Yet, it’s a very comical character of a man whose principle about giving the artist the freedom to fuck off while just wanting a fair share of whatever profits are made.

Michael Winterbottom’s direction is definitely filled with style as he creates a film that plays up to its off-the-wall story. Shooting on location in Manchester, Winterbottom aims for the authenticity of that city as he would also create a look that is very engaging and vibrant. Notably as all of it shot on digital with elements of grain to heighten the look of the different periods that is displayed in the film. Featuring re-creations of the TV programs that Tony Wilson hosted inter-cut with actual archival footage of those programs. Winterbottom gets a chance to re-create a period in time that is never going to be replicated.

Another key element of Winterbottom’s direction is the comedy as Winterbottom opens the film with Tony Wilson reporting about hang gliding that is presented with Wilson acting like a moron. A lot of the humor is mostly improvised in order to not go for cheap gags while some of it is quite dark. The scene where Shaun Ryder meets Bez (Chris Coghill) for the first time via UFO is among one of the film’s most surreal moments as well as another scene involving Shaun and his brother Paul (Paul Popplewell) who throw bread to pigeons as if it was a war film. The overall work that Winterbottom does is truly phenomenal in terms of its emphasis to re-create a period in time and tell it with great humor.

Cinematographer Robby Mueller does an excellent job with the film‘s grainy digital photography to play up the grimy look of the 1970s and 1980s for its exteriors to the more colorful lighting set-ups in the Hacienda nightclub scenes along with black-and-white shots for some of the musical performances. Editor Trevor Waite does an amazing job with the film’s editing in creating unconventional rhythms for the film’s pacing while utilizing stylish cuts for some of the film’s transition and music scenes. Production designer Mark Tildesley, along with set decorator Lucy Howe and art director Paul Cripps, does great work in the re-creation of the Hacienda club for its interiors as well as the other club in the late 1970s where Tony presented the bands of Manchester.

Costume designers Stephen Noble and Natalie Ward do fantastic work with the costumes made from the bellbottoms of the 1970s to the more baggy clothing of the late 80s/early 90s. Makeup designers Janita Doyle and Jill Sweeney do wonderful work with the hair and makeup design for some of the characters, notably the Martin Hannett character, to emphasize the changing times throughout the film. Sound editor Zane Hayward does amazing work with the sound pieces such as the atmosphere of the Hacienda nightclub to the musical performances that occur in the late 70s set pieces.

Music supervisors Liz Gallacher and Pete Tong create a truly phenomenal soundtrack from start to finish that truly explores the best of what the music scene had to offer from 1976 to the early 90s. With music ranging from punk, house music, Madchester, post-punk, and new wave. It’s a truly intoxicating soundtrack to listen to as it features music from the Sex Pistols, the Durutti Column, A Certain Ratio, Joy Division/New Order, the Happy Mondays, 808 State, the Clash, A Guy Named Gerald, the Buzzcocks, the Jam, and many others. It’s definitely one of the great film soundtracks of the last decade.

The casting by Wendy Brazington does a truly outstanding job with assembling the film’s cast and cameos that appear for this film. Among those making cameos are the real Tony Wilson as a TV director, Happy Mondays bassist Paul Ryder as a drug dealer, Stone Roses bassist Mani, Mark E. Smith of the Fall, Clint Boon of Inspiral Carpets, Vini Reilly in a very brief cameo, Keith Allen as London Records executive Roger Ames, Kenny Baker of Star Wars as a zookeeper, Martin Hancock as Howard Devoto, DJ Mike Pickering, Happy Mondays backing vocalist Rowetta, and Howard Devoto as the janitor who calls out on his supposed tryst with Lindsay Wilson. Notable small appearances include Simon Pegg as a guard, Rob Brydon as a journalist, Peter Kay as club owner Don Tonay, Kate Magowan as Tony Wilson’s third wife Yvette, Dave Gorman as local icon John the Postman, and Enzo Cilenti as the always late graphic designer Peter Saville.

Playing the members of Joy Division/New Order, John Simm, Ralf Little, and Tim Horrocks are very good in their respective roles of Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, and Stephen Morris while Sean Harris gives a very haunting performance as Ian Curtis. In the part of the members of the Happy Mondays, Paul Popplewell and Chris Coghill are funny in their respective roles as Paul Ryder and Bez while Danny Cunningham is hilarious as drug-out sleaze-bag Shaun Ryder. Shirley Henderson is really good as Tony’s first wife Lindsay while Lennie James is terrific as Factory Records co-founder Alan Erasmus.

The film’s best supporting performances go to both Andy Serkis and Paddy Considine in their respective roles as producer Martin Hannett and Joy Division/New Order manager Rob Gretton. Serkis brings a very dark yet comical performance as the very brash Martin Hannett who serves as a fellow troublemaking confidant to the Mondays. Considine brings a wonderful sense of humor to the role as the short-tempered Gretton who is always ready to beat someone up and isn’t afraid to say anything. Finally, there’s Steve Coogan in a truly marvelous performance as the late Tony Wilson. Coogan brings a great sense of wit and swagger to a man that is kind of an idiot while proving to be an ambitious fuck-up. It’s definitely the best performance that Coogan has given in his career.

24 Hour Party People is a truly fun yet ravishing musical docu-drama from Michael Winterbottom. Thanks in part to a truly brilliant ensemble cast led by Steve Coogan along with Frank Cottrell Boyce’s whimsical screenplay. It is definitely one of the great films about a piece of musical history that explores the world that would help shape the British indie scene. Particularly as the film serves as a great introduction to Madchester, punk, post-punk, and house music thanks in part to a top-notch soundtrack. In the end, 24 Hour Party People is an extraordinary film from Michael Winterbottom.

Michael Winterbottom Films: (Rosie the Great) - (Forget About Me) - (Under the Sun) - (Love Lies Bleeding) - (Family (1993 TV film)) - (Butterfly Kiss) - (Go Now) - (Jude) - Welcome to Sarajevo - I Want You - (With or Without You (1998 film)) - Wonderland (1999 film) - The Claim - In This World - Code 46 - 9 Songs - Tristram Shandy: A Cock & Bull Story - The Road to Guantanamo - A Mighty Heart - Genova - The Shock Doctrine (2009 film) - The Killer Inside Me - The Trip (2010 film) - (Trishna) - (Everyday) - The Look of Love - (The Trip to Italy) - (The Face of An Angel)

© thevoid99 2012


Alex Withrow said...

I love Winterbottom and I love Coogan, but, for whatever reason, I have yet to check this out. Thanks for the reminder - I'll read your review after I watch it.

thevoid99 said...

It's definitely one of the best films ever made in my opinion. Particularly on a music scene that is very foreign to Americans and told in a very unconventional fashion.

It will get you to pick up some Happy Mondays albums.

Chip Lary said...

Good review. I saw this last fall when I was doing my Movies by the Numbers category and I enjoyed it quite a bit. I agree that the breaking of the fourth wall was a good aspect of the film. I also am old enough to remember some of those 80s songs. I had a college roommate who was a huge Joy Division/New Order fan and he had all their music. If you are interested, this was the review I wrote:

thevoid99 said...

@Chip-Thank you. I saw the film back in 2002 as it was the first time I went to see an arthouse movie that was not near my home. Gas was cheaper back then and I wanted to see it because I'm a big fan of Joy Division. If it wasn't for that film, I wouldn't have opened my doors more for the Happy Mondays and all of that Madchester stuff including the GREATEST ALBUM OF ALL-TIME!!! The Stones Roses debut album.

I will definitely read your review, right now.

Diana said...

I saw Control and a lot of people recommended this movie, I should see it soon! Great review, sounds good!

thevoid99 said...

@Diana-It is the better film because it doesn't delve into the conventions of a bio-pic. It's much more creative than that. Plus, the performance in this film for some of the people in this story are better than the ones in Control.