24 Hour Party People > Curzon Soho notes

Dir - Michael Winterbottom (UK, 2002)
Starring - Steve Coogan, John Simm, Rob Brydon, Paddy Considine

24 Hour Party People is an accomplished, affectionate and thoroughly entertaining,account of the Manchester music scene beginning with The Sex Pistols' first gig in the city in 1976 and ending with the closure of the Hacienda in 1992. Out of a depressed city and out of the wasteland of early '70s pop music rose an energetic, angry, proud and euphoric music scene which evolved and snowballed overiwo decades. Somewhere between telling a raw story of chaos and pragmatism and celebrating the same story's mythification through our pop collective memory, this film transports you through time and space.

In this colourful, emotionally charged journey through bygone eras you will encounter iconic landmarks: the dark, post-punk pioneers Joy Division; the latter's reincarnation as godfathers of dance music New Order; The Happy Mondays, vanguards of the Madchester cult; and the birth of acid house at the Hagienda, a venue which was not only a legend but an original of its kind.

At the heart of it all was Factory Records, a romantic independent label which shunned formalities such as contracts and upheld total artistic freedom as the absolute value. Factory's vision was ultimately unsustainable when faced with the realities of business. After incurring insurmountable debts and losing the Hacienda to gang violence the label went into receivership in 1992, the year acid house died. The rise and fall of Factory Records depicted in this film is a classic tale of the co-operative ideal and the ethos of freedom corrupted by human nature. Factory's achievement in turning Manchester into an era-defining epicentre of music despite overthrowing the conventions and common sense of business, or in part because of it, is the stuff of legends.

Among the movers and shakers was one Anthony Wilson, co-founder of Factory Records and the Hagienda. He straddled a curious dual identity as an intellectual champion of an underground music scene and cheesy local news reporter. The mock-documentary style film is narrated by Anthony Wilson (Steve Coogan) in the manner of one of his human interest pieces on Granada TV. As an Alan Partrige-esque Wilson waxes lyrical anecdotes about destructive genius, hedonistic excess and history in the making we find ourselves asking: what really happened and what is larger than-life?

However there are moments in the film which remind us that ultimately this is a film about the music itself, that it's only the music that really matters at the end of the day. The scene where the melancholy bass line of Joy Division's She's Lost Control floats over the yellowlight mosaic of Manchester at night highlights the genuinely inspired creativity that drove the whole scene - the music was the 5oul of the city and the city was the soul of the music.

The casting is superb throughout and the actors' likeness to real life figures is striking. The musicians' demeanour on stage, the way they play their instruments, their dress and their general aura come impressively close to the real thing. There is a strange effect in well known contemporary actors playing, well-known performers half a generation ago, and playing them very convincingly too. Accuracy was paramount in the making of this film and this extends beyond the characteristics of the people to the venues and settings - the Hacienda was painstakingly recreated to the last detail, the impact of which reportedly reduced Anthony Wilson to tears. The boundaries between reality and its re-creation, fact and legend, past and present become blurred.

There is an extensive array of real individuals who were part of the scene, or for whom the scene was close to their hearts, involved in the making of this film, further bridging reality and fiction. John Simm who plays New Order front man Bernard Sumner is a real fan of the band; original Hacienda dj Dave Haslam took to the decks once more; vocalist with the Happy Mondays Rowetta plays herself; Martin Moscrop, the film's Music Technical Advisor responsible for the accuracy of the actors' music performances, played guitar in A Certain Ratio, one of the Factory bands featured in the film. The film is scattered with tantalising cameos from the likes of The Happy Mondays' Paul Ryder, The Buzzcocks' Howard Devoto and The Fall's Mark E Smith, as well as other local faces such as Dave Gorman and Peter Kay.

The soundtrack alone is overwhelmingly evocative of the times and the film never falters with any dull moments. It is a rhythmic ride, exhilarating and very funny in turn. But 24 Hour Party People goes further. The filming of the scene inside the recreated Hacienda, packed to the rafters with clubbers worshipping the di up above, provoked an emotional reaction from Hacienda veterans who made up the crowd of extras - it was as if they had been given back their mecca for one last night. The film draws to an end with this scene, a kind of explosive encore before the plugs are pulled. From a mixture of those who were really there. real human connections and very personal passions, emerges a film which is raw and overflowing with atmosphere, more than just a recreation of the past but a rocking, raving postscript to a closed chapter in time, as if its characters are not quite ready to go home.

written by Maya Nakamura