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IN SHORT: An OK to fabulous rock recreation, depending upon your knowledge of the music of the time. [Rated R for strong language, drug use and sexuality. 110 minutes]
Ah, to be a 45 year old critic watching a film made by music fanboys about records we spun as a DJ 20+ years ago. That's a moebius loop of a sentence, perfectly in keeping for a film in which the aging main character shares all the knowledge that his 45+ year old self has accumulated over the years. All this to a sound track of punk, new wave and technopop music spawned by Factory Records of Manchester England.
Manchester was a dump of a city on June 3, 1976. On June 4, the Sex Pistols came to town. The 42 people present included members of bands (or bands to be) The Buzzcocks, Simply Red, Joy Division and television reporter Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan) who, with friend Alan Erasmus (Lennie James) and Joy Division's manager Rob Gretton (Paddy Consodine) established a company to promote the music of the underclass. That was Factory. Wilson's story, which is the center of this history, sees the man transform from long-haired mod (if there was such a thing in the 1970s) to short haired club owner and record company "owner" who discovers that you can't take a dream to the bank, no matter how successful that dream appears to be.
For anyone who experienced the music explosion of the late 70s and early 80s, the first hour of 24 Hour Party People is either a joyous exercise in nostalgia or a great tale of one man's grab for the brass ring and the rollercoaster ride that comes with being the mover and shaker of all that is cool in the community. A history lesson, if you will, brilliantly executed in Frank Cottrell Boyce's script by allowing Wilson to step out of whatever year the film is in and address the audience directly to fill us in on where all the characters we've met are, now. It's used to its best in a small bit involving Howard DeVoto (of the Buzzcocks, Magazine and Luxuria) and Wilson's first wife, Lindsey (Shirley Henderson) and involves the audience, depending on how much you know about the people in the spotlight. As host of a music program called "So It Goes," Wilson rips us through all that was good in that time frame -- Sex Pistols, the under appreciated Jam, the Clash, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Iggy Pop and Cranky's particular favorite, The Stranglers. Hell, the ten seconds of "No More Heroes" we got put us in a real happy place. That's the nostalgia element kicking in.
Wilson, by the way, likes to spew a lot of ephemeral philosophical nonsense that only goes to show that he reads more than the average joe. From the top, he categorizes 24 Hour Party People as a story of Icarus ... "and if you don't know who Icarus was, no matter, but you should read more" and hits the height of pomposity as the host of a Brit version of Wheel of Fortune. Here, the real Tony Wilson makes his cameo and verbally shreds his screen persona. It's one nice bit in a movie filled with nice bits. But that's only good for the first hour.
We cruised through the re-creation of the rise of the band Joy Division -- their big hit "Love Will Tear Us Apart" is still dancing in our brain 48 hours after seeing the film -- and its sudden, tragic end and resurrection as New Order. The appearance of mad dog producer Martin Hannett (Andy Serkis), first a loon and second an alcoholic loon adds to the flash of the story. The bands that followed in the Factory stable, like Happy Mondays (who add larceny and blackmail to sex, drugs, and rock and roll) never crossed to our side of the Pond. It is here that 24 Hour Party People becomes a bumpy ride. There's a good enough story that runs through the latter minutes to keep anyone with knowledge of 80's music (give or take) entertained.
And, yes, it is a story of Icarus. All the musicians and early bands seen have been recreated with actors and some of them are uncanny portrayals. These include Sean Harris as Ian Curtis of Joy Division and, in a very brief but electric re-creation, Mark Windows as Johnny Rotten.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to 24 Hour Party People, he would have paid . . .
And we must point out that the rating is not one of quality. It is one
of accessibility. If you're British, 24 Hour Party People is
dead on fab. If you were deep into the club scene of the early 80s, most
of this will ring true, even if you don't know the bands. For everyone
else, Wilson's story is entertaining all on its own. Rent.
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