|24 Hour Party People, 2002. Directed by
Michael Winterbottom. Steve Coogan, Shirley Henderson, Paddy Considine,
Sean Harris, Danny Cunningham, Andy Serkis, Chris Coghill. Lennie James
Prior to last week, I had seen three of Michael Winterbottoms films: two Thomas Hardy adaptations (Jude and The Claim) and the dire lesbian thriller, Butterfly Kiss. This didnt prepare me for the antic joy of 24 Hour Party People, which chronicles the rise and fall of the Manchester music scene through the eyes of impressario Tony Wilson. Wilson, a television personality we first see doing a lame segment on hang-gliding, seems an unlikely force behind the punk explosion, but the punk explosion is a case study in unlikelihood, so why the hell not? He was present at a 1976 concert by the Sex Pistols and from there, dove into the music scene full force: his television show became the only tv outlet for punk in the UK and he sponsored up and coming bands at local clubs and after founding his own record label. The film has a great soundtrack, by the way. All well and good.
What distinguishes this film from other films about the punk explosion is the manic hilarity of its qualities as cinema. The film is meta-cinematic in the best way, commenting on itself with droll deprecation and using every technique in the book. It would border on pretentious were it not for the out-front pretentions of its central character, who mostly addresses the audience directly. Steve Coogan is a riot as Wilson, who simultaneously builds himself up with grandiose visions of his own importance and punctures every pretention. I mean, what can we say about a man who produces Joy Division records one day and does television segments about a duck that herds sheep the next? When he tells the record exexutives that want to buy out his failing Factory Records--bankrupted by the irresponsible drug addicts that made up the Happy Mondays--that it doesn't actually own anything, that, in fact, the surest way not to sell out is to not own anything thay you CAN sell out, Wilson assumes a certain amount of punk rock martyrdom, but he punctures it when he closes his rave nightclub by telling the crowd to loot the offices. When a drug-fueled vision of himself as God tells him that he should think about producing a greatest hits package near the end of the movie, the smile on my face was very broad indeed. That didnt make the final cut, Coogan tells us at one point, about a cameo that isnt in the film. It will probably be on the DVD. But, perhaps the funniest moment in the film is one of the most perverse: Tony's then-wife Lindsay, miffed at the fact that she has caught him getting a blow job from a hooker hired by his then business partner, rushes off and has sex with Tony's friend, Howard De Voto. Tony catches them in the act, of course, then wanders out in a snit as a janitor turns to the camera and tells us that "I don't remember any of this." The janitor is the REAL Howard De Voto, who, Tony/Coogan tells us, wants to put the record straight that this is just for the movie. A better joke at the expense of the medium I have never seen.