What do you think of when I say Joy Division (and later New Order)? How about The Happy Mondays? No? How about New Order? The Sex Pistols? Buzzcocks? A Certain Ratio (OK, you’d be forgiven for not knowing them, since they ultimately did fuck all)? How about The Hacienda? Factory Records? They were all connected to one man – Tony Wilson. Journalist, TV producer, music promoter, record company executive, self confessed genius. This is his story, this is their story (well, some of them, but they all show up at one point or another), this is 24 Hour Party People.
Steve Coogan plays the eponymous Tony Wilson who, in the words of the character himself, is “a minor character in my own story”. Genius, snob, bastard, visionary; Tony Wilson was all of these (and so is Coogan, so he’s perfect casting). Starting (as far as the film is concerned) as a journalist, Wilson quickly discovers music by attending a Sex Pistols gig and thus his future is made clear. Soon enough he starts the Factory, a place for his mates to play – mostly Joy Division at first (well, until Ian Curtis tops himself), which soon morphs into Factory Records; THE voice of the so-called “Madchester” sound (basically the E fuelled sound that we got from the UK in the 80s). From this, stems The Hacienda – the club at the center of it all; the music, the drugs, the violence, the whole scene. Then it implodes.
A story based on truth that is a much legend and fabrication (as is said during the film, regarding John Ford – “when the choice comes between printing the truth or the legend, print the legend”) as it is actual happening, 24 Hour Party People is filled not only with a who’s who of the British acting fraternity (in addition to Coogan, look out for Andy Serkis, John Simm, Shirley Henderson, Rob Brydon, Simon Pegg, Paddy Considine and Peter Kay amongst others) but also the actual people themselves – well, the ones who A) were still alive and B) agreed to be in it (which was pretty much all of them as it turns out, and so they were all cast – sure, some didn’t survive the editor’s scissors, but they are all there in one form or another); which leads to a few funny moments (eg, in a scene in which “Tony” finds his wife shagging Howard Devoto of The Buzzcocks, the camera cuts away to the real Devoto who thus informs the audience that that never actually happened, thus leading “Tony” to admit that a lot of this film is actually bullshit) – a LOT of breaking of the fourth wall goes on in this, so much so that it’s almost a documentary (not a mockumentary, since this was pretty much all documented happenings – apart from the aforementioned moments of bullshit). And, to me, that makes for a very interesting watch, since those who were there have multiple reasons behind not being able to remember the legitimate tale, be it self-aggrandization, being too drug fucked to remember or just flat out not wanting to tell the truth; and yet, people do remember, and a lot of this does come from people being on the outside looking in.
Overall, it’s hard to separate the truth from the lies, especially since a LOT of this did play out in the public eye (thus, making it hard to remove the “well, A happened, so why couldn’t B?” line of thinking) – however, it’s all entertaining. Ultimately, it could be to the Madchester Scene what Velvet Goldmine was to the Glam Scene, but when the ride is this entertaining, you really don’t care.