24 Hour Party People is the true story of Factory Records, the eccentric and enormously influential record label founded in Manchester by pop svengali and local TV presenter Tony Wilson, and follows Tony and the rest of Factory through the tail end of the 70s and the 1980s. It’s shot in a mock-documentary style, and narrated by Wilson (Steve Coogan). In a bizarre circularity, Coogan often claimed to have modelled Alan Partridge on Wilson, and it’s easy to spot the similarities between the two; they’re extremely pompous, arrogant, and are both masters of the nonsensical sound-bite. However, Wilson is also extremely perceptive, capturing the spirit of the moment perfectly when he created the Hacienda club, briefly turning Manchester into Madchester, the music capital of the world.
The first part of the film looks at Wilson in his early years, as he struggles to create a new club night in a run down building in Manchester whilst simultaneously holding down a career in local TV. He eventually discovers Joy Division, signing them to Factory with a contract written in his own blood, and the film follows them through the recording of their first album, all the way to the suicide of their singer Ian Curtis (played to an scary degree of accuracy by Sean Harris).
From here, the film concentrates on the band’s difficult rebirth as New Order, and the creation of the Hacienda nightclub. Wilson really went out on a limb with the Hacienda, with many acts playing to single-figure audiences; he was eventually saved by the druggy indie/dance kings the Happy Mondays and their drunken singer Sean Ryder (not forgetting the imbecilic Bez who didn’t really do much except dance a lot), who helped create the Acid House scene.
The story then moves onto Factory’s troubled later years, as Wilson struggles to cope with the financial pressures of a running a club where drug and gun culture is rife. The Happy Mondays were also causing him innumerable problems, with their drug-addled touring and a hugely problematic recording of the new album in Barbados. The packaging for New Order’s new single was so expensive that Factory lost money on every copy sold.
24 Hour Party People is acted wonderfully throughout, and covers one of the most important aspects of British music in the past 30 years. There are some brilliant acting performances, punctuated by cameos from some real members of the Mancester scene (such as Howard Devoto and Mark E. Smith). This isn’t a dry documentary, but rather an often surreal, sometimes extremely funny, touching portrait of a music scene and the people that made it happen. And the soundtrack’s wonderful.
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