Mark Reviews Movies


3 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Michael Winterbottom

Cast: Steve Coogan, Shirley Henderson, Paddy Considine, Sean Harris, Danny Cunningham, Andy Serkis, Chris Coghill, Lennie James

MPAA Rating:  (for strong language, drug use and sexuality)

Running Time: 1:57

Release Date: 8/9/02

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Review by Mark Dujsik

“I’m a minor character in my own story. This is a film about the music and the people who made the music.”

Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan) narrates the story of the formation, rise (at least on the terms of the people involved), and hasty, unavoidable downfall of Factory Records, which from 1976 to 1992 helped put the bands Joy Division, New Order, and Happy Mondays into the British music scene, and all because Wilson and some friends attended a Sex Pistols concert where only forty-some people showed up. The music was new, revolutionary, and said something about the time and place they were in. Before seeing 24 Hour Party People, I had no idea who Wilson was and only knew of the Factory label because of word on the film. By the end, I was well beyond this kind of knowledge and started to consider exactly what kind of impact they had on music, the irony of the scenario that made them successful also bringing them down, and why I hadn’t heard about any of this before. 24 Hour Party People works so well because it allows the uninformed a very personal way of grasping this chapter in music history. Director Michael Winterbottom has pulled off an inspired act of self-referencing, post-modern filmmaking that does these people, their attitude, their home, their music, and their legacy proud.

The film opens with Wilson showing his television public the joys of hang gliding. His experience of flying, he tells us, actually happened but also serves as a metaphor for things to come (“I’ll just say, ‘Icarus.’”). He’s a professional journalist who just wants to cover serious, real stories but somehow always gets stuck with the trite pieces. Then he attends the Sex Pistols concert and decides to allow people the opportunity to hear and see performances like this and help fuel the revolution. At the time, broadcast television in Britain only showed certain kinds of performers, so Wilson and his “So It Goes” program are the way for people to find out about these new musicians. From there, it turns into buying out a night at a local club to show off new acts and eventually to Wilson writing a contract in blood that will become Factory Records. The concept: Factory holds the artists’ freedom at the pinnacle, even though it means giving out money and receiving very little in return. Later, Wilson will say that this idea guaranteed that he would never be forced to sell out.

We see from the start how this will cause a problem, and things just get worse from there. Wilson sets up a club called the Hacienda, which starts as a place to headline Factory label bands and, as a result, makes no money and turns into the first rave. This attracts customers, just not the kind of people you’d like hanging around, and drugs, not alcohol, are the cornerstone of rave-situation substances. As a result, the club still makes no money, even though it’s insanely popular. There are other stunts that have little financial success. Wilson sends one of his bands down to Barbados to kick a heroin habit, although they end up spending all the money Factory sends to them to record in studio on cocaine, returning with an album with no lyrics. Screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce gives an insider’s knowledge to the episodic events of the film, which seems rational since Wilson himself served as a consultant and many key players appear in brief cameos (most of which the film-version of Wilson points out with aplomb in one scene). Throughout the film, Wilson loves to keep the audience in on the joke with a continual series of asides to the camera, letting us in on some unknown information or pointing out where digressions from reality have been made.

This is exactly the kind of attitude these people had and apparently still have—a kind of self-involved, jab-in-the-ribs humor—and the film captures it incredibly well. It also captures the time and place with equal success. Wilson likes to compare the time of Factory to the Renaissance, and in certain ways, it is. Obviously, the Renaissance contained more important and significant contributions, but it’s odd that so many people of similar visions were present in Manchester at the same time. In the film, Manchester is a shadow and corpse of the industrial center it used to be. Is that the reason for the coincidence? Could this music have been made at any other place and time or is it contingent on this place and time? Either way, there’s this feeling of joy with the era throughout the film, even when times are bad. Just being there and being able to live through it and knowing exactly what it is while it’s happening seems to be the spirit of Factory. “We are an experiment of human nature,” Wilson confides to Factory’s last hope, another record producer. We’ve already discovered that by the time he points it out, though.

Winterbottom films the movie with a handheld, nostalgic look and feel, which helps with two things. First, it gives the sense of a documentary (Wilson’s narration helps with that as well). Second, it allows for the insertion of actual footage of band performances of the time. The Sex Pistols’ infamous concert is shown with the cast participating. It also makes the other, staged performances feel more authentic. The Factory bands the film focuses on are played by actors, but they seem real enough. The music is an important part of the story and getting caught up on and in the things going on behind the scenes is fascinating.

That opening quote may be misleading, because Wilson really is the focus of the film. It’s through his eyes and perspective that we’re introduced to this world. From what I got from the film, he seems to be a love-him or hate-him type of guy. Love him or hate him, he’s the perfect host to this world.

Copyright © 2002 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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