December 18, 2002 -- "24 Hour Party People" is a film about a loud chord of music history from the late 1970s to the early 1990s which saw the rise of punk music and the rise of the rave club scene in Manchester, England. It is centered on one man, Tony Wilson (played by Steve Coogan). Wilson was a founder of Factory Records and was an owner of one of the most famous nightclubs in the world, The Hacienda. The film is an odd, and not very successful mix of comedy, tragedy, biography, fantasy and mock-documentary. I expected at any moment the camera would pan suddenly to Rod Serling who would confirm this film is, indeed, from the twilight zone.
The film opens with Wilson performing a hang gliding stunt for his television show. After he crash lands, he looks straight into the camera and says the hang gliding stunt really happened. It was exhilarating and painful and he wants to do it again. The hang gliding stunt is a metaphor for the rest of the film, Tony says. He doesn't want to give away the ending, but he does give us a hint, one word, "Icarus." Wilson and other characters in the film look at the camera from time to time and tell us what is coming up later in the film. At a Sex Pistols concert in Manchester in 1976, Wilson points out a person in the audience who will later have sex with his wife, Lindsay (Shirley Henderson "The Claim") who is sitting next to him as he addresses the camera. Later in the film, we see UFOs in the sky and there is an appearance by God, who happens to look just like Tony Wilson.
These are just a few of the many strange events depicted by the film which are exaggerated for comic effect. Other events are not so funny. Suicide, arguments, divorce, fights, shootings, heart attacks and drug addiction are among the serious issues in the film. Then there's the music. Although Tony proclaims he is but a minor character in his own life story, the film is really about him, not about the music. We hear a lot of snippets of music in the film from such groups as The Sex Pistols, Joy Division, New Order, Happy Mondays and others, but is more like background music. It is not in the forefront of the film, but is an integral part of it. It is hard to relate to this film unless you have some familiarity with the music, people or places depicted in it. I couldn't relate to any of it. The film is not funny enough to stand on its own as a comedy, independent of the music, or as a drama, since Wilson seems curiously unaffected by all that befalls him. It is an interesting curiosity, however.
Retro acid credits at the beginning and end of the film (so artistically done they are nearly useless) are matched by some surrealistic scenes within the film itself, a hint of the drug culture which permeated the recording industry and rave scene. The film, shot entirely in digital video, uses a lot of hand-held shots to give it that documentary feel. Some actual TV video and film footage from the era (and earlier) add to the docudrama quality of the movie. In addition, the real Tony Wilson appears in the film (introduced by Steve Coogan as "the real me"). There are also cameo appearances by other real people. These same people are also depicted in the film by actors. The movie is a hard-to-categorize combination of docu-drama and comedy with elements of documentary filmmaking and surrealism. It is an experiment in filmmaking that doesn't quite work, but it is probably a lot more entertaining if you happen to be interested in the music, people or places depicted in the film. A similar up-and-down entertainment career story was much better was the documentary, "The Kid Stays in the Picture." "24 Hour Party People" rates a C.
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