New York Times;
New Order’s album ”Power, Corruption and Lies” would make just as fitting a title for the magnificent ode to Factory Records, ”24 Hour Party People,” which tracks the rise and fall of that postpunk label.
Factory Records was the home of New Order and the flamboyantly self-destructive Happy Mondays, whose hot-to-the-touch song gives the film its title. The intersecting point of both these groups, and the story that comes in between, is the film’s central figure: the Factory Records co-founder and journalist turned postpunk impresario, Tony Wilson, played with a stinging, unctuous vitality by Steve Coogan.
Directed by Michael Winterbottom and written by Frank Cottrell Boyce, the picture is digressive rather than discursive — an illustrated history as related by Mr. Wilson. Every time he opens his mouth, it’s a roaming, hilarious monologue about Factory, by which he means himself. In some ways, it’s a power-pop docu-comedy version of ”The Kid Stays in the Picture,” the story of a man recreating the world around him in his own image. And like the mogul Robert Evans, Mr. Wilson’s talent is taste; for a brief period, he had unerring nostrils.
Unlike ”Kid,” Mr. Wilson’s mordant flights of self-glorification are constantly shot down by other witnesses in cameos by the people he’s talked about. Mr. Boyce’s script has a ruthless and magical tic — after many of the episodes, the story is refuted on screen. After Mr. Wilson’s take on the affair his wife, Lindsay, had with Howard Devoto of the Buzzcocks, the real Mr. Devoto smirks into the camera and shakes his head. (Shirley Henderson’s intelligent portrayal of Lindsay Wilson underscores what a bratty boys’ club the postpunk movement was.) Mr. Boyce has found a way to unleash these realizations, which feel like the fabled moment of truth just before an Ecstasy rush dies out. Mr. Wilson’s prattle is a deluded honesty that’s compulsive and drug-fueled.
”People” can maintain its bleary-eyed momentum because of the inventiveness of the cinematographer, Robby Müller, who imposes a rough griminess on the material. Mr. Winterbottom and Mr. Müller use the photography to contradict Mr. Wilson’s own romanticized version of the events. ”Print the legend,” Mr. Wilson says at one point, both quoting John Ford and laying the foundation for his own often fact-free fabulous fabulism.
And this movie is just that — fabulous. For one thing, the director and cinematographer use that line to frame the film; the gritty, curious roving of the camera is a late 70’s corollary to the elegiac realization of ”The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” from which the quotation comes. Mr. Winterbottom’s most consistent talent is matching his visual approach to the tone of the story; taking a journey through his filmography is like watching Jay Gatsby tossing shirts on the bed, looking for the right one to set off an ensemble.
Mr. Müller uses digital video cameras for a looser, cooler look that approximates Mr. Wilson’s short-attention-span chatter. Mr. Müller produces a trippy and instinctive document; he doesn’t try to make the tape stock look like film. He chooses to underlight the sets by the production designer Mark Tildesley, and you feel as if you’re walking under the oatmeal skies of Manchester, England, where much of the film is set.
Here the director’s task is much tougher, since he has to put together the perfect mix-and-match of fact-finding — his own — to go along with Mr. Wilson’s radical self-invention: he fuses a persona of Andy Warhol, Jacques Derrida and Ike Turner with a little Anthony Burgess thrown in. The movie turns on Mr. Coogan’s megalomaniacal portrayal, converting Mr. Wilson’s astonishing ability to trip over his own fleshy vowels into a comic prop. He’s the embodiment of the late 20th-century United Kingdom man who wants to be a pop star but vibrates with the deep-seated British fear of public humiliation. His awkwardness is visible in the flailing pogo he dances to the Sex Pistols, an event responsible for his founding of Factory Records with his legitimately suave partner, Lennie James (Alan Erasmus).
Mr. Wilson’s paranoia is like a divining rod, though: it draws him to like-minded people, like the brilliant wild-haired music producer Martin Hannett (Andy Serkis). Mr. Hannett cements the dilettante-predator Wilson’s status in the music world. Through him, Mr. Wilson meets the band Joy Division and its brittle, jittery front man, Ian Curtis (rendered with heartbreaking aptness in a handful of scenes by Sean Harris). Mr. Curtis’s jerky dance steps makes him a brother-in-arms to Mr. Wilson, though Mr. Curtis’s movements grew out of his epilepsy. His congregation single-handedly transforms Britpop and Mr. Wilson’s fortunes. After Mr. Curtis’s tragic exit, the band becomes New Order, which gets Factory Records started and sends Mr. Wilson’s ambitions to the moon.
Because ”24 Hour Party People” mythologizes the scene rather than romanticizes it, there may be those who will feel let down. (As seen in the movie, the Hacienda, the money-hemorrhaging club that Mr. Wilson used his Factory label to finance, is bigger than all of Manchester.) And they may miss the point, as apparently did the home audience in England, where the picture failed in its release this year. It was promoted as a summing up of an era, rather than a brisk, acerbic jaunt.
This is pop England at its headiest and most volatile period — 1976 through the early 90’s — since the Beatles era, seen through the jaundiced, admittedly single-minded point of view of Mr. Wilson, a man both inebriated by his love of the time and determined to plunder it. He’s a pirate who’s fallen in love with his booty. Of course, it’s not the real truth, as books, articles and films by other survivors of the era attest.
But Mr. Winterbottom wasn’t interested in those other perspectives. As with his ”Welcome to Sarajevo,” he uses a self-serving journalist who can’t tell the difference between what’s right and what’s right for him — the reporter as nightmare. But whatever its factual flaws, the movie is spiritually accurate. The director reminds us that Mr. Wilson was a Mercedes Marxist, but he wanted his charges to live as well as he did; he tried to run Factory as a collective with the artists retaining rights to their music.
And the director further deepens the story by casting the other characters with a portraitist’s skill. Danny Cunningham wears the cherubic nihilism of Shaun Ryder, Happy Mondays’ leader, with lovably frightening accuracy. Mr. Ryder is portrayed here as capable of the danger that all the other acts have only threatened — the kind of man who would open the window and fire into a crowd instead of training a gun at his own temple. And as the New Order lead singer Bernard Sumner, John Simm looks and sounds so much like the original as he strums through a spare, unplugged version of ”Bizarre Love Triangle” that we could be watching a documentary of the original.
”24 Hour Party People,” which opens today in Manhattan, sprints through the obstacle course of postpunk with such notable athleticism that you can forgive it for knocking over a couple of hurdles. It’s worthwhile alone for Mr. Coogan’s fine portrayal of Mr. Wilson as a sly, cantankerous question mark of a man who provokes more queries than he answers. Mr. Wilson can throw away a line like a glib reference to the band Durutti Column that’s both caustic and calming. And when Durutti’s Vini Reilly steps into view to roll his eyes at the audacity of Mr. Wilson, we laugh and know there’s more to come.
”24 Hour Party People” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian) for the strong language, drug use, sexua
Includes two audio commentary tracks, one with Tony Wilson and one with Steve Coogan
2.44GB | 1h 52m | 1024×552 | mkv