Movie Review by Kris Griffiths
Starring: Steve Coogan, Lennie James, John Simm, Andy Serkis, Kenny Baker, Rob Brydon
Director: Michael Winterbottom
“I feel so extraordinary, something’s got a hold on me. I get this feeling I’m in motion, a sudden sense of liberty.” TRUE FAITH, New Order, 1987
There came a point in the 80s when bands decided to throw away those stupid keyboard/guitar things and eventually a new epoch of music was born. The splash that set this musical wave rolling was one Tony Wilson and the genesis of his groundbreaking record label, Factory Records, home to New Order, James and the Happy Mondays. 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE tells the dramatic story of Factory’s spectacular rise and fall: a story of music, life, love, drugs, the night, and the morning after. For me, it is already the best British film of 2002 and a benchmark by which all our subsequent offerings must measure themselves.
4 June 1976, Manchester: Cambridge graduate Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan) is at a Sex Pistols gig with only forty others, including a young Mick Hucknall and members of The Buzzcocks. Inspired by this pivotal point in musical history, Wilson goes back to his mate’s flat where they both, over a couple of joints, hatch a plan that will transform popular music. Starting with their own band night at a local venue, they hook up with a manager with whom Factory Records is instantly formed, and with a contract signed with his own blood, Wilson swiftly snaps up James and Joy Division, who both go on to become eminent artists of their time. When the frontman kills himself, Joy Division becomes New Order, whose debut single BLUE MONDAY was the most expensively packaged record ever. When told that Factory will lose 5p with every copy sold, Wilson replies “exactly, and how many are we gonna sell? Fuck all – that’s fuck all times 5p – a small price to pay”. It goes on to become the biggest selling 12″ of all time, an occurrence that captures the whole crazy ethos of Factory Records.
Soon afterwards comes the opening of Factory’s own club, The Hacienda, which becomes one of the most famous dance venues in the world. At a Battle of the Bands night at the club, a shambolic set by an unknown group called the Happy Mondays impresses Wilson so much that he signs them. They, of course, go on to set new heights in the rock n’ roll lifestyle, and become pioneers of the indie-dance Baggy’ music scene that sweeps through the UK. There follows the inevitable decline and downfall of the record company, ruined by the very freedom that was liberally bestowed on its artists.
This film is a truly cathartic experience. With a flawless performance from start to finish, it is Steve Coogan’s finest hour. How he must look back and chortle at THE PAROLE OFFICER, his mediocre debut movie offering last year. His supporting cast are just as magnificent, especially those that took on the risky task of portraying the artists, most of whom are still alive and rocking today. Shaun Ryder and Ian Curtis in particular are depicted with exceptional realism.
My only criticism is that not enough is said of the other seminal bands equally important as Factory’s in creating the Madchester scene, such as The Stone Roses, despite a fleeting cameo by their bassist. Otherwise it is a resounding success in its celebration of music and the British way, which for me is encapsulated in the image of hundreds of people queuing up outside The Hacienda in relentless rain. “The road to excess leads to the palace of wisdom” declares Wilson in one of many wise observations, and the truth is there for all to see: “This stuff really happened, these people lived, those people died, that music was written, long nights were beaten up and the next day just kept coming”. For the majority of people like me who were not part of the scene, this film will make you wish you were.