Film

24 Hour Party People (2001)

Jocelyn Szczepaniak-Gillece

Tony Wilson lived for the explosive moment.


24 Hour Party People

Director: Michael Winterbottom
Cast: Steve Coogan, Paddy Considine, Danny Cunningham, Sean Harris
MPAA rating: R
Studio: United Artists
First date: 2001
US Release Date: 2002-08-09

At the height of the Hacienda's glory, founder and Factory Records label owner Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan) stands in his famous Manchester club. Regarding the assembled crowd of hallucinogen-fueled youth, he proclaims, "This is the moment when even the white man starts dancing. Welcome to Manchester." Lights flash. Music throbs. The moment, recalled in 24 Hour Party People, marks the exuberant beginning of rave and club culture as we now know it.

24 Hour Party People names the '80s and early '90s Madchester scene a "historical" event, while also making it feel emphatically immediate. Despite Wilson's assertions that every band performance, every club night, every album will stand as testaments to an important musical era, the movement appears always to be a celebration of Now: the fleetingness of the magical pre-dawn hours, the flashy hedonism of designer drugs, the immediacy of driving electronic rhythms.

The movie begins in 1976 with Wilson, a reporter for Manchester-based Granada TV, hang-gliding as part of a news stunt. After brief bursts of flight and bruising crashes into the underbrush, Wilson self-consciously turns to face the camera and explains that during the film, hang-gliding will serve as a metaphor for his life and the life of the Manchester club scene: "I have one word for you: Icarus. If you get it, great. If you don't, it doesn't matter." Wilson continues to address the audience in virtually every scene, referring to his actions as "postmodern" -- he's plainly a poster boy for the ironic generation. All of this self-referential smugness can bring 24 Hour Party People down. There's only so much gleeful mugging one can handle, and 24 Hour Party People's mockumentary style feels stale.

Still, the film is buoyant, funny, and thoroughly enjoyable, for several reasons. A string of dead-on performances make for fabulously believable yet wonderfully larger-than-life characters. In particular, Sean Harris as Ian Curtis, the depressed and doomed lead singer of Joy Division, channels Curtis with the tragic rock star ferocity he deserves. When performing on stage, Harris quivers and rolls his bloodshot eyeballs back into his head: the effect is electric. For those of us too young to have witnessed Joy Division live, this is a welcome compensation. John Simm bears a striking resemblance to his character, Bernard Sumner from New Order, not only in looks, but also in his slightly arch sincerity. And Danny Cunningham plays Shaun Ryder, the drugged out force behind the Happy Mondays, in a way that is both repugnant and enticing.

Of course, the film's real star is the music. Songs from Joy Division, New Order, and the Happy Mondays as well as the Stone Roses, the Buzzcocks, and Orbital, create an aural tableau of decadence and ecstasy. The film, however, like Wilson, is not just interested in electronic music, but also in its connection to a seemingly unlikely ancestor: punk.

24 Hour Party People charts a direct chronology, at least in relation to Wilson, from the Sex Pistols to rave and dj culture. Surprisingly, the step from punk's in-your-face social anarchy to the dance-while-the-world-burns mentality of club music makes sense. Both necessitate some sort of joy in chaos, a love of the unknown and the disorderly. As Wilson's musical interests shift, so do the film's, from punk to electronic, enabling the audience to understand electronic music's emergence as a logical event in musical history. Most importantly, the film insists that good music is good music, and there is no sense in defining quality by genre, regardless of the film's focus on a specific type of music.

And that focus, of course, is linked to Manchester's heyday. Once the Hacienda opens its doors, a stream of hipsters makes it the stuff of legend, including the inevitable "dark side." Wilson descends into cocaine addiction and his increasingly popular ecstasy-fueled parties lead to an infestation of dealers at the club, and with dealers comes violence. As popular as the Hacienda was, it made no money since kids were popping pills, not chugging booze.

When, for financial reasons, the club finally shuts its doors, Wilson and the boys from the Happy Mondays stumble into the gray morning outside. They puff on a joint as the pills slowly begin to wear off, and their eyes become fuzzier. In one final sight gag, God appears to Wilson (looking suspiciously like Wilson himself) and declares the Hacienda and its record label to be part of history. Wilson, it seems, has done it all right.

Wilson lived for the explosive moment. That's the joy of 24 Hour Party People; despite its sometimes cheap irony and juvenile humor, it invites us to live that moment, too. Leaving the movie theater, we might feel a little like Wilson and his friends; we stumble out, hazy-eyed, knowing only that a vaguely precious moment is over, but it sure was a hell of a good time. And, for once, that's enough.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.