Tuesday, December 13, 2005

24 Hour Party People (2002)

I'm a huge fan of the Madchester music movement. Name off some of my favorite acts from the 80s and early 90s and they're all in this group: The Farm, Charlatans, 808 State, Happy Mondays, James, Smiths, New Order, and, of course, the Stone Roses. When I was working at a record store in 1991, I begged my boss to let me have "Electronic" (the joint venture between Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr) the night before it was supposed to be on shelves. Of course, I loved it at the time, and now I recognize that album as the marker of a end of a great era of music (Amazon calls the disc a "two-man Manchester supergroup" -- that ought to tell you something).

Based on all of this Madchester fanaticism in my history, I had been dying to see 24 Hour Party People. This movie is the story of Tony Wilson, the founder of Factory Records and the Hacienda nightclub, both of which were instrumental in putting Manchester on the map.

I came in thinking I'd love this movie -- and I did, to a point. More on where that point is in a second.

The movie starts off with Tony (Steve Coogan) doing one of those quaint news stories for a local TV station -- this one about hanggliding. He jumps off a hill, glides around, then crashes a few times. At the end of the story, when he's off the air, he turns towards the "real" camera, and spouts off about how this whole scene is symbolic, relating it to that of Icarus. He then mentions that "if you don't know who Icarus is, you should read more."

Ok, hopefully this will be the only time in history the names "Tony Wilson" and "Icarus" are ever uttered in the same paragraph. Tony: you have nothing on Icarus. He's a famous myth, you're a guy who lucked out enough to record albums with Joy Division. But this is just one indication of how this movie wants to represent the era they depict.

The problem with representing genius, either on film or print, is that the moment of genius is usually only about 0.5 seconds long. The results of that spark might last for years, but the actual moment of genius is pretty brief. In this film, they tried to tell us the spark is a concert that the Sex Pistols played in Manchester. I find it hard to believe the Sex Pistols can inspire anything, but, ok, I can buy that a bunch of guys were inspired to form bands because of seeing an SP show. Being inspired and the "spark" are two different things.

The spark of genius for the Madchester movement wasn't recorded in this film: it's when Ian Curtis, Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris got together to form a band called Warsaw and started making up songs. We didn't see this, and it would have been hard to show us anyway. Instead, our first introduction to Warsaw is Ian Curtis walking up to Tony Wilson and calling him a "c---", then those guys getting up on stage and playing "Digital". So I'm left wondering if the actual spark doesn't get enough representation, instead too much being placed on the Sex Pistols.

Still, I was pretty blown away by the first half of the movie, which depicts the aforementioned SP concert and Warsaw gig, Warsaw recording some songs for Factory Records, renaming themselves to Joy Division, playing some shows, etc..

The point at which this movie falls apart, and I hope I'm not giving anything away here, is when Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis kills himself in 1980. Anyway, Joy Division's 45 minutes in this film are a representative of that spark of genius that created Madchester, and are worth watching.

It's the last hour that's not as great. After the suicide, we get the rise of the Hacienda, Happy Mondays, and the eventual fall of Factory Records. While I always can find the antics of Shaun Ryder to be humorous--and I occasionally like listening to the Mondays' music--but the last thing in the world I think of the Happy Mondays is that they represent some great movement in music. Tony, narrating often, explains to us how the Hacienda was never profitable, but was the start of the DJ movement and raves. Of course, many DJs might take a different stance on that claim (Grandmaster Flash comes to mind). Plus, I don't know about you, but I also don't think raves represent anything novel. Maybe I'm too old.

If you couldn't tell from the above, I think this movie takes itself far too seriously. The real problem with the second half of the movie is that while the first half was representing something that was truly genius, you're having one pulled over on you in this second half. Partying and baggy pants are fads, not genius. Half of those bands that I mentioned are derivative either from each other or earlier bands (Stone Roses and Led Zeppelin much?). I say that with the Stone Roses being one of my favorites ever by the way. The most interesting thing you'll take from the second half is wondering how anyone could be so stupid as to give Shaun Ryder $200K to record an album on an island halfway around the world (that cash went up in smoke of all kinds, of course).

Rating: Good/Good -- A GOOD CABLE MOVIE

(Ratings note: each movie is rated as it really was compared to how the filmmaker wanted it to be. Examples:

Good/Good movie: American Beauty
Bad/Good movie: Forrest Gump
Good/Bad movie: Evil Dead 2
Bad/Bad movie: Nothing But Trouble)

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