MGM got their head out of their ass and put one of my favorite movies online. Not just that, one of the best movies of the 2000s. 24 Hour Party People
I have a ton to say about this movie, but mainly I want to focus on how it handles the concept of a band biopic. But before we get into that, I would be remiss if I didnt mention a few things.
First, if you dont know the story, Ill bring you up to speed. This movie is the biopic following Tony Wilson, the creation of Factory Records, the building of the Hacienda, the end of all of that, and the bands Joy Division, New Order, and Happy Mondays.
This movie has a brilliant cast. This was the first movie I ever saw Steve Coogan in and the man is brilliant (Rob Brydon is in this one too, along with a ton of people Andy Serkis, Simon Pegg, Patty Considine, and just a ton of the original parties involved in the events that the movie portrays). But I especially want to highlight Sean Harris’ potrayal of Ian Curtis and Danny Cunningham’s portrayal of Shaun Ryder.
Also, the cinematography is just completely genius. Often times with period films, they really show the evidence of it being made many years later. Either through cinematography that was popular at the time of filming or trying to hard to do the cool thing. This film is seemless. It finishes the job the story leaves for it, to place you in that time and place. I cant find any good clips where the resolution isnt just trash, but you can see a bit of that in the trailer. Youll have to see the film to understand. K, onto the main bit.
Band biopics, generally speaking, do the standard redemption story ending with the big payoff, see also Bohemian Rapsody. It makes for easy to consume cinema, but it doesnt make it good. Ill go through a few things 24 Hour Party People does that to help get around that.
1. From the beginning, the film wants you to be aware you are watching a movie, and that you are hearing a flawed story.
This is the opening shot of the film.
I am hard pressed to think of a film based on true events that does something like that. Maybe American Splendor but that was many years later. Its important for the way its telling its story that you are aware of the fact that they are creating a narrative. More than that, it makes the audience aware that the narrator may be unreliable, which in turn makes you more engaged for the experience. The 4th wall breaks arent just a gimmick, they are designed to address story developments. For example, there is a famous story about Tony Wilson cheating on his wife, and then in turn, her cheating on him with the lead singer of The Buzzcocks. In alot of biopics, they would have shown the scene and glossed over the fact that neither Lindsay Wilson or Howard Devoto say this ever happened. It would be one of these things that pisses off people looking for “history” in their movies. This is how 24 Hour Party People handles it.
Fantastic. You already dont know if that scene you watched just happened, but you know its part of the mythos of that era…which leads me to my next point
2. The film isnt about a story about a specific event. Its about a time and a place. Its a moodpiece.
It really isnt about any one of these bands, something amazing they did. I mean New Order still has the number one selling vinyl single of all time, but its not a sticking point of the film. Its much more about the city of Manchester and the path they have to take to end up creating or at least co-creating Beat/DJ culture. For me, its the little things that submurge me into this world. Tony Wilson writing a contract saying their will be no contracts in blood. The importance of Fez, the Mondays’ drug dealer to the band. Martin Hannett recording silence in a field. John the postman. Tony Wilson’s news casts describing how shitty Manchester (and the rest of England) was in the late 70s/early80s intercut with the music. It makes you feel a part of the thing.
The easiest example of this I can get on youtube, is the introduction to the Happy Mondays
In a way that tells you more about the band than how they made their records or a specific tour or anything.
3. There is no redemption
It doesnt try to force any kind of redemption. Any kind of 3rd act catharsis. The big climax of the film is Tony Wilson’s inability to sell out properly.
Thats the climax of the film. The villian (London Records) realizes there is no fight with the heroes of our story. He just can walk around them and scoop up the bands and their music. Its incredible. Because for Factory Records and Tony Wilson, it was about the experiment. It was about doing the thing that no one else was interested in doing. Creating this music that will stand the test of time in the most drug-fueled insane way possible.
24 Hour Party People makes you glad you could be along for the ride. You dont need the victory because the fact it exists is the victory.
This will stand as the best band biopic I have ever seen and one of the best films ever made. Its also the film that got me into this amazing era in music. I wouldnt want to live in Manchester in the 70s because it looks like a fucking shitthole, but I am glad I got a peek into that world.