24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE directed by Michael Winterbottom, written by Frank Cottrell Boyce, produced by Andrew Eaton, with Steve Coogan, Shirley Henderson, Sean Harris and Danny Cunningham. 117 minutes. A United Artists release. 0pens Friday (August 23). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 77. Rating: NNNN
Michael Winterbottom is britain's answer to Steven Soderbergh -- a director who never makes the same movie twice.Winterbottom's resumé includes the weird female buddy/serial killer drama Butterfly Kiss, the documentary-ish Welcome To Sarajevo, the dour and bleak historical pic Jude, and the disease-of-the week drama Go Now.
With 24 Hour Party People, Winterbottom jumps head first into his own past, chronicling Manchester's influential music scene from the late 70s to the early 90s. The film focuses on the career of Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan), a snobby, erudite BBC-TV reporter who moonlighted as one of pop music's most influential impresarios. Here, Wilson and pal Alan Erasmus (Lennie James) start their own club to host local bands like Joy Division and A Certain Ratio.
They go on to form Factory Records, which is less a record company than a collective, since bands never actually sign contracts and are free to leave whenever they feel like it. Then they open the Hacienda, an expensive dance club that ushers in the acid house rave age. As Wilson says, "This is the moment when even the white man starts dancing."
But this socialist, hubristic musical experiment can't survive, and Wilson, Factory Records and the Hacienda come crashing down.
Shot on grainy digital video, 24 Hour Party People has a haphazard, slightly inebriated look, but prides itself on its accuracy at recreating this fruitful musical period. There isn't a reverent moment in the film. In fact, it's the opposite; Winterbottom, writer Frank Cottrell Boyce and star Coogan go out of their way to prick nostalgia's bubble.
Coogan often turns to the camera to address the audience, telling us to pay attention -- this or that is about to happen -- or not to judge him for his foibles.
A risky manoeuvre because it smacks of smarminess, it works because Coogan is charmingly irritating, and the film treats us as anarchistic co-conspirators.
Bands like Joy Division and the Happy Mondays and pioneering DJs like Dave Haslam and Mike Pickering changed the lives of young music fans around the world. It'd be easy to fall into the trap of paying homage to them and to Wilson and his crew. But Winterbottom knows that kind of piety would be a disservice to what the Madchester scene was all about.
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