Factory Records, which was given the modus operandi by founder Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan) to never get in the way of the bands it distributed, is the unlikely focus of Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People, a light and playful look at the Manchester music scene which spans from the punk explosion to the dawn of acid house. The film features an undeniably fizzy visual kick and strong supporting performances from Sean Harris as Joy Division’s tormented lead singer Ian Curtis and Andy Serkis (better known as Gollum from The Two Towers) as the excessive producer Martin Hannett. However, it’s been brought up (mostly by music journalists that were there at the time) that Winterbottom and screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce’s boisterous scenario white-washes the economic and social unrest that fostered the ethos of Joy Division and the Sex Pistols. But this doesn’t distract from the real focus of the film: the apologetic obsequiousness of naïve dreamer Tony Wilson. Coogan’s Wilson is portrayed here as a staunch postmodernist, to the point that he breaks the fourth wall in the first scene (he’s depicted hang gliding and subsequently crashing) to explain how he should be read symbolically as a harbinger of the Icarus tale to follow. Later on, he comments upon how many real members of the Manchester scene have shown up in the film in cameo roles, rewinding and freeze-framing to demonstrate. When he gets to Vini Reilly, whose scene has been cut from the film, he muses, “I’m sure it’ll be on the DVD.” (Befitting a postmodernist statement, it’s not.) It remains to be seen to what level postmodernism is successful when its presence is all but spelled out, but, as Wilson says in that first scene, “It doesn’t matter. But you should probably read more.” Which is probably sound advice for anyone wanting to get a good handle on the full story of the Manchester music scene and its relevance to the ennui of the late ‘70s and ‘80s.
Legendary DV lenser Robby Müller (Breaking the Waves, Dead Man) works his magic on Party People, working with a variety of formats to enhance the limited color palate of the DV format. The colors in the club scenes gorgeously resemble Crayola-on-Xerox. MGM's transfer does Müller's work justice: it's appropriately grainy, overripe, and heavily saturated. The sound mix is even better. Depending on the venue, the music will sound immediate, stripped-down or booming with extra bass. All throughout the dialogue is clear.
In the opening moments of his commentary track with producer Andrew Eaton, actor Steve Coogan notes the ironic decision to include commentary tracks in the first place. So many aspects of Party People are commented upon by the main character-significance of story threads, cameo appearances by actual Factory personalities-that the two alternate tracks seem beside the point. The one by the "real" Tony Wilson is sometimes sporadic, but some of his bon mots are worth the wait (such as when he calls punk music "four dicks on stage" as opposed to dance culture's democratic "one dick"). More concise are the two featurettes on Wilson himself and the making of the film. Also included is the film's theatrical trailer, an extensive still gallery and 11 deleted scenes that range from Wilson rants to a disturbing episode in which Serkis's Hannett shoots heroin into the meat between his knuckles. Interestingly, Serkis bears an eerie and striking resemblance to his Two Towers director Peter Jackson.
Winterbottom's film didn't exactly win him any new fans at Cannes last summer, but on DVD 24 Hour Party People is a cult favorite in-the-making.