24 Hour Party People
There is plenty in Twenty Four-Hour Party People for the Factory purist to hate. There's a predictable emphasis on sex and drugs. Tony Wilson is presented as a buffoon, bumbling from one idea to the next. ACR appear, but largely as the butt of jokes. It's overlong, sprawling and feels more like the queasy day-glo sleeve of Pills Thrills and Bellyaches than an austere early Peter Saville design.
The film entirely fails to elucidate the ferment of ideas that made Factory a great label: the carefully contrived integration of design, band names and architecture into an aesthetic whole, the anti-rockism of the music. Wilson's approach is reduced to the oft-repeated and quite idiotic claim that Sean Ryder is the "best poet since Yeats"
And yet I liked a lot of things about this film. I liked the fact that it shows Martin Hannett's role in helping create Joy Division's strange and beautiful music. I liked the fact that the recording of 'Freaky Dancin' is given a scene of its own. I thought there was a verisimilitude in the fleeting portrayal of Ian Curtis - the way, for example, he drunkenly accosts Wilson is an event I'd read about many times and it rang true. I also liked the way the film assumes the viewer knows who Durruti was.
Moreover, Coogan is very good. It's a more nuanced characterisation than the Alan Partridge comparisons might suggest and his humour also brilliantly undercuts some of the more cliched rock'n'roll moments (the blow job in the back of the van, the nightmarish Mondays' tour bus)
Strangely, what the film really convinced me of was Wilson's idealism. It's no coincidence that the political ideology of choice for pop artists has, more often than not, been situationism. No coincidence, because situationism shares with rock ideology the same mixture of libertarianism and lazy left-wing views, a liking for clever but empty slogans and the mistaken belief that delinquency is somehow revolutionary. And yet there was a rare purity in Wilson's refusal to tie any band to Factory with a contract - a substantial act of sustained recklessness, which I can only compare to the K Foundation burning a million quid (and five times as costly).
The film ends - following the Mondays' Gazza-like decline into ugliness - with Wilson, Rob Gretton and Ryder on the roof of the Hacienda as it closes: somewhat dazed, bankrupt, glorious failures. I left persuaded it had been a story worth telling.
© Pete Williams 2002