10 ways to look at 24 Hour Party People
1. It's a stoner comedy!
Compare and contrast with Dude, Where's My Car?, whose heroes never actually spark up. Tony Wilson, Alan Erasmus and Rob Gretton, meanwhile, are smoking joints in roughly 23.5% of the scenes in 24 Hour Party People. Even moody old Ian Curtis has a smoke. Now, I've never thought of Factory, and certainly not pre-Madchester Factory, as a montage of Cheech and Chong's finer moments. That's a notion that certainly doesn't fit with the lovely clean Bauhaus (the institution, not the band) feel the best Peter Saville graphic design has. On the other hand, it does help explain an awful lot of strange decisions. Why did you sign Northside, Tony? 'Because I got high, because I got high, because I got high...'
2. It's subjective!
Early on in Basquiat, Julian Schnabel has a huge surfing wave rising over Manhattan. Meaning: if you want the official facts of Jean-Michel's life, seek them elsewhere. Likewise in Schnabel's other biopic, Before Night Falls, where Johnny Depp plays both a transvestite prisoner and the bullying warden. Which might just be the only way forward, because no film based on real events, no matter how scrupulously straight in its story telling and balanced in gathering the evidence, has ever escaped the protests of those who were there, or those who think they know better. So director Michael Winterbottom and writer Frank Cottrell Boyce have Wilson/Coogan have (mis)quote John Ford: 'Given the choice between facts and the legend, I'll print the legend.' And while that might seem like an easy excuse to make it up as they go along, this is a Factory story, not the Factory story. If anyone wants to make a Joy Division story that's all Anton Corbijn photography and great solemnness, or tell the Factory story with no hash and due weight given to Guy Debord, Winterbottom isn't going to cry foul.
3. It's Fellini!
Fellini's later films were packed with terrible light entertainers from Italian TV (without doubt the world's worst). But outside of Italy, no-one noticed. In ten years time, it will be possible to watch 24 Hour Party People without going 'hey, it's that bloke from The Fast Show.'
4. Ian Curtis looked both ridiculous and frightening in real life!
Go on, try watching some footage with a little distance.
5. It's got Mick Hucknall jokes!
Cheap, yet always funny.
6. The Coogan issue!
Steve Coogan plays Anthony H Wilson as Alan Partridge with a Cambridge education and a taste for theory: no more, no less. For a lot of people, this the unsurmountable barrier to enjoying 24 Hour Party People. I can understand that. But as someone who frequently finds Coogan teeth-grindingly unbearable, I didn't mind him at all in 24HPP: the script captures Wilson - idiot and visionary, situationist and TV hack, a man capable of making things happen but terminally unable to keep them happening. I think you get all that, even if it is filtered through Coogan. Meanwhile, Paddy Considine, who plays Rob Gretton, is (as ever) marvellous.
7. Michael Winterbottom is the most interesting director working in Britain today!
'I want to see it because it's a Michael Winterbottom film, not because it's about Factory,' says a friend of mine, and he's a Joy Division fan. Winterbottom is the closest thing we've got to Robert Altman: he's brave, erratic and very talented. He's done Thomas Hardy as a snowy Western (The Claim). He's done the best London movie of our times (Wonderland). He's made a weird, very disturbing film using Elvis Costello's scariest song (I Want You). He's sometimes very wayward, but never dull. As for Frank Cottrell Boyce, he had the guts to admit that he borrowed the (lack of) structure for the film from arch-Tory snob novelist Anthony Powell's mighty but hopelessly unfashionable Dance To The Music Of Time. There are three really obvious ways to start this film: with the Sex Pistols playing the Lesser Free Trade Hall, with the Hacienda closing, or with two of the key figures meeting for the first time. So Cottrell Boyce and Winterbottom opted for Tony Wilson hang-gliding. That's why I like this film.
8. It's only got Joy Division/New Order, ACR, Durrutti Column and Happy Mondays in it! But that's not a bad thing! Consider how many of the Creation bands are skimmed over in David Cavanagh's 565 page volume on that label. Now think how long 24 Hour Party People would have to be to squeeze in Stockholm Monsters, James, The Railway Children, ESG and - let's not forget - Northside.
9. 'Voodoo Ray' is the best song on the soundtrack!
Although the title track - the Mondays' finest moment - runs it pretty close.
10. It's too long!
And that's the only thing everyone agrees on.
© Mark Morris 2002