Monday, May 5, 2008

24 Hour Party People

I recently had the pleasure of doing a movie marathon with my friends Emily and Wey. While most of the films we watched have already been reviewed for this very blog, the delight that is 24 Hour Party People had not yet gotten the treatment, and so you now all get the thrill of reading about it.

The movie is very loosely based on a true story, following both the life of visionary music producer Tony Wilson, and the music scene that both inspired him and which he in turn helped shape, the Madchester scene. The film starts in the late 70s, when, in his capacity as host of a local Manchester TV show, he heavily promoted the rising punk rock movement, before eventually ending his show so that he could be more directly involved in the process by getting his own venue specifically to showcase punk bands. Later, after punk rock self destructs (also in the late 70s), he buys a larger, more elaborate venue to showcase the various strange offshoots of punk, such as New Order and the Happy Mondays, until the 90s when his poor business model eventually bankrupts his company.

What makes this film work so well is a threefold path. The first is in how it truly captures the feel of the scene that it’s discussing. This movie has an energy to it, a vitality that matches that of Joy Division, the Stooges, and all the other bands featured and praised within the film. Indeed, the film only really manages to slow down when it comes time to mourn after the tragic suicide of Joy Division’s frontman Ian Curtis. Outside of that it’s just nonstop movement and music. The second is the humor that is pervasive throughout the film. This is a movie that dramatically reenacts an incident in which the two Ryder brothers that fronted the band the Happy Mondays put rat poison in some bread and fed it to a couple thousand birds by playing Flight of the Valkyries and showing bird’s-eye-view shots with sounds of machine gun fire as the Ryders throw bits of poisoned bread at them as they swoop by on their strafing runs. It’s a film that has the main character talking to us about what’s going on and helpfully pointing out all the people in the film that were actual players in the Madchester scene itself and not just actors, even showing one and then pausing the film to say that his scene was unfortunately cut, but “I’m sure it will be on the DVD”.

The third (and most important) is the sheer directing style of the film. It has no problem with using cheesy filters and scratchy prints to match the style of the rock videos of the time, is constantly looping back and forth in time from one plot point to another, and finds a way to throw an encyclopedia’s worth of information at us without ever really losing us within it. This is a film that is at once fun, uplifting, hilarious, touching, and even heartbreaking. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the music on display here, or aren’t a big fan of it, you owe it to yourself to check this film out.

Rating: *** ½

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