A review of “24 Hour Party
People” by Jeanne Aufmuth
Rating: R for sex, drug
hour, 57 minutes
urban beat demimonde of 70s and 80s Manchester, England to the
birth of the ubiquitous rave culture, this pop docudrama chronicles the ideological
songmaker’s scene with loads of style and little substance.
Manchester circa 1976
was the epicenter of the music universe – a nihilistic environment of punk
rockers, upscale drugs, hip young women, and the industrial chic of beat music.
A fateful evening at the Sex Pistols’ debut performance (as one of 40 audience
members) propels minor TV personality Tony Wilson (British comedian Steve
Coogan) straight into the fickle heart of the music promotion biz. Wilson makes his
mark as the manager of trade beat-band Joy Division, but suffers a major
setback when lead singer Ian Curtis (Sean Harris) unexpectedly hangs himself on
the eve of his American tour.
incident should have a pivotal impact on Wilson and on this
affected film collage, but it does neither. Wilson bounces
around from band to band, cheerfully holding forth (often directly into the
camera) on his sex life, his groundbreaking label Factory Records, and the
complicated finances of his popular Manchester hangout,
Russell Club. As pointed out repeatedly
by our windbag of a tour guide, it’s all about the music. Uncanny observation, since “24 Hour Party
People” is about everything but.
the base raw energy of such cutting-edge bands as the Pistols, Happy Mondays
and New Order (nee Joy Division), this is a graying fan’s letdown. In real time, Factory Records was considered a
fine purveyor of a distinct sound and a new look. Neither is evident here, swallowed up as it
is in a netherworld of agitated rhythm. Digital video contributes to the visual
confusion – a profusion of sound and color that veers out of control with no
thought to narrative structure or plot continuity. Coogan elicits a few laughs, a saving grace
when the going gets tough.