Saturday, 31 March 2012
24 Hour Party People (2002)
"It's a shame that you didn't sign the Smiths, but you were right about Mick Hucknall. His music's rubbish, and he's a ginger."
So I find myself identifying more with the first half of this film musically than the second. Joy Division and New Order are right up my street but I never really much bothered with the whole Madchester thing. I own both albums by the Stone Roses, and they're very good, but I don't know the Happy Mondays beyond the singles. But the whole story is such a fantastic ride, as rock n' roll always is. We see the great times, the sex and the drugs, but also the darkness as Ian Curtis quietly hangs himself after watching a Werner Herzog film. And hanging yourself is a painful, lingering, horrible way to die. The film also doesn't flinch from the awkward fact that the Hacienda, being awash with ecstasy, was funding gangs and guns and death, and Tony Wilson's flippant attitude to this (from real life, I assume, as his cameo appearance seems to imply a level of creative approval) doesn't exactly paint him in a good light. That's precisely why I don't take illegal drugs. Prohibition may be bloody stupid, but that doesn't mean that bootlegging is ok.
That aside, though, and noting his confessed neglect of his second family, the man is pure punk rock. The whole ethos of Factory Records- of total creative freedom for the bands- is wonderful, and economic reality can go to Hell. I'm just about old enough to remember when selling out was something that simply wasn't done, and signing to a major label was always something to be sheepishly apologised for although, in hindsight, that world came to an end when Sonic Youth signed to Geffen. Also wonderful is the way that he talks, and his unashamed refusal to downplay his education. As a fellow English graduate (although Nottingham, not Cambridge!) I love the speech about the "free play of signs and signifiers" in response to Rob Brydon's journalist accusing him (not unreasonably) of fascism because of Joy Division's rather dodgy name. The point here, of course, is that actually he does need to point out the irony of the Durutti Column's name, because these cultural references zoom straight over most people's heads. We see this sort of thing throughout the film; Ian Curtis doesn't even get the W.B. Yeats reference. I like this, though. There's too much inverted snobbery about. Why shouldn't we live in a world where tramps and game show hosts can quote Boethius if they want to?
There are so many stand-out performances here (I'll come to Steve Coogan in a bit), but Andy Serkis was particularly great as Martin Hannett. This is more or less a who's who of British comedy and drama performers, though, from Peter Kay to Simon Pegg. And the cameos, from Mark E. Smith (I spotted him!) to Howard Devoto (if you haven't heard Magazine's Real Life, get the album now) are a nice little extra bit of metatextual fun in a film where there's rather a lot of it, courtesy of screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce.
Rob Brydon has only a minor role but this is, I suppose, pretty much one of those Michael Winterbottom films with him and Coogan, all of which are rather good. The style is certainly very much in line with The Trip et al, with a lot of damage being done to the Fourth Wall. It's so very fitting that Coogan as Tony Wilson not only addresses the camera but does so as an unreliable narrator. Coogan has not only the talent but also the charisma to do this superbly. He also plays the moments of real feeling behind the façade; the scene where he's alone with Ian Curtis' laid-out corpse is genuinely moving.
The moment of nemesis is a magnificent conclusion as the Hacienda finally closes and Tony Wilson invites the punters to loot the place. The place certainly had its dark side, very much so, but this film is a joyous celebration of what now seem to be old-fashioned values of independent record labels, creative freedom and vibrant, changing music, unlike the stagnant scene of today with its landfill indie and chart music strangled by the dead hand of svengalis and talent shows. Er, said the old fart. But I'm increasingly coming to the conclusion that the bad old days of svengalis and staid musical conservatism, which came to an end when the Beatles came up with the radical practice of writing their own songs, thereby slaying that dragon. But it never really went away. I've always thought that the rock n' roll revolution of the '50s and '60s was a one-off, an injection of African rhythms into the mainstream of Western popular music, which had already been heralded by jazz and blues which now took over completely and gave rise to so much that was new and alive and wonderful. There will always be new music worth listening to, but those days now seem to be more or less over as a dominant part of mainstream culture. Musically, it's 1955 again. This film is a reminder of better times.