(R) 3 1/2 stars Joy Division. New Order. Factory Records. Hacienda. Happy Mondays. If those names mean anything to you, you"ve likely been anticipating the release date of 24 Hour Party People for quite some time. Directed by Michael Winterbottom (Welcome to Sarajevo, Wonderland), it"s the first feature film attempting to chronicle the city of Manchester"s transformation from a decaying post-industrial metropolis to the seat of an empire of cutting-edge music and culture that lasted from the birth of punk to the death of rave. 24 Hour Party People would have us believe that this latter-day Renaissance flourished at the hands of one man: Tony Wilson, an egomaniacal Cambridge-educated TV personality who experienced an epiphany upon seeing the Sex Pistols play their first Manchester gig in 1976. Also in attendance that history-making night: the nascent Buzzcocks (Howard Devoto appears in a cameo a few scenes later), and a group of quiet, skinny guys who soon went on to become Joy Division. 24 Hour Party People is shot in a manic, faux-documentary style that recreates the above scene and many other pivotal moments in Manchester"s musical history. The film uses a combination of archival footage and liberally-interpreted reenactments, drolly narrated by Wilson (Steve Coogan), a self-aggrandizing, almost wholly unreliable, but undeniably enjoyable narrator. "This is not a film about me - I am a minor character in my own story," he says at one point, but of course this is untrue. The film"s greatest flaw is that it is too much about Wilson - its narrow focus on his perspective at times reduces the role of the bands to simply providing the background music for Wilson"s one-man revolution. The film is at its finest during the first half, which follows Joy Division as they create an entirely new kind of music, at once darker and more celestial than anything previous. The band"s haunted, epileptic frontman Ian Curtis is played with uncanny accuracy by Sean Harris; after Curtis committed suicide in 1980, Manchester"s music scene lost focus, as does 24 Hour Party People, in its second half, which examines the rise of rave culture ("the moment at which even the white man starts dancing") at the hands of groups like the Happy Mondays, whose song lends both a title and theme to the film. The Mondays" drug addled antics, along with Wilson"s total lack of business sense, and the encroachment of Ecstasy cartels, finally bankrupted Factory Records in 1992. All that"s left today is the music and, ultimately, 24 Hour Party People leaves the viewer with a sense of its power and ebullience, which resonates long after the film"s day-glo credits have rolled.

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