Monday, February 4, 2013

Eric's "Films I Love (That Don't Get Enough Love)" Part I


24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE (dir. Michael Winterbottom, 2002)

I decided to engage myself in a bit of an experiment. To write some reviews on films I love that I don't think get discussed enough. While objectively I couldn't say these are some of the greatest movies ever made (nor be on my TEN BEST lists), these are flicks I can watch again and again and again. And always find something new I adore about them.

The first of these films is Michael Winterbottom's wonderful 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE. This would mark the first of many collaborations between himself and then comedian, not yet a-Brit-Expat-For-Hire-In-Hollywood Steve Coogan. It would also mark the first appearance in a Winterbottom film by Rob Brydon whose personal dynamic with Coogan would be exploited to great use in TRISTAM SHANDY and THE TRIP. The screenwriter was Frank Cottrell Boyce who had parlayed his success as a children's book writer into a screenwriting career. And it amuses me to no end speculating on how Cottrell Boyce went from writing a sequel to Ian Fleming's CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG to this (actually, it seems to be the other way around as his book was published in 2011). But Winterbottom and Cottrell Boyce had worked together on three films up this point and continued the relationship for three more.

When I was a teenager, I had a very strange mix of musical tastes usually informed by whatever clique I was hanging out with at the time. But most of these bands held my interest for maybe a week, not even a day (yep, I'm man enough to admit Huey Lewis And The News was one of 'em). And I found I liked them out of obligation to a particular social group. But then there were bands I became a fan of that I couldn't let go. They just stuck. Stuff I listened to that weren't mostly influenced by those I hung out with. Bands like The Clash, Sex Pistols, Bowie, Public Image Limited, Black Flag, Elvis Costello, The Ramones, The Damned, X, The Specials, English Beat, The Butthole Surfers, Led Zeppelin and The Who. And these were gateway drugs to other bands that would eventually stick as well. Some of whom, and the culture that gave birth to them, would be depicted in 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE.

I was a bit of a Johnny-Come-Lately to the whole Manchester music thing. In fact, while in college when New Order appeared on my radar, I had no idea they were originally Joy Division (As I sit here typing this "She Lost Control" comes up on my iTunes Genius mix. Believe it or not. To paraphrase Tony Wilson in PARTY PEOPLE I guess I'm being postmodern long after it's fashionable). But I became a big fan of both bands as well as The Happy Mondays and Inspiral Carpets. But the lore behind these guys escaped me. I knew Ian Curtis took his own life but did not know how early it was into his career. And all I knew about Factory Records was the label on the cd covers. To say that 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE is just a comprehensive, docu-dramatic overview of a specific place and time in Rock N' Roll history is missing a lot of points the film makes. Its also a joyous celebration of music and performance. In other words, its not just a docu-drama, its a flick that's absolutely, fucking in love with the music, the bands and the scene of an era. Its also a slyly subversive satire of docu-drama story telling. The fourth wall is constantly broken. The real life musicians show up in the same scenes as their fictionalized counterparts. Steve Coogan's Tony Wilson is constantly addressing the film viewer. But not as a tiresome technique. It never comes across too cute or clever for its own sake. Instead, its incredibly well written and structured on Cottrell Boyce's part. And it serves to gloss over the "less interesting" bits of what may or may not have happened. For example, take the scene where Wilson finds his wife having sex with Buzzcock's member Howard DeVoto in a public toilet. The camera pans to reveal the REAL Howard DeVoto as he comments "I definitely don't remember this happening." Our how we're introduced to a rather confusing scene where Wilson visits what appears to be his wife (?) in the hospital with a boy that may be his son. We then cut to Wilson in a car telling us that, yes, that was his second wife and he eventually had a kid and turned out to be a bad dad but, "I'm a minor character in my own story."

This postmodern approach contributes to the absolute, positive anarchic spirit of the film. That same spirit that existed within the Manchester scene of the late 80s, early 90s. The need to have no rules. To keep the power of creative expression with the artist and not the money men. Which results in some arguably bad (and sometimes hilarious) business decisions on Tony Wilson's part - the real life founder of Factory Records. And this person (who is not a major character in his own story) is a fascinating example of stalwart naivete in the face of adversity. He gets shot at twice but reacts as if its just another day at the office. He lets drug dealers run his club. Or hilariously tries to explain to Ian Curtis and his mates why "Joy Division," due to it's origin as a Nazi, ethnic cleansing experiment, is a completely inappropriate name for a band. His company is bleeding money but he keeps spending beyond his means. But in the end, he still refuses to sell out. Another great moment reveals an attempt to buy out Factory Records and its entire library. To which Wilson responds there is nothing to sell. They never had a contract with their bands. Therefore there's no library. Just office space. And to Wilson's credit he asserts, "to protect myself from selling out, I decided we wouldn't have anything to sell."

24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE is also one of the best cast movies I've seen. It's a veritable who's who of British film actors working today: Coogan, Brydon, Shirley Henderson, Paddy Considine, Andy Serkis, Sean Harris, Christopher Eccleston, Simon Pegg, etc... some actors appear in larger roles than others. On top of this appear the real life personalities that inspired the movie. Like the aforementioned DeVoto, Happy Monday's Paul Ryder, The Fall's Mark Smith, Inspiral Carpet's Clint Boon, among others. Even the real Tony Wilson shows up in a cameo. And apparently Kenny "R2-D2" Baker is somewhere in there as well. But most of all the film is a love letter to Manchester and a scene that represented an influential phase in the evolution of Indie Rock. This would make a fantastic double bill with Anton Corbijn's CONTROL (2007). But watch CONTROL first as that is best viewed as an elegy for a specific front man whereas 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE is a celebration of an era.

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