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02.13.2003

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flick pick | 24 Hour Party People 2002
Directed by: Michael Winterbottom
Written by: Frank Cottrell Boyce
Starring: Steve Coogan, Shirley Henderson, Paddy Considine, Sean Harris, Danny Cunningham
Language: English
Look for it at the video store under: comedy

Watch it when youíre in the mood for something: true?!?, whimsical, witty
The critic says: / 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: /5

Plot synopsis In faux documentary style, 24 Hour Party People tells the more or less true story of Tony Wilson: British television personality, co-founder of influential indie music label Factory Records, and owner of Manchesterís most famous/infamous club, the Hacienda. As Wilson himself glibly says, though, itís not his story at all --or rather, heís a minor player in the story of his own life. And heís right, in a way: Wilsonís life story is really a chronicle of the Manchester music scene between 1976 and 1992, from the birth of punk to the death of acid.  The film begins with Wilson at a legendary Sex Pistols show in Manchester Ė at which it seems that of the 40-some people present, fully half would go on to become fairly well-known musicians themselves. Among these are the boys who would become Joy Division, Factoryís first major band. Joy Divisionís on the verge of making it big when the bandís resident tortured genius, singer/songwriter Ian Curtis, hangs himself. Factoryís most critically-lauded band manages to find rebirth in the form of New Order, which goes on to enjoy success as one of the best of the 80s new wave dance bands.  Neither they, nor Factory, ever see much financial reward, however, as all of the money goes back into the creation of Wilsonís ill-conceived brainchild, the Hacienda nightclub, which from the get-go, seems destined for failure. Though the Hacienda eventually becomes the birthplace and center of the rave/dj culture -- as embodied in all its glorious excess by Factoryís newest popular band, the Happy Mondays Ė Factory continues to hemorrhage money. In the grand tradition of Wilsonís punk heroes, the Sex Pistols, in the end Factoryís failure sort of is its success: when you found something on the basis of not selling out, ending up with nothing to sell is kind of the ultimate proof that you did all right.

Review Seeing 24 Hour Party People for the first time is like going to a really great show by a band you previously knew little about: you come out of it afterwards feeling totally energized by the fact that youíve discovered something new and wonderful and amazing, though you havenít had quite enough time yet to process what it is exactly thatís so impressed you. Thereís nothing that any plot summary could say that would be able to capture why 24 Hour Party People is such a crazy joy to watch. After all, the Manchester music scene isnít something Iíve really ever thought about, cared about, felt a connection to. Sure, I still pop in my New Order CDs from time to time Ė despite my boyís groans of nooooo! Ė but the Happy Mondays pretty much always seemed bland (despite Wilsonís repeated glowing comparison of Mondaysí drugged-out, tone-deaf singer/lyricist Shaun Ryder to W.B. Yeats, I think itís safe to assume that Wilsonís alone in the world in that opinion). And unless you happen to be British, and were alive in the 70s, youíre unlikely to have a clue who Tony Wilson is.  Even after watching the movie, youíre still not certain you know Tony Wilson at all Ė heís so gleefully postmodern cutesy (ďThis scene didnít actually make it to the final cut. Iím sure itíll be on the DVDĒ) that thereís no escaping the fact that he knows that we know that heís always, always aware of the camera. And then thereís the added layer of the fact that the Tony Wilson we see on-screen isnít the real Tony Wilson at all, but Steve Coogan, an actor who apparently once played a very Wilson-esque character on British television. Itís never entirely clear whatís true, and whatís real, and whether any of this is even really as important in the grand scheme of things as Wilsonís over-inflated ego would like to believe. And thatís a lot of the fun of it. Wilson utters his pomposities one second, then turns to the camera and basically mocks himself the next. The character, like the movie, loves the music and the chaotic spirit of the Manchester scene, but never takes any of it so seriously that he canít step back and laugh at it as well. óreviewed by Yee-Fan Sun

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