Tuesday, 10 September 2013

24 Hour Party People (4 Stars)

This is the true story of the television reporter Tony Wilson from 1976 to 1992. Despite all the roles being played by actors, it's told in a pseudo-documentary style. Steve Coogan, the actor who plays Tony, frequently turns to the camera and comments on what has just happened. In one scene Tony finds his wife having sex with Howard Devoto, the lead singer of the Buzzcocks, in a toilet. As Tony walks away the real Howard Devoto (not the actor we've just seen) appears and says that he can't remember it ever happening, to which Tony (the actor played by Steve) replies that it really did happen, but since Howard denies it he thinks it's fair to show both sides of the story.

The story begins on June 4th 1976. Tony Wilson goes to the Sex Pistols' first concert in Manchester. There are only 42 people in the audience, including Tony and his wife, but Tony points out how significant the concert was. Two members of the Buzzcocks, Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley, were in the audience. Peter Hook, Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris were in the audience, who later went on to worldwide success as New Order. Also present was Mick Hucknall, who later became the lead singer of Simply Red. Then there was record producer Martin Hennet. Who could have known that the 42 people in that audience would go on to make countless millions of dollars over the next 20 years?

This concert was the turning point for Tony Wilson. He considered it the biggest musical revolution since Elvis and adapted his career accordingly. Once a week he presented a live music television show, "So it goes", which featured mainly punk rock bands. This was the only television programme that took punk seriously. Even though he never gave up his job as a reporter, he took up other activities. He founded a record label called Factory Records. He opened a concert hall called the Factory, where punk bands performed, and later a nightclub called the Hacienda, which featured both live music and DJ's.

The first half of the film deals predominantly with Joy Division, the most important group who signed up with Factory Records. To show how serious he was about them Tony wrote the contract with his own blood. Please note, he didn't just sign it with his blood, he actually wrote the contract with his blood. After Ian Curtis' suicide we see Tony's other bands, including New Order, A Certain Ratio, and the Happy Mondays. Despite the commercial success of these bands Tony sank ever deeper into debt. For instance, in 1983 New Order's song "Blue Monday" became the highest selling 12" single of all time, but due to a miscalculation of the production costs every copy sold meant a loss of 5 pence (8 cents). Millions of copies were sold.

The 1980's were a time of change. First of all the 70's punk bands turned from punk to electronic music. Not just Tony's bands, this was a nationwide phenomenon. Compare Ultravox in the 1970's with Ultravox in the 1980's. It's hardly recognisable as the same band. The same is true of Adam Ant, the Stranglers and just about every other early punk group. But as the 1980's progressed there was an even bigger change. The disc jockeys themselves were becoming more important than the musicians. The Hacienda became the birthplace of the rave movement.

This is a fascinating film. It shows that Tony Wilson, whose name is unknown to most people, is the most influential person in the development of modern music over the last 30 years. He died of cancer in 2007, at the age of 57. Strangely, this film is no longer available on DVD. I managed to find a copy on Ebay. If you're lucky it might be available to watch on Netflix and similar services.

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