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So it goes
A UK region 2 DVD review of 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE in memory of Tony Wilson by Lord Summerisle
 

On Friday 10th August this year Anthony H. Wilson died of cancer aged 57. As well as being a highly prominent Northern English television journalist, Wilson was highly regarded as one of British music's most important aficionados, next to the likes of John Peel. He was responsible for introducing the Sex Pistols into the mainstream and his record label, Factory Records, cultivated some of the greatest UK independent music of contemporary times with bands such as Joy Division and The Happy Mondays, as well as helping to create the acid house scene. This was a cruel blow to anyone who truly appreciates the foundations of the current British music industry and the world of broadcasting, so to commemorate his death I will retrospectively review the film 24 Hour Party People and its DVD release.

The film, made in 2002 and directed by British auteur Michael Winterbottom, focuses on Tony Wilson's life at the time of his major involvement in the Manchester music industry, serving as a platform to explore the scene more generally as well as his TV career and personal struggles with drug addiction and marital problems. The lead role going to Steve Coogan, the film is often very funny, but lends itself surprisingly well to the more sensitive aspects of the time, including the suicide of visionary Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis. Coogan's performance is very in keeping with the general approach to narrative of the film, which discards total truth and accuracy in favour of the occasionally slightly embellished and exaggerated details generated by the intoxicated mythos surrounding the scene at the time. It is for the individual to decide if this is a favourable approach, as some who were around at the time find these inaccuracies irritating. I think that as Winterbottom makes it blatantly explicit that these embellishments have been made on purpose there is little need for these qualms.

Coogan's Wilson is played a pitch higher than one would imagine the man to have actually been like, although the self-proclaimed 'King of Madchester' was known to be an idiosyncratic and rather larger than life character. Some say Coogan has created a more loveable Tony than was actually often the case in the real world. The look and voice are totally convincing though. There is also a slight whiff of Alan Partridge in there, but more in the timing than the characterization, although something is said in the DVD extras that there is a possibility that Coogan may have based Partridge loosely on Tony Wilson. The supporting cast are all fantastic, especially Paddy Considine as the Joy Division manager Rob Gretton and Andy Serkis as the legendary volatile producer Martin Hannett.

The film itself combines fiction with actual footage from the time, creating an atmosphere as close as possible to the reality of being there. This reportage style realism is directly juxtaposed with Coogan's Wilson and other characters directly addressing the camera in a breaking of the fourth wall anti-realism, giving the movie a personal touch that instead of alienating the audience reinforces the experience of actually being there with them, coupled with an eccentric and independent style that reflected Wilson's attitude. The sometimes inaccurate narrative is in direct opposition to the meticulous attention to detail taken on the mise en scene, from the Hacienda club's total reconstruction for the film to the musical realism, as 90% of the music depicted live in the film was indeed played live by the actors. This is typical of the scrupulous realism demanded by Winterbottom, making the aforementioned addresses to the camera all the more unusual, but it is a technique he obviously found favourable as it is used extensively in 2005's wonderful A Cock and Bull Story, again with Coogan as the lead.

Personally, I find the first act of the film the most enjoyable. Party People's heady mix of comedy and tragedy, fact and fiction, comes together best in this part of the film, and Wilson's involvement with Joy Division fascinates me more than the subsequent Happy Mondays/acid house storyline. Saying that, the entire film is an entertaining semi-biographical look at an incredible character, the likes of which are not seen often these days, with the huge bonus of an insight into the world of 1970s-80s Manchester and its burgeoning music scene. It has an obviously great soundtrack including Joy Division, New Order, The Happy Mondays, The Buzzcocks, The Sex Pistols and many more.

Most who have an interest in this era and/or Wilson himself will probably already own or have seen this film, but for those out there who do not have an obvious attraction to the material, I seriously urge you to give this a look as a piece of ingenuitive modern British culture. For the fans, 24 Hour Party People is of course all the more poignant since Tony Wilson's death, and with the upcoming release of the Ian Curtis biopic Control, for which Wilson had a large part in its casting and production, there is thankfully much to keep his memory living on.

sound and vision

24 Hour Party People is a film that presents a multitude of challenges for DVD transfer, from the limited colour range of the dour-looking Manchester streets and interiors to its use of strobes and bright, prime coloured lighting in some of the club scenes, all of which is accetuated by the decision to shoot on a Sony PD-150 DV-CAM video camera. The transfer here copes very well with most of it, the crisp and detailed daytime exteriors setting the bar that only slips during the blue saturated club scenes, where the comparative image softness is neither surprising nor a problem and likely more a shooting issue as a transfer one. Compression artefacts are occasionally visible, but you have to be really looking to spot them. The grain level varies on the sequence, in some cases deliberately pushed to the fore for effect. There are some striking visuals, one floating aerial shot of the city giving Manchester the neal-lit industrial beauty of Blade Runner Los Angeles. The framing is 1.78:1 and the transfer is anamorphically enhanced.

The 5.1 soundtrack does well by the music, especially in the club scenes, which is where the surround tracks come to life and the range and clarity are at their peak. Front separation is distinct and the bass is nicely pitched, the temptation to overdo the subwoofer work resisted.

extra features

Bizarre Love Triangle – Audio commentary featuring Tony Wilson/second commentary with Steve Coogan and Andrew Eaton
The Tony Wilson commentary is the jewel in the crown of the brilliant bonus material on this double DVD set. He talks charmingly, engagingly and often hilariously about his opinions of the film. The best thing about this addition, when taking some of the below extras into consideration, is how positive he is about it all. He verifies the accurate parts, often self-deprecatingly, praises the technical aspects of the film and even when he is pointing out parts he disagrees with it is with a charm that he spent many years cultivating. He holds his hands up to how ridiculous he could be, and in doing so earns more respect than one might expect from some tales told of him.

Re-watching this now, after his death, the commentary takes on a haunting and touching new dimension, and I for one am grateful that Mr Wilson was drafted in to play this great part for the DVD. This is one vital accrual that really enhances the Tony Wilson memory for me, as well as the special features pack.

The Steve Coogan and Andrew Eaton audio commentary is in many ways as good as the Tony Wilson one, giving insight into Coogan's portrayal of his character with Eaton talking more about the technical and practical aspects of the shoot. Both are entertaining and informative, it's just a shame they could not have been joined by either the screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce or the elusive Winterbottom for more on directorial and narrative contributions.

Sleeve Notes – Who's who in 24 Hour Party People
This feature is a subtitle track that gives trivia on selected scenes of the film, a lot of which is also mentioned on the commentary tracks, but some of the facts about the music and Factory Records are interesting.

Unknown Pleasures – 24 deleted scenes
A great collection of scenes removed from the final cut. I always feel the same about deleted scenes, it informs you of how much footage on feature films do not appear in the end product, but can sometimes leave you wondering why some were. There are a couple of scenes I could see fitting into the finished film, but generally one can see why most were left out. For example there was a whole section removed regarding a trip to a football match which would have changed the tone of the film and Wilson character quite a bit.

Pills 'n' Thrills And Bellyaches – Interviews
A nice cartoony sub menu gives you access to eleven mini interviews with individuals of the era, including Bez and Shaun Ryder from the Happy Mondays, the designer Peter Saville, Peter Hook from New Order and members of the band James. Just one more source of information on this packed collection to outline Factory Records practices and Tony Wilson's methods and personality.

New Order 'Here To Stay' Music Video
A really emotive video to an equally evocative song. Try as I might I cannot find out who directed this video which is greatly annoying, as I can't credit this to anyone, but it really hits a nerve with me on several levels. After seeing this back and knowing the song was written as a tribute to the dead who were close to New Order, in particular Ian Curtis, there is a new poignancy to it that recurs now throughout the entire DVD set because of the new and important addition to the Factory obituary. The video follows Bernard Sumner in the film guise of John Simm, walking around the backstage of a concert, and a photographer trying to get into the building. Simm's deadpan portrayal of Sumner as he mimes his heartfelt lyrics sends shivers down my spine, and when the dedications to Curtis, Rob Gretton and Martin Hannett fade in onscreen at the end we now know there is one more to add to this list.

With the disbandment of New Order this year there is little striving forth from the Factory days and Wilson's legacy is becoming a part of the past and no longer the present, another sad reason why this song is important.

24FPS – Original theatrical trailer
A pleasant surprise to a person who does not really like trailers, this is a personal exception. Not just footage from the film cut together with text and a voiceover, the Party People way of doing things has Steve Coogan as Tony Wilson addressing the audience as he does in the film, telling us that this is the trailer for 24 Hour Party People, a brilliantly post-modern piss-take of the standard trailer formula. Inventive, funny, stylish and  totally accurate in conveying the feel of the film, this is the way film trailers should be made.

From The Factory Floor – Commentary by artists and friends from the era
This is one of my favourite additions to the collection. Featuring bassist of Joy Division/New Order Peter Hook, Happy Mondays' backing singer Rowetta and A Certain Ratio member and music consultant for the film, Martin Moscrop plus more, this is a decent gauge of how authentic the film was. Shot in a relaxed atmosphere where all concerned are sat around with drinks watching the film on TV and shooting the breeze about the old days, much of what is said goes off at tangents as they reminisce, although there are some interesting points made about the inaccuracy of some details. Most of these are made by Peter Hook who is by far the most vocal in criticizing the shortcomings of factual error present in the movie, dismissing many scenes as totally made up nonsense. He also seems to have somewhat of an irrational hated of Steve Coogan, which is rather bluntly put in typical Hooky Mancunian. Wilson's character is talked about, but as people close to the tragedy of the suicide of Ian Curtis there is eerily little said about his portrayal.

Portrait Of A Film-Maker – Michael Winterbottom
This is a fascinating documentary running at just over 20 minutes, and the only extra to actually feature Winterbottom himself. There are also short interviews with writer and long time Winterbottom collaborator, Frank Cottrell Boyce, and producer Andrew Eaton as well as on set at the Hacienda footage from Party People.

Peter Saville Gallery
The real Tony Wilson talks Saville through some of his famous graphic design. An audio track with the art onscreen, this is a very entertaining and enjoyable extra, as Wilson and Saville squabble over remembered details as the two old friends they were. It is here as well as in the commentary track that Wilson's personality comes through, and it is clear to see why he was such a large figure and personality in the scene. The artwork itself is fantastic and Peter Saville has gained a worthy reputation for his highly recognizable minimal style.

summary

The special features on this double DVD set are some of the best I have ever seen, with over eight hours of extra material, and almost none of it filler. The only problem I do have with it is there is very little from Winterbottom himself, as he does not appear on any, save one, of the DVD features and it would be nice to know why certain narrative and stylistic decisions were made. Other than that it is a near perfect collection, with a set of extras boasting a detailed and balanced look at important aspects of the film. I like to think a worthy addition to the Factory Records legacy and one Tony Wilson himself was content with.

R.I.P – Ian Curtis, Martin Hannett, Rob Gretton and Anthony H. Wilson.

24 Hour Party People

UK 2002
116 mins
director
Michael Winterbottom
starring
Steve Coogan
John Thomson
Nigel Pivaro
Lennie James
Shirley Henderson
Paddy Consadine

DVD details
region 2
video
1.78:1 anamorphic
sound
Dolby 5.1 surround
languages
English
subtitles .
English
extras
Tony Wilson commentary
Steve Coogan and Andrew Eaton commentary
Who's Who subtitle track
Deleted scenes
Interviews
Music video
Artists and friends commentary
Trailer
Michael Winterbottom portrait

Patrick Saville gallery

distributor
Pathe
release date
Out now
review posted
6 September 2007

See all of Lord Summerisle's reviews