If the words “I think you are a pig, you should be in a zoo” or the names Dennis and Lois mean anything at all to you, read on.
O.k., now we’ve ditched the unbelievers, let’s travel back to the Free Trade Hall, Manchester. Time – 1976. Tony Wilson is a jobbing reporter for Granada t.v.’s local news programme – and the world is about to change forever. 42 daring individuals brave a Sex Pistols gig promoted by Buzzcocks Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley; most of them leave the venue intent on forming bands and altering the musical landscape. Wilson creates Factory Records. Joy Division craft the desolate, incandescent ‘Unknown Pleasures’, an l.p. that opens with a crisp echoing drumbeat and closes with the sound of smashing glass. Somewhere in the middle lies ‘New Dawn Fades’, the author of which, naturally, commits suicide months later. His shell-shocked mates become New Order/world famous. And Wilson, now seeking ‘the new Rolling Stones’, employs a shuffling, shambling bunch of dealers and drug casualties who fit the bill to perfection. Bez and his freaky dancing herald a second Summer Of Love. Time – 1989.
I was lucky enough to see Joy Division play live in Derby, April 1980. There’s a gig recreation in 24 Hour Party People which is so very authentic that I began searching for myself among the adoring throng. Michael Winterbottom manages to trot out the facts and events of these thrilling times while retaining the graininess and fragmentation of his ode to London, Wonderland – to which this movie almost forms a northern companion piece. It’s surprisingly, slyly funny - Frank Cottrell Boyce’s script and Coogan’s nuanced performance capture the drive, enthusiasm, and yes, the pretentiousness of Wilson, constantly referencing, quoting, or misquoting poets and philosophers from Archimedes to Iggy; also evident are the unexpected humour and loutishness of the externally glacial Joy Division, the 24-hour party constituting the lives of the Happy Mondays, and (Factory obsessives rejoice!) the latin funk stylings of A Certain Ratio. ACR take a bit of an unfair battering in the movie, playing to a tiny crowd on the opening night of Wilson’s Hacienda club and being virtually ostracized when they take up jazz – at least we get to hear a healthy portion of their single ‘Flight’ (FAC 22), the best record the label ever released.
Factory was always about exclusivity – if you didn’t understand, you weren’t invited, but if you did, my word, what delights lay ahead of you. 24 Hour Party People maintains this forbidding aura, and is loaded with obscure cameo appearances (Devoto, Vini Reilly, Rowetta, Mark E. Smith), depictions of fringe nutters (John The Postman!), and archly ironic casting. New Order’s Viking-like bassist Peter Hook, for instance, is played by Ralf Little from t.v.’s ‘The Royle Family’, far less for his negligible resemblance to Hooky than for the fact that the show’s writer and star Caroline Aherne was acrimoniously divorced from the musician a few years ago. Likewise, when Keith Allen turns up as the grasping executive from London (ugh!) Records at the end, rather than commiserating that Factory is dead one tends to celebrate by association Allen’s part in the joyful 1990 World Cup number one single ‘World In Motion’.
This film, rightly and properly, raises the late Ian Curtis, the late Martin Hannett, and the ‘how-is-he-still-alive?’ Shaun William Ryder to the status of gods. In a wonderful dope haze of a scene towards the end, it also reduces God to the status of Tony Wilson - and, it turns out, God is a Durutti Column fan. If you’ve read this far, that simple statement will mean everything to you, and so will this amazing movie.
As a gigging musician in the late 80's and early 90's, I used to play places that resembled some of the clubs depicted in this film. And watching it, I could almost smell that stale beer soaked, rotting carpet fragrance once again. Also, the violent edginess that epitomised a lot of northern venues is authentically presented here. A film with a very authentic feel for the time. Impressive and scary in equal measure!