‘24 Hour Party People’ – Sex, drugs, and the Manchester music scene on Criterion Channel

24 Hour Party People (2002) brings to life the rise and fall of Factory Records and the Manchester music scene from the glory days of the punk era to the early 1990s, presented as a decade-long party hosted by TV journalist turned entrepreneur, record producer, and bon vivante Tony Wilson (played by Steve Coogan).

It opens on a fateful concert where Wilson (and many other folks who will become central to the Manchester scene) sees the Sex Pistols on their first Manchester appearance, and follows his new odyssey through the music industry as a he opens a music club, showcases the fledgling Joy Division, and founds Factory Records, an idealistic enterprise that gives artists full control over their music and brings the Manchester sound to the world

Director Michael Winterbottom’s sprawling, jagged film is happily, even willfully unreliable as history and it embraces the tug-of-war between factual events and the stories and legends that have around them. It makes unsubstantiated claims of historical import that us non-Joy Division/Happy Monday-savvy viewers will have to take (or not) at face value, but Winterbottom feels less interested in the facts than the feel of the 25 year social rollercoaster. It makes for a bracing portrait of a time, a place, and a social phenomenon with a documentary immediacy strewn with self-aware commentary.

It’s hosted as much as it is narrated. Wilson weaves in and out of the story as main character, master of ceremonies, and commentator, and Coogan’s easy, amiable, often self-effacing portrayal makes the conceit work. He’s in the moment and yet looking back on it from an older and wiser standpoint, always ready to turn to the camera for an informed aside, a piece of historical trivia, or simply a personal reflection. At one point Coogan even steps out character to point out the cameos made by the real life figures as they observe actors playing out their story.

Cinematographer Robby Müller brings a little focus to the (by now) clichéd use of frantically wandering handheld camera, jump cuts, and mixing textures of film and video. Winterbottom, a chameleon who had uncanny ability to reinvent his style with almost every film in the 1990s and early 2000s, mixes it into one of his most entertaining and invigorating films.

John Thomson, Paul Popplewell, Lennie James, Shirley Henderson, Paddy Considine, John Simm, and Andy Serkis are among the costars of the sprawling cast.

Rated R

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
24 Hour Party People [Blu-ray]
24 Hour Party People [DVD]

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The DVD features two commentary tracks, one featuring the real life Tony Wilson, the other with producer Andrew Eaton and star Steve Coogan, plus two short documentary featurettes and deleted scenes.


Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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