“24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE”— Manchester’s Factory Records


Manchester’s Factory Records

Amos Lassen

“24 Hour Party People” is the story of Factory Records I Manchester, England. Factory was at the center of Manchester recording from the late ’70s through the early ’90s and was the cradle of British dance culture) and the home to an innovative, artist-friendly approach to business. However,  Factory burned itself out. Directed by Michael Winterbottom, the film opens with a sequence that shows its intentions to avoid the familiar. The year was 1976 and future Factory founder Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan) is working as a TV presenter. His report on the new sport of hang-gliding spills over into a monologue on the scene’s Icarus-like implications for the story that follows. It’s a case of form following content, and the rest of the film subscribes to a very similar cut-and-paste aesthetic.

Coogan becomes both a clubland impresario and the driving force behind Joy Division and its doomed, soon-to-be-iconic lead singer Ian Curtis (Sean Harris). Ups and downs follow in the years after Curtis’ suicide, and the film acknowledges and revel in its own shapelessness. It’s an epic story with too many players and too great an ego at the center to allow room for them all. Even without the confused post-punk milieu, Coogan is a man-of-contradictions. He mentions his Cambridge education while covering stories of dwarves who bathe elephants at the Chester zoo, he is an unlikely rock hero, but the film makes him into one anyway. The script is by frequent collaborator and fellow Mancunian Frank Cottrell Boyce. Winterbottom and cinematographer Robby Müller use an innovative approach to digital video, showing Wilson’s career as a funny, unexpectedly inspiring story of excess, poor choices, and unwavering high-mindedness. It all fell apart but only after having been completely successful.  

What director Michael Winterbottom and TV chat host Alan Partridge have done with the Manchester club scene in the late Seventies and Eighties is irreverent, honest and  crazy.   Factory Records was started  with a temperamental, allegedly brilliant producer, and signed up a bunch of serious-looking nerds, who belted out dark, depressing songs.

Wilson ran a club to highlight his groups and then splashed out on a warehouse-sized building, The Hacienda, which was said  to look like a public toilet. No one came at first, but later, when Happy Mondays were huge, it became a legend and then the drug dealers moved in and there were guns and people were killed and it was no longer fun. What the film achieves, better than any other rock music movie, is how unorganized and banal so much of what went on behind the scenes was.

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