24 Hour Party People
24 Hour Party People is a 2002 British film about Manchester’s popular music community from 1976 to 1992, and specifically about Factory Records. 24 Hour Party People was written by Frank Cottrell Boyce and directed by Michael Winterbottom. The film was entered into the 2002 Cannes Film Festival.
24 Hour Party People begins with the punk rock era, and moves through the 1980s into the “Madchester” scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s. The main character is Tony Wilson, a news reporter for Granada Television and the head of Factory Records (played by Steve Coogan), and the narrative largely follows his career, while also covering the major Factory artists, especially Joy Division and New Order, A Certain Ratio, The Durutti Column, and the Happy Mondays.
24 Hour Party People is a dramatisation based on a combination of real events, rumours, urban legends, and the imaginations of the scriptwriter – as the film makes clear. In one scene featuring Howard Devoto (played by Martin Hancock) having sex with Wilson’s first wife, the real Devoto, an extra in the scene, turns to the camera and says “I definitely don’t remember this happening”. The fourth wall is frequently broken, with Wilson (who also acts as the narrator) frequently commenting on events as they occur directly to camera, at one point declaring that he’s “being postmodern, before it’s fashionable”. The actors are often intercut with real contemporary concert footage, including the Sex Pistols gig at the Lesser Free Trade Hall.
24 Hour Party People opens in the late 1970s in the Pennines, where Tony Wilson, reporting for Granada Television embarks on a hang gliding adventure, despite not having any training. After crashing several times and receiving a “rather unfortunate” injury to his coccyx, he walks away, then turns to the camera, breaking the fourth wall, saying the scene was symbolic of what is to come on many levels. “I don’t want to say too much, don’t want to spoil it. I’ll just say one word: ‘Icarus’. If you get it, great. If you don’t, that’s fine too. But you should probably read more.”
Wilson is dissatisfied with his job as a television news reporter, finding stories like the hang-gliding stunt unfulfilling, telling his producer, Charles, “I’m a serious fucking journalist … I went to Cambridge.” Wilson then attends a concert in June 1976 at Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall by the Sex Pistols (the Buzzcocks were also to perform but weren’t ready). Despite only being attended by 42 people, Wilson cites the concert as a great historical event that would inspire attendees to “go out and perform wondrous deeds”.
For his part, Wilson, the host of a music show, So It Goes, decides to move beyond just putting bands on television and get into promoting concerts. With some friends, actor Alan Erasmus and Rob Gretton, Wilson starts a weekly series of punk rock shows at a Manchester club. It is during the opening night, and a performance by a band Gretton manages called Joy Division, that Wilson is caught by his wife, Lindsay, getting fellatio from a woman in the back of the club owner Don Tonay’s “nosh van”. She then retaliates by having sexual intercourse in a toilet cubicle with the Buzzcocks’ Howard Devoto, and is caught by Tony. The real Devoto, portraying a janitor cleaning the bathroom sink, then turns to the camera and says “I definitely don’t remember this happening.”
Wilson continues in the music business, and with his friends, starts Factory Records, signing Joy Division, led by erratic, brooding lead singer Ian Curtis, as the first band. Showing his dedication, Wilson prepares a record contract for the band, written in his own blood, giving the artists full control over their music. Irascible producer Martin Hannett is hired to record Joy Division, and though he is difficult to work with ? he orders Joy Division drummer Stephen Morris, to dismantle his drum kit and reassemble it on the roof of the studio ? the results are the work of genius, and soon Joy Division have a hit record.
The success is short-lived, however, when, just before Joy Division is to tour the United States, Curtis commits suicide by hanging himself. The news is broken to Wilson as he is preparing to do a news report about a Chester town crier, and the distraught Wilson asks the crier to report on Curtis’ death. Joy Division beat the odds and survive the death of their lead singer, going on to rename themselves New Order, and record the hit song “Blue Monday”.
Factory Records continues with the building of its nightclub, The Haçienda. The Haçienda shown in the film was not the real club, but a replica built in a Manchester factory space; the original club was closed in 1997 and demolished in 2002, replaced by luxury apartments. The exterior of the building is used in some scenes. Another hit band, the Happy Mondays, are signed, and the beginning of the ecstasy-fuelled rave culture is witnessed.
Despite all the success, Factory Records is losing vast amounts of money, both on The Haçienda and on recording its bands. In one scene, Erasmus points out that the label is actually losing 5 pence for every copy of the 12-inch single for “Blue Monday” that is sold because the intricately designed packaging by Peter Saville costs more than what the records are being sold for. Saville is additionally portrayed for having a reputation for missing deadlines, turning in posters and tickets for club dates after the events have already occurred. The Factory partners try to save the label by selling it to London Records, but when it is revealed that Factory does not hold valid contracts with any of its artists, the deal falls through.
Other troubles include the drug use by the Happy Mondays’ Shaun Ryder, who holds the master tapes for the band’s troubled fourth studio album hostage until Wilson gives him some money. When the master tape is played, it turns out that Ryder, despite being hailed by Wilson as “the greatest poet since Yeats”, was unable to write any lyrics, so all the tracks to the album, expensively recorded in Barbados, are instrumentals.
Hannett has also become unpredictable, attempting at one time to shoot Wilson with a pistol. He has a falling out with Factory Records over finances, and spirals into decline due to alcohol and drug abuse and weight gain, and dies aged 42. Meanwhile, various aspects of Wilson’s life are glossed over, and Wilson takes a moment to acknowledge this, quickly skimming over his divorce from his first wife, Lindsay, his second marriage and children, and his relationship with beauty queen Yvette Livesey. His own drug problems and professional difficulties are also glossed over. “I’m a minor character in my own story,” Wilson explains, saying that the stories about the music, as well as Manchester itself, are more important.