24 Hour Party People isn’t a documentary. In chronicling the rise and fall of the legendary “Madchester” music scene it chooses legend over fact whenever possible. A badge it wears with pride.
Steve Coogan plays Tony Wilson, the founder of Factory Records. He opens the film presenting local interest stories for a Manchester television station but makes frequent asides to the camera regarding the future significance of people or events. His running commentary proves a charming mix of arrogance and self-deprecation. Soon he attends the legendary Sex Pistols show at the Manchester Free Trade Hall.
The ensuing whirlwind crams over a decade’s worth of events into two hours. Several of the story’s actual figures cameo as extras, which the film points out. Though Tony claims the film isn’t his story, he’s the only character we follow. Others, such as Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, are just names and faces passing through Tony’s life. But Coogan’s infectious performance proves the perfect audience surrogate.
Compared to the singular focus of a film like Control, 24 Hour Party People captures the excitement and wonderful uncertainty of a musical revolution as it unfolds. And that’s what 24 Hour Party People is really about. That and Tony Wilson.