Program Notes: 24 Hour Party People (2002)

You needn't know anything about the late '70s music scene in Manchester, England, to enjoy 24 Hour Party People (2002).

Certainly you may better appreciate the accomplishment of Michael Winterbottom's movie if you have a working knowledge of groups like Joy Division and Siouxsie and the Banshees and of the origins of rave culture.

24 Hour Party People is such a kinetic, cheeky, freewheeling experience that you can go into it cold and still be seduced by the energy blasting off the screen.

A good deal of that power comes from Winterbottom's technique, a happy mishmash of caught-on-the-fly digital video and mind-warping effects (deliberately smeary images, jittery handheld cameras, bizarre lighting, and even a few Forrest Gump-type scenes in which actors are inserted into 25-year-old archival footage).

Film Screening:
24 Hour Party People (2002)
Friday, Aug. 17 at 8:45 p.m.
Rooftop Terrace, Central Library

But the real engine driving this romp is Steve Coogan, the Brit standup comic who makes an indelible impression as Tony Wilson.

Wilson, a real-life Manchester TV personality, was blown away when the Sex Pistols came to town. He was so inspired as to launch a career that would include his own pop music-oriented TV show, creation of a his own label (Factory Records), the nurturing of various punk and post-punk musicians, the founding of a nightclub, and a good deal of sexual and financial profligacy.

Coogan's Wilson is a self-important, Cambridge-educated pseudo-intellectual who believes he's being wasted on the silly feature stories assigned by his station’s management. Ambitious as all get-out, he has set his cap on becoming the musical arbiter of a generation, and he untiringly cajoles, finagles, and lies his way toward that goal.

Just what motivates Wilson, other than a burning desire to make things happen, is a bit of a mystery. He's not given to deep introspection, and he often hides behind displays of pompous erudition. But like all con artists, he's a charmer, and we're carried along by his smug good humor.

Frank Cottrell Boyce's screenplay breaks down the fourth wall by having Wilson talk directly to the audience. Without breaking character, Coogan will deliver asides or even stop a scene to point out real Manchester music scene personalities – including the real Tony Wilson himself – who have taken roles as extras.

The result is a breezy, surreal, often drug-addled guided tour of Wilson's world. Featured on the soundtrack are recordings by the Buzzcocks, A Certain Ratio, the Sex Pistols, Joy Division, New Order, and Happy Mondays.

About the Author

Robert W. Butler is a lifelong Kansas City area resident, a graduate of Shawnee Mission East High School and the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. For several decades he was the movie editor of the Kansas City Star; he now writes a movie-themed blog at He joined the Library's Public Affairs team in 2012.

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