16 December 2002

So much to answer for...

I finally saw 24 Hour Party People last night. It was good fun and I especially enjoyed seeing Steve Coogan playing the part of Tony Wilson (he also plays the part of God, but Tony Wilson doesn't need quite so much makeup). If you didn't know better, you'd swear Coogan had made Tony Wilson up himself. A lot of myth and legend abounds about the growth of Manchester's alternative music scene, but if this movie had a message, it would probably be something like "truth really is stranger than fiction".

Needless to say, a lot of history was necessarily telescoped in order to fit into a movie, and a few tweaks given to the corpus of truth, but the story of Manchester's music scene from the seventies to the early nineties is told well and with flair. Plus, a few real Manc musos turn up in the course of the movie - Mark E Smith, Howard Devoto, Vini Reilly and Paul Ryder among others.

Much is made of the importance of Joy Division in the early days, and that band would have made for a movie in itself, but the great A Certain Ratio are fobbed off with a few jokes about scout uniforms and fake tans. It's a pity, because ACR had a lot to do with galvanising Manchester's early dance scene. They blurred genre (and racial) distinctions, mixing up garage punk, funk, and Latin music long before Talking Heads cashed in on a very similar strategy. If not for A Certain Ratio, Manchester music may well have remained in its industrial ghetto (and there probably wouldn't have been a Remain in Light, come to think of it). You could even go so far as to say there wouldn't have been a Happy Mondays without them.

Tony (or, if you will, Anthony) Wilson has been variously described as a charlatan, a genius, a mug, a poseur, a visionary, a bumbling dilletante, a Machiavellian manipulator, a postmodernist before postmodernism became cool, and a pretentious git - the Malcolm McLaren of Manchester. Coogan's portrayal manages to get all of this in to great comic effect, as well as hinting at greater complexity in the man's personality - he quotes Boethius and Yeats, goes out with Miss UK, and wishes the rest of the world would wake the fuck up.

Anyway, what I liked most about the movie was the way it refused to mythologise or sentimentalise. What happened happened, for better or worse. The people involved are historical figures now, but they were still ordinary folk prone to the usual foibles, and all the warts are on show here along with the wonders. There's a healthy irreverence at the heart of the movie, as well as plenty of dry Mancunian wit.

And would you believe, not a single mention of The Smiths or even The Stone Roses. Or even Ed Banger and the Nosebleeds. Because they weren't on Factory records, you see.

And when is the Durutti Column going to get that much needed revival?

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