Michael Winterbottom's "24 Hour Party People" (IMDb listing) has a lot in common with Steven Soderbergh's recent "Full Frontal." Both directors are coming off working in the Hollywood system, and now seek refuge in their own creative juices. For Soderbergh, he went back to Hollywood. For Winterbottom ("Jude," "Welcome To Sarajevo," "Wonderland"), he seeks the cold, dreary focal point of Manchester, England. And like "Full Frontal," "24 Hour Party People" shows that a director left to his own devices might not always have the clearest vision.
The year is 1976, and a Manchester television personality, Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan, in a breathless performance), has taken it upon himself to bring the latest in punk rock and new wave to the kids of England. "24 Hour Party People" details the meteoric rise (1976-1992) of Wilson as he tries to achieve even bigger success in the music industry by luring Manchester acts like Joy Division, New Order, and The Happy Mondays to his Factory Records label. Along the way, he stumbles upon the birth of the rave culture of the early 1990s with his club The Hacienda.
"24 Hour Party People" is an experience, not truly a movie. Based upon factual events that are not necessarily proven, Winterbottom's film is a swirling mix of sugar, reverberation and a bitter pill. It's filled with flashing lights, thumping beats, and an inventiveif not totally necessaryuse of interchanging film stocks. It's Winterbottom's way of tearing off the big-budget shackles that were thrown on him with his last film, the downbeat Gold Rush saga from 2000, "The Claim," and also a tribute to music history that isn't discussed nearly enough. And while the ride can be dizzying and euphoric, "Party People" doesn't add up to much more than one man trying to recreate magic (albeit effectively) that's long since past.
The last film to try to capture a musical development in such a bright, fluttery way was Todd Haynes' "Velvet Goldmine." "Party People" has a lot in common with "Goldmine," but lacks that film's natural pacing and ferocity in pursuing its subject of glam rock. "Party People" is more laid back, improvised, and tarted up rather than interested in such things as an interconnected story. It leaps around in time, often to a disruptive degree. What you learn from the movie you can't trust to be fact, and what's entertaining about Wilson's journey seems to add up to nothing by the time the end credits roll. "24 Hour Party People" is a celebratory picture about a musical movement and timing, but I'll be damned if I actually got an education out of all this sound and vision.
Filmfodder Grade: C+