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MGM Studios DVD presents
"Manchester became the center of the universe: the best drugs, the best clothes, the best women, the best music, the best band, the best club."
DVD ReviewJoy Division singer Ian Curtis (Sean Harris) has recently learned about the band's first American tour. Already giants in Manchester, England, they now have the opportunity to convert legions of new audiences. Often subject to epileptic seizures, Curtis performs and lives with an odd rigidity, but his talent is remarkable. Unfortunately, everything comes crashing down in a heartbeat. Staring somberly at the walls of his small residence, Curtis hangs himself only a few days before his flight to the States. This sad, poignant moment reveals a dark side of stardom seen far too many times from tortured artists.
Curtis' death stands apart from the fun, energetic tone that pervades 24 Hour Party People—Michael Winterbottom's engaging portrayal of the burgeoning Manchester music scene. Beginning with the Sex Pistols' legendary performance before 42 people on June 4, 1976 and ending in 1992, this tale showcases the origins of modern rave culture and notable bands like Joy Division, The Happy Mondays, and New Order. I found such darker moments as the suicide intriguing because they present the alternate side of the music and partying. A wonderful thing was happening in Manchester, but not everyone reached the ultimate pinnacle.
The story depicts Manchester through its witty characterization of Factory Records co-founder and British television personality Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan). The opening sequence shows him leaping dangerously from the hills aboard a flimsy hanglider. After crashing several times, Wilson turns to the camera and speaks directly to us about its connection to this tale. By removing the divide between the audience and actor, Winterbottom (Wonderland) makes us feel like insiders receiving a special glimpse at the past. Coogan sells the effect completely, and it rarely feels contrived. His conversational tone and enjoyable nature make the asides much better than a screen gimmick. After Wilson catches his wife cheating on him with a friend, he then turns to the real-life guy, who claims it never happened. For an explanation, he recites his own version of John Ford's famous line, "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."
Disturbed with the dull trends of the British music business, Wilson and pal Rob Gretton (Paddy Considine) start Factory records with seemingly ridiculous tenets. No contracts are signed, everyone shares the wealth, and the bands own their albums. Amazingly, this concept works and spawns two huge successes, Joy Division and The Happy Mondays. Following Curtis' death, his band continues under the new title of New Order, who proceeded to gain tremendous popularity. During the happier days, Wilson decides to purchase The Hacienda, a club that eventually helps to spawn a new musical craze. Everything is presented without blinders, including the rising drug culture and the idiocy of The Happy Mondays' lead singer, Shaun Ryder. While their music becomes popular, he is properly depicted as a blubbering individual with not much singing talent. By offering more than just the positive side of the story, writer Frank Cattrell Boyce (Hillary and Jackie) avoids a possible pratfall of praising the culture to an annoying degree.
24 Hour Party People succeeds greatly due to its unconventional style and willingness to take chances with the material. During one strange moment, Wilson meets God, who looks remarkably like him. While this may veer towards Monty Python-type humor, it works mostly due to Coogan's quirky portrayal. He sells Wilson as someone who would have odd visions and bizarre moments but also reveals a human side within the silliness. Winterbottom lets his star dominate the picture and creates a believable environment. The concert footage effectively blends archival shots with the actors, which helps to generate an authentic picture.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: 24 Hour Party People utilizes an effective 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that nicely shifts between the archival footage and new material. The digital-video picture does retain a grainy feel, but this atmosphere relates well to the dark clubs and late-night environment. While not a top-notch transfer, it contains only a few minor defects and presents the story clearly.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: The pounding club beats and rocking punk guitars spring forcefully from the 5.1-channel Dolby Digital transfer. While the complexity is only adequate, the power of the central speakers mostly overcomes any shortcomings. Also, the dialogue is usually clear and understandable throughout the presentation. Considering this film's relatively low budget, this track impressively showcases the Manchester community.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
11 Deleted Scenes
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Tony Wilson; Steve Coogan and producer Andrew Eaton
Packaging: unmarked keepcase
Layers Switch: 01h:16m:32s
Manchester the Movie provides a informative 11-minute overview of the picture through effective interviews with the central participants. Winterbottom, Boyce, and producer Andrew Eaton offer much of the discussion. The toughest element was accurately depicting living people without making them look terrible. The highlight concerns Sean Harris' portrayal of Ian Curtis, and he takes the role very seriously.
In addition, this release contains a second commentary from Coogan and Eaton. This one suffers in comparison to Wilson's track and has a significant amount of silence. Both speakers do have some fun and provide interesting technical details, but it feels slight after hearing the real person talk about his experiences.
The remaining supplements include 11 deleted scenes, a preview trailer, and a large photo gallery. The removed footage offers mostly unnecessary conversations and items covered well in the final cut. There is one silly moment of Rob and Tony attending a football match with a group of overly ardent fans. The scenes total about 15 minutes—a worthwhile bonus even without anything groundbreaking. The photos range between filmed shots and behind-the-scenes pictures. All of them appear in color, with many being closeups of Coogan.
Extras Grade: A-
Final CommentsDuring one silly moment of 24 Hour Party People, Tony Wilson turns to the camera and discusses a scene that is cut but "will be on the DVD." This type of winking at the camera can be overdone (Adaptation being a notorious example), but it never reaches that level. Wilson's asides fit with his personality while adding some extra flair to the film. Even if you're not a big fan of the music, this story should offer you considerable entertainment while depicting a frenetic era. I knew little about Joy Division before my viewing, and still enjoyed the picture tremendously.
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