The story of Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan) and his Factory Records, which brought Manchester-based punk and new wave to the foreground while eventually giving birth to rave culture, is one of such chaos and irreverence, that only such a chaotic and irreverent film could have done it justice. Michael Winterbottom's trademark self-aware approach to docu-comedy enmeshed with a raw, in-your-face execution certainly isn't a universal crowd pleaser, but the niche audience who's into the emergence of this particular music should be satisfied with the half self-aggrandizing, half self-parody style that matches the music and the scene it depicts.
Coogan plays Wilson, an abrasive personality who's either merely annoying or the worst person on Earth depending on who you ask, as an offshoot of Alan Partridge. Like Partridge, Wilson thinks entirely too highly of himself, his narcissism resulting in an anal, nitpicking stiff who uses technicalities to cover for all of his shortcomings. After his wife (Shirley Henderson) revenge cheats on him, he defends himself by pointing out that she had sex while he only got oral. Yet Wilson tells his story through fourth wall breaking monologues and voice-overs that joyfully play around with the credibility of such single-sourced retellings. As a dubious figure, of course there are many holes in Wilson's stories, and Winterbottom has a lot of fun eschewing the flow of the narrative to point them out. In one scene, the actual person depicted in a situation shows up and points out that he doesn't remember that scene ever happening.
The way he did with 9 Songs, Winterbottom frequently cuts to music performances, either the real footage or recreations using the actors, to always remind us why these spectacularly flawed people bonded through their love for this music. Even in dramatically potent scenes, such as Ian Curtis' suicide, Winterbottom establishes a light tone that showcases how these people used their ironic detachment through music as an emotional defense mechanism. With frequent cuts between fiction and documentary footage, it's sometimes hard to pinpoint a specific genre or even a narrative approach. Yet that's also kind of the point, since the music and the characters it depicts are also hard to define.
In order to capture the story's raw feel, Winterbottom elected to shoot 24 Hour Party People on standard definition video using handheld footage and jump cuts. Of course that makes it hard to gauge how much additional definition a 1080p transfer can offer. Compared to my DVD copy, the transfer is certainly cleaner and crisper, but of course still shows its source.
As low-tech as the visual style is, the DTS-HD 5.1 track is the opposite. The surround channels are vibrant even in non-musical scenes, but the track really comes to life across all speakers during the performances.
Commentary by Tony Wilson: The real person behind the story is predictably brutally honest about his depiction in the film, leading to a vital track for fans. The way he complains about his various problems with the movie, on the film's disc itself no less, is worth a buy alone.
Commentary by Coogan and Producer Andrew Eaton: This is more of a traditional commentary track where Coogan and Eaton go into great detail about the ins and outs of the production.
Manchester, The Movie: An 11-minute making of featurette that briefly covers the production.
About Tony Wilson: A five-minute piece on Wilson. Listen to the commentary instead for the real unfiltered stuff.
Deleted Scenes: We get 11 excised sequences.
We also get a Trailer and Photo Gallery.
Winterbottom's unique self-aware docu-comedy style was perfected with Tristram Shandy, itself making fun of the fact that it's trying to adapt a book widely known to be un-adaptable, and of course the wonderful Trip movies. 24 Hour Party People established that style with an understandably less refined execution. It's a niche film for fans of Factory Records' output and influence over popular music, and would more than likely alienate most other audiences. That being said, it's hard to ignore the crackling imagination and creativity on display.