Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"Fictional History" (In other words, "History") -- Part One: Madchester

Over the weekend, I entertained myself with a couple of a fictionalized histories. Now all history contains a little fiction, but these two works are at least up front about it (as one with a history degree, I can say that). The first work I read was Chester Brown's collected comic strip biography of Louis Riel, which I will review in a day or two. The second work was Micheal Winterbottom's 2002 film "24 Hour Party People."

"Twenty-four Hour Party People" covers the rise of the "Madchester" scene from the mid 1970s through the late 1990s and stars Steve Coogan as Factory Records founder Tony Wilson. If you've seen the later Winterbottom/Coogan collaboration, "A Cock and Bull Story," you'll see a lot of similarities in the story structure, irreverent comedy and fourth-wall breaking.

I was a big fan of Manchester bands New Order and The Smiths in my youth, and had heard and enjoyed music from other artists, such as Happy Mondays (whose story, along with that of Joy Division/New Order helps propel the film's plot). I really had my enjoyment of the film enhanced by my pre-existing fandom, but the story has enough exposition for non-fans to follow.

There's a couple interesting historical tidbits dramatized in the film. The first comes minutes into the movie when Wilson breaks the fourth wall during a 1976 concert at Manchester's Free Trade Hall and points out there are just 42 people attending. But the concert was later called by Channel 4 one of the three most important gigs of all time. For among those 42 were: Wilson himself, members of the Buzzcocks, Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook (members of a local band, later of Joy Division then of New Order), Mark Smith (of The Fall), Morrissey (although Morrissey was not mentioned in the film) and Jon the postman (he was a postman). On stage? The Sex Pistols.

The creativity of the Pistols inspired Wilson (a local TV personality) to start a nightclub ("The Factory") to showcase exciting local music and then to create his own record label to support those artists (many of whom were inspired at the Free Trade Hall concert). There is a really touching examination of the rapid rise and even more rapid fall of Joy Division and its rebirth as New Order. Much of the same territory was covered in the recent film "Control" about Joy Division singer Ian Curtis (it was checked out of the library when I went to borrow it recently).

The second interesting tidbit is about the birth of the Rave scene. At one point, Wilson is in his second club ("The Hacienda") after talking about the unintended rise of the Ecstasy culture and points out the crowd reaction. They're not applauding the artist. "They're cheering the DJ," he says to the viewer. "They're cheering the medium." McLuhan would be proud.

Winterbottom and Coogan created an fun picture that gave a good (albeit exaggerated) background to the music of my youth. It also reminded me (as does the Riel bio) that history is written not just by the victors, but by those who choose to write it -- and future generations will always remember it with that taint.

1 comment:

Rob Roy said...

I have been told several times that I need to see this movie.