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Obituary viewing: "Blow Up" "24 Hour Party People"

Posted at 4:08 PM on August 27, 2007 by Euan Kerr

A little morbid perhaps, but over the weekend I decided to catch up on the work of people we have lost recently by watching Antonioni's "Blow Up" and Michael Winterbottom's "24 Hour Party People" which centers around Tony Wilson the man behind the Manchester music scene. Wilson died recently from kidney cancer.

"Blow up" created a scandal when it was released in 1966 for it's depiction of the amorality of 60's London. Nowadays the easy sexuality and open dope-smoking doesn't seem that extraordinary, but it electrified critics and audiences alike when it came out.

The story is vague and doesn't arrive at a neat conclusion. David Hemmings plays a self-involved and manipulative photographer whose life is knocked sideways when he realizes he has unwittingly witnessed a murder. Along the way he meets other listless characters (played by Vanessa Redgrave, Jane Birkin, Sarah Myles and Peter Bowles) who just add to his confusion.

The film is beautiful to watch, and for years some writers have written at length about how it's deeply philosophical. I must admit I was pretty exhausted when I sat down to watch, but it turned out it was a perfect film to watch in a way as I floated along with the characters and watched it's depiction of a man who discovers he's much less significant than he at first believes. It's one to which I'll return.

Michael Winterbottom's "24 Hour Party People" didn't get a whole lot of attention in the US when it came out in 2002, perhaps because of it's subject matter. It follows the development of the 'Madchester' music scene, from the early days of punk rock and bands such as 'Joy Division' and 'A Certain Ratio' through the advent of the rave scene in the early 1990s.

Winterbottom tells the story through the person of Tony Wilson a local TV reporter in the north of England who, between doing puff pieces on hang-gliding and the history of canals, hosted the one of the few British TV programs when you could see the Sex Pistols, the Clash and other new wave bands. He started Factory Records which was designed to support local musicians and then later opened the Hacienda nightclub which became a center of rave culture.

Steve Coogan plays Wilson in a way which presages the timewarping of their later collaboration "Tristram Shandy: a cock and bull story" where he regularly turns to the camera and talks about things happening outside the storyline, or even the film. Winterbottom uses several of the real people from the story as bit characters, including Wilson (who has a part as a TV reporter in "Shandy.") At one point one of these characters reverts to his real self to issue a denial of a claim Wilson just made. It's a real head scrambler, but a lot of fun.

And the music is amazing.

August 2007
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