By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Sep 20, 2002 at 5:24 AM

It all started with the Sex Pistols. Manchester's music scene was a tinderbox waiting for the kind of spark provided by the London punk's June 4, 1976 performance at Manchester's Lesser Free Trade Hall. There may have only been 40-something people on hand, but most of them would become influential as members of bands like Buzzcocks and Simply Red, as producers, like Martin Hannett or as svengalis, like Tony Wilson, the subject of a new docu-drama "24 Hour Party People," directed by Michael Winterbottom and written by Frank Cottrell Boyce.

With the assistance of Wilson himself, tons of scenemakers, like members of Joy Division, New Order, Buzzcocks, The Fall, Inspiral Carpets, Happy Mondays and others, "24 Hour Party People" is sort of the official history of the Manchester scene, with a special focus on Wilson, who founded Factory Records and launched the successful Factory and Hacienda nightclubs.

With a whiz-bang, fast-edit, MTV-style pace, "24 Hour Party People" flies by like an evening of ecstasy-fueled Happy Mondays-style baggy beat. Steve Coogan is brilliant as Wilson and he's quick to face the camera and let us in on some secrets, like the fact that some of the scenes in the film simply aren't true! There are also cameos by Buzzcocks' Howard DeVoto, Mark E. Smith of The Fall and others.

But, it did all start with the Sex Pistols. In the wake of that gig bands in Manchester began to flourish. One of them, Joy Division, plays a big role in the film, as they were the first band signed to Factory and managed by Wilson. Sean Harris plays the twitchy, enigmatic Ian Curtis, J.D.'s lead singer, of whom we get lots of ponderous, heavy foreboding shots before his famous suicide. These are some of the few moments in an otherwise vibrant film that seem weighted down by melodrama.

The band continues on as New Order and fuels Factory Records (and less successful acts like A Certain Ratio) and Wilson's nightclubs with their worldwide smash hits. By the end of the '80s Shaun Ryder -- Wilson alone sees the drug-addles genius at work -- brings his Happy Mondays on board and all sorts of rock and roll mayhem ensues. Women's clothes are shed, guns are drawn and the heroin begins to drip.


But it's all bells and whistles, really; ornamentation for the real message of the movie. That is, Tony Wilson was the real genius. While working as a reporter for Granada TV, reporting on all sorts of ridiculous stories, Wilson was building the kind of music scene most cities never see. He was turning Manchester into a mecca for music, clubbing and ecstasy.

Interspersed with stories of bands and club owners and bickering business partners are little glimpses into Wilson's own life. But the film never really loses its vision, which is to tell the story of one man and the scene he helped create.

Unfortunately, the drugs begat guns which begat violence and Wilson's empire ultimately crashed around him. But he doesn't ever come across as beaten, his sole regret being that he never signed The Smiths, arguably Manchester's best-ever export.

"24 Hour Party People" may not get all the facts right -- hey, the film is quick to admit that -- and you may or may not agree that Ryder was brilliant, but it's smart, funny, inspired and a wild ride even for those of us not lucky enough to be there for real.

"24 Hour Party People" opens Fri., Sept. 20 at Landmark's Oriental Theatre.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.