Sunday, June 21, 2009

#47 Film of the Decade- 24 Hour Party People and #50 Song of the Decade- "Intro-Inspection"

24 Hour Party People- Michael Winterbottom (2002)

There's a scene in the first half of 24 Hour Party People in which our protagonist Tony Wilson, founder of the fabled Factory Records label, as played by Steven Coogan, visits the bathroom of a club. In the previous scene Wilson has been caught cheating on his wife, and he knows she is here exacting some sort of revenge with musician Howard Devoto of the Buzzcocks. Wilson cracks a joke and calmly asks his compromised wife for the car keys. In most movies, that would be the end of an admittedly clever scene. In Michael Winterbottom's unorthodox chronicle of the Madchester music scene, it's only the beginning. Keys in hand, Wilson then approaches a man washing his hands and, breaking the fourth wall, explains that his is the real Howard Devoto who, for legal reasons, wanted to make it clear that this is a fabrication. The real Devoto looks directly into the camera and deadpans, "I definitely don't remember this happening."

So many films have used similar devices before. Woody Allen did it thirty years ago in my favorite film of all-time. Technically, The Great Train Robbery does it in 1903. Ancient Greek playwrights did it before we had even established what the fourth wall was. Here's the difference: While most movies don't even rupture narrative conventions well anymore (High Fidelity, for example, is not the film I thought it was when I was fifteen), let alone have an excuse for it, Winterbottom makes it an essential component of 24 Hour Party People's thesis. To present a portrait of a man who is "a minor character in his own story," the truth needs to be played with: the fiction is more important than the fact. Wilson was so unconventional that all of his bands' contracts--Joy Division, New Order, The Happy Mondays--were verbal agreements. It only makes sense that an account of his life and the scene would be just as avant-garde.

Skip to fifty-three seconds in for another great example of what the movie does so well. This clip also reminds me that you might not like this if you aren't a huge music dork.

Through these devices, most notably the incorporation of real-life footage, Winterbottom is able to present the music as a historical document; but, at the same time, he never makes it self-serious. Sometimes he goes too far with this. the Ian Curtis suicide scene, for instance, is soundtracked by cartoons playing on his TV. His dangling feat recall The Wizard of Oz more than a heartfelt farewell.

24 Hour Party People, buoyed by Coogan's winning performance, is constantly reminding you that it's a movie, and that quality, besides just being damned fun, is the perfect note to support its story.

#50- Osymyso- "Intro-Inspection" (Part 2)

Although it has nothing to do with Manchester rock of the '80s and '90s, "Intro-Inspection" might as well be 24 Hour Party People's brother in postmodernity. Mash-ups, or bastard pop as it was known across the pond, were a product of, but also a response to, the wanton consumption of music in the file-sharing age. For example, Freelance Hellraiser's "Flash of Genius," a hallmark of the fad, lays the "Genie in a Bottle" lyrics over the "Hard to Explain" music to show that, despite the increasing stratification of genres, hipsters and their sisters' music was more similar than they thought.

British DJ Osymyso's idea is clear but ambitious: string together the intros of 101 (super-recognizable) samples into a cohesive whole. The logical progression of mash-ups dictated for someone to blow everyone else out of the water with sheer volume, and Osymyso jumped at the chance. Sometimes the pastiche works surprisingly well; sometimes it's forced. But it always sticks to its own weird ethos. The first ten seconds or so of a song are malleable enough to stitch it together with anything else and use it to sustain a mood. Before any sample sets in for too long, he manipulates that mood for an impressive twelve minutes and change (long enough that tumblr won't let me upload it for a link). "Osymyso" is constantly reminding you that it's a fabrication, and that exposing of pop music's arbitrary nature is kind of the point.

After their heyday at the beginning of the decade, mash-ups jumped the shark when labels offered official, artist-approved versions as singles and copyrighters cracked down on GYBO, the online mash-up sharing community. But that slow death began when DJs stopped pushing things forward. All vocals sound good over "Hollaback Girl," but that doesn't mean anything without a context. Like 24 Hour Party People, the tricks and gimmicks themselves aren't what makes the work memorable, the thesis behind using them is.

Basically, both works would be perfect deconstructions if they weren't so busy being constructions.

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