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Making the scene
The 24 Hour Party people at Cannes
BY GERALD PEARY

The mellowest press conference at Cannes 2002 was for Michael Winterbottomís 24 Hour Party People. "I donít think we have a chance at winning the Palme díOr, so Iím not even thinking of it," Winterbottom said, conceding that a chaotic, anarchic rock-and-roll movie, however successful, would never be awarded a prestigious jury prize. "This film was not conceived to crack the international market," said star Steve Coogan. "If it has only parochial appeal or crosses the ocean . . . Whatever."

Iím pleased to say that 24 Hour Party People, my favorite film in Cannes competition, has made it to our side of the Atlantic. Itís one cool re-creation of the crazy life and manic times of Tony Wilson, who in the Sex Pistols 1970s conceived, and vigorously promoted, the legendary Manchester club scene. He managed Joy Division and New Order, started up Factory Records, etc. "I grew up in a period of Margaret Thatcher, a mean time," said screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce. "I wanted to pay Tony back for making my teenage life a little better."

The movie traces Wilsonís musical adventures and misfires from the mid í70s into the í90s, what he terms "the dawn of punk to the death of acid." Winterbottom explained: "Part of the reason we wanted to shoot in Manchester was that we were desperate to get out of Canada, where I was making The Claim [his take on Thomas Hardyís The Mayor of Casterbridge]. We decided to use the real music and brilliant archive footage from the period. I didnít have such a close connection with the music. If we got the atmosphere of the club scene correct, itís because people were around who could correct me.

"We met Tony at the beginning and he told us lots of anecdotes, then Frank went to work on the script. It would be narrated by Tony, a kind of unreliable narrator."

A sort of British "Murray the K," Wilson is played wonderfully in the movie by actor and comedian Coogan, whoís huge on Englandís telly for his character of chat-show host Alan Partridge. Coogan and Wilson joined Winterbottom in Cannes for the filmís world premiere. "I told Tony thereíd be 70 percent of Tony Wilson in my performance, 30 percent of me," Coogan disclosed at the press conference. "Itís not a faithful take."

"To be played by Steve Coogan, a comic genius, is immensely flattering," said Wilson. "I have no problem with the film . . . even if itís deeply unfair and destroyed my private life. . . . Everything in it is just one big fucking lie. They implied theyíd use me as a narrative link. I only discovered at the seventh draft they planned to take the piss out of me."

Is Tony Wilson trying to destroy the movie? Not really. Heís just being Tony being typically outrageous. Thatís how heís always talked: running his clubs, hosting TV talk shows.

Someone asked him the secret of his middle-aged robust health. "About 12 years ago, I started going out with Miss UK, or whatever the fuck title she was. I donít know if sex with a young woman keeps you young, but it keeps you happy."

Touché.

Hours later, I conversed with Wilson down on the Cannes beach, when, at a party, he graciously left a circle of intense admirers to answer my questions. Heís a talker, and he went on merrily as raindrops splattered on both him and my open notebook, laughing about bringing a group to the USA in the 1980s ("Happy Mondays is one of the 50 great bands of all time") and being treated "like I was offering a dog turd."

He went on: "Iíve often remarked how bad films are about youth culture. Almost Famous? Crap! It just didnít get it, I donít know why. Since Iím very old, [though I act] about 24 years old, I remember the í60s, and Easy Rider and Performance captured those í60s moments, maybe because they didnít tackle the music head on. Normally, you get at things best from an oblique view.

"Iím less stupid and egotistical and also less heroic than the movie makes me out to be. Steve plays me as a pretentious brat, but people tell me I was a pretentious brat, always quoting Proust. I do talk about art history, semiotics, religion, and philosophy. I donít talk about postmodernism because nobody has ever been able to tell me what it is."

Heís really read Proust? "All of it. Itís my favorite book by far. People donít read it because it takes 82 pages for Marcel to be put in bed and kissed good night."

RIP. Roberto Cobo, 77, a teen dancer in a Mexico City chorus, discovered by Luis Buñuel and cast as the street criminal El Jaibo, whoís cut down by the police, in the 1950 surrealist masterpiece Los olvidados. Cobo had a small role in Buñuelís 1951 Mexican Bus Ride and in many other Mexican films, including Arturo Ripsteinís 1977 Hell Has No Limits.

Gerald Peary can be reached at gpeary@world.std.com

Issue Date: August 15 - 22, 2002
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