Better To Import: 24 Hour Party People

This is one of those movies where most fans who bought the DVD here in America probably just have no idea that they would've been better rewarded importing it, in this case, from Australia. In fact, they would've been better off importing from several other countries, but out of all of them, Australia seems to be the best. The film I'm talking about is 2002's 24 Hour Party People, directed by Michael Winterbottom.
I put it that way because, even though it's unquestionably directed by Winterbottom, one tends to think of it as more of a Steve Coogan film. On paper, you'd say Coogan's just the star, he doesn't even have a co-executive producer credit or anything. But despite having a screenplay by Frank Boyce (who would go on to do Winterbottom and Coogan's next film as well, Tristram Shandy, and then more recently The Trip and The Look of Love), it's a highly improvised film. And although he plays a different character, Coogan is clearly bringing in his style of comedy from his Alan Partridge shows. It almost feels like a Partridge movie, except it's about someone and something else: specifically Coogan is now television host (see? not so far removed from Partridge) and record producer Tony Wilson; and the film presents the rise and fall of his label, Factory Records.
A Marx Bros reference?
And that's what's so compelling about the film. Is that it takes improv comedy, a style which was booming at the time, and puts it into a "real" movie. This is a highly informed and authentic music biopic that works perfectly well as a straightforward drama - I mean, point where it's genuinely compelling - but with Coogan's work mixed in. So, unlike its silly peers, like Reno 911!: Miami, this is an improv comedy that's really about something (a concept we'd see Coogan to continue to run with in later work). It's a great music film in its own right. In fact, some of the comedy is pretty soft, with gags like Coogan insisting to one of his partners that James Bond producer Albert Broccoli invented the vegetable broccoli. It's a dumb joke, but it doesn't matter because the film has you absorbed on so many other levels that it doesn't need to have you laughing. plays as just an amusing character moment in between heady moments like when Wilson points out that when audiences have now begun, "applauding the DJ. Not the music, not the musicians, not the creator, but the medium." Or just strong emotional moments that genuinely come across, like suicide of Ian Curtis. By the time Control rolled around, I felt like I didn't need it; it was just a heavier-handed expansion of what was already conveyed in this film.
We see Werner Herzog's Stroszek on Curtis' TV.
So, 24 Hour Party People was a new release when it hit DVDs worldwide in 2003. In the US, MGM released it with several extras, including two commentary tracks. But Pathe! put out a more substantial 2-disc set in the UK, and Madman put out an even fuller 2-disc set in Australia. I actually had a bit of a problem when I first imported this, brand new, it just had 1 disc.  I emailed Madman and they were excellent about getting out the second disc to me, but it makes me wonder how common getting stuck with 1-disc versions of their release was, and if most people even knew to get the second disc. But who knows? Maybe mine was just a one in a million case. I've got the full Madman set, and I've got the MGM DVD, so let's see how they stack up.
2003 MGM DVD on top; 2003 Madman DVD beneath.
Neither image is too pretty, huh? That's because this was an early digital film, shot on standard def DV tape, and then blown up to 35mm. So you might be looking at those shots and feel tempted to hold out for a blu-ray; but I wouldn't hold my breath. This seems to be all the resolution we're ever going to get of this film.

Anyway, even though they're both ugly (although it at least suits the film's half-mockumentary, hand-held aesthetic), they're not identical. Madman's disc is full widescreen, so to speak, at 1.78:1, while the MGM's DVD is slightly letterboxed to 1.85:1, losing a little vertical information. Both discs are at least anamorphic, and neither disc is interlaced, however the original footage seems to have interlacing baked into it, which the filmmakers have tried to correct for, making it all a soft and mushy. At any rate, they're practically identical except for the framing disparity, and only the DP knows which is correct (though the imdb states 1.85).

The Australian DVD has a small advantage in the audio department, giving you both the straight forward 2.0 Stereo mix and a 5.1, with optional subtitles. MGM only has the 5.1, plus subtitles.
So already the Australian release is technically preferable... well, depending where you stand on the 1.78 vs 1.85. But it's the special features that really make the difference. After all, Madman's got that whole second disc.

And it's not like MGM is barebones. They actually have two audio commentaries: one by Steve Coogan and producer Andrew Eaton, which is rather good, though a little slow with quiet spots. And then the other is by the real Tony Wilson, who has plenty to say. Then, there are two brief featurettes, totaling about 15 minutes together, which interviews the cast, crew and again, the real Wilson. There are also eleven deleted scenes, the trailer, and a photo gallery. A pretty nice release on its own terms.
Well Madman has pretty much all of that and more. I say "pretty much" because they don't have those two exact featurettes, but they have their own featurettes which use exactly the same interview footage; they're just edited differently. They've got the commentaries, deleted scenes and the trailer. So now let's talk about what you've probably been missing out on in the USA, the more.

To start with, MGM had eleven deleted scenes? Madman has twenty-four. If you're serious about the film, that extra footage should be pretty important to you (...although, I'll warn you up front, they lack a "Play All" button). Then, one of the biggest new features is called "From the Factory Floor," which is essentially a video commentary track, where we see a big group of the real musicians and industry people portrayed in the film all together watching and discussing the movie, which is shown in a tiny window in the lower left-hand corner. This is probably of more interest to fans of the music scene, as opposed to just the film, but it's pretty fun either way. Along those lines, too, is a series of short interviews with a lot more of the real people from the film. There's also quite a nice featurette that profiles the director, Winterbottom, and his career. And they also have two music videos by bands from the film.
Seeing as how there's not likely to ever be a blu-ray (let alone UHD) release of this film, you should just get the best DVD edition you can of this film. It looks as good as it's going to anyway. I mean, maybe there's room for slight improvement if some label really wants to spend the money, like we saw with Inland Empire, but even that difference was fairly academic. And I don't see this movie getting that kind of love, anyway. So track down the Madman set. The MGM DVD was okay, but there's a lot more to it.

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