#018

24 Hour Party People
MGM/Warner DVD

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Steve Coogan’s Tony Wilson was probably the most remarkably drawn movie character of the past year, so it’s amusing to hear Coogan, in one of the featurettes that come with the DVD of Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People, recall how, as a boy, he had watched the real Wilson through the stairs at a party his parents were giving in 1976, at precisely the moment when the film begins.

Wilson, a minor celebrity in Manchester, was a comically erudite television presenter who happened to be in the audience at one of the first Sex Pistols gigs. His longing for a historical moment he could call his own led him to start Factory Records, home to Joy Divison, New Order, and a collection of other bands including Happy Mondays. He managed to be at the heart of punk, new wave, and the beginning of rave culture, which Coogan-as-Wilson insists on trying to depict as an accident, with himself as “a minor character in my own story”.

Winterbottom’s film, shot on digital video, is a skilfully anarchic record of the decade and a half when British music led the world, and a nasty, decaying industrial town like Manchester could challenge London and New York for sheer hipness. Coogan in particular is fantastic, a vain, preening, occasionally insincere yet idealistic lovable asshole whose peculiar integrity costs him everything he has at the end of the film.

Besides the featurettes on Wilson and Manchester, there are separate commentary tracks with Coogan and Wilson, both utterly priceless, and a series of deleted scenes in their raw, video form, which give a rare glimpse at how much skill goes into making digital cinema look professional and “film-like”.

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Trouble in Paradise
Criterion DVD

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The title of Ernst Lubitsch’s classic 1932 comedy appears in the credit sequence floating over the image of a double bed. It should give anyone a broad hint about what, precisely, this sly and sophisticated comedy is really about.

Gaston (Herbert Marshall) and Lily (Miriam Hopkins) are a pair of thieves whose hunting ground is high society, where they pass themselves off as aristocrats down on their luck. They fall in love while robbing each other, and begin a romantic and criminal partnership that takes them all over Europe’s social register.

Their idyllic - yet entirely larcenous - romance hits the rocks when Gaston falls in love with a beautiful, rich widow (Kay Francis), who was supposed to be their latest, most lucrative victim. Morality in Lubitsch’s films is a vague and agony-free matter, never more so than in an uncensored pre-code film like Trouble in Paradise - who will take what from whom is completely up in the air until the last moment of the film.

A thoughtful package that includes an introduction to Lubitsch by director Peter Bogdanovich, a 1940 radio play version of the film with Lubitsch, Jack Benny and Claudette Colbert, and a rare 1917 silent short by the director.

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Shampoo
Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment DVD

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This bleakly sexy take on the late 60s from the perspective of the mid-70s arrives, sadly, free of any bonus material, a sad and stingy oversight that ignores just now much a “period” piece Shampoo was, even when it was released only seven years after the setting of the film.

Warren Beatty plays George, a talented hairdresser and a mostly untroubled and depthless stud who has managed to gracefully juggle dozens, even hundreds of women until the 24-hour period depicted in Hal Ashby’s film. Beatty, who produced the film and co-wrote the script with Robert Towne, obviously saw a lot of himself in George, and his dead-on performance is one of the rare reminders of just how Beatty became a major star.

While the 1968 presidential election plays out in the background, George slowly loses his girlfriend (Goldie Hawn) while sleeping with both the wife (Lee Grant), daughter (Carrie Fisher) and mistress (Julie Christie) of Lester, a powerful but sleazy businessman (Jack Warden). “I’m not anti-establishment,” George pleads after Lester confronts him, desperate to know just how such a handsome airhead, a stranger he’d only just met, managed to destroy both their lives in a day.

Shampoo, like most of the great films of the 70s before Star Wars, is desperate to know “What happened?” in the sour wake of the 60s. It would have been nice to hear, from Towne, Beatty and the rest of the cast, just what was on their minds while making this once popular but currently underrated film.

©2003 rick mcginnis all rights reserved.