In the early to mid-1980s, Channel 4 in the U.K. had a series called Play at Home in which various bands were given an hour to do with as they pleased. Someone at Channel 4 had good taste: among the bands that participated were Big Country, the Angelic Upstarts, XTC, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Echo and the Bunnymen. The entry from Siouxsie was utterly singular, but the 1984 submission from New Order was unexpectedly fascinating and weird as well.
For one thing, there’s a high quotient of humor in this thing, some of it quite sophomoric—not exactly the headspace I was expecting New Order to put me in. The opening sequence (executed in part by Peter Saville) resembles one of the mock-lofty moments from Monty Python’s Flying Circus (the example in my mind is “The Semaphore Version of Wuthering Heights” for some reason but Python did plenty of voiceover-heavy exterior bits). With the camera trained on a comely bit of landscape, a stentorian voice intones, “Factory Records: a Partnership, a Business, a Joke.” In short order the authority of that voice dissipates as it reads the “cast of characters” in a ridiculous and rapid register.
The star of the proceedings is really Tony Wilson, which makes this movie an interesting companion piece to 24 Hour Party People, which also centered on Wilson (as embodied by Steve Coogan). Wilson spends much of the documentary in a bathtub (naked), and one of the first things that happens is that Gillian Gilbert jumps into the bathtub (clothed) and starts to interview him.
Gillian Gilbert and Tony Wilson
One of the most memorable moments is a bird’s-eye shot of the two of them in the tub, Wilson’s hands placed strategically over his privates, as he attempts to answer Gilbert’s question, which happens to be “Are you a capitalist?” That question, and the related question of Wilson’s financial relationship to the band, provides the seething subtext of hostility that percolates throughout the movie. At one point Wilson prefaces some banal point by saying “As Trotsky once said….” and sure enough, the band uses that line against Wilson elsewhere in the movie.
There’s a wonderful line uttered by Richard Boon in the context of the shortcomings of The Haçienda nightclub—co-owned by the group, their manager and Wilson—namely that it’s too well lit, doesn’t have a back room, and therefore lacks dark corners where a patron can go and hide:
“There’s got to be some sex and some threat.”
Watch after the jump…