Reviewed by Ken Fox

"This is not a film about me," insists Tony Wilson, the Mancunian TV host and post-punk impresario portrayed so brilliantly by Steve Coogan in this audacious biopic. "This is a story about the music." And so it is. Director Michael Winterbottom's account of Wilson's wild ride on fortune's wheel is jammed packed with the sounds of the edgy noisemakers who erupted out of Manchester in the wake of punk rock. Frank Cottrell Boyce's screenplay is also filled with some of the wittiest dialogue you're likely to hear in a rock flick. Blown away by the Sex Pistols' legendary 1976 appearance at Manchester Free Trade Hall, Wilson began featuring punk acts on his Granada TV show "So It Goes" and booking bands for new wave nights at the local club he renamed "The Factory." Hoping to capture the sounds of a city routinely ignored by the London-based media, Wilson formed Factory Records and began recording the group that would soon become the label's flagship band: somber post-punk innovators Joy Division ("Love Will Tear Us Apart"), who firmly established Factory as a label to watch. The first half of the film chronicles Joy Division's rise, the recording of their first album with mad genius producer Martin Hannett (Andy Serkis), and the sad, sudden death of troubled lead singer Ian Curtis (Sean Harris). Throughout, Wilson holds down his day job but begins indulging a penchant for grand artistic gestures and stylish profligacy that would soon prove his downfall. The second half of the film sees Wilson through the lean years of the early '80s, when the remnants of Joy Division regroup as New Order, and Wilson risks everything by opening a cavernous club on the industrial outskirts of the city. Like so many of Wilson's brainstorms, the Hacienda proves to be a money pit, but a culturally important one. By mid-decade, rave culture begins to coalesce, the incorrigible Factory band Happy Mondays top the charts — and nearly destroy the company — and Tony Wilson's Hacienda club is suddenly ground zero for the ecstasy-fueled "Madchester" explosion. Shot on digital video by Robby Muller and edited with a rhythm that matches the soundtrack's scratchy guitars and funky basslines, this could very well be the most self-referential movie ever made; Wilson constantly pauses mid-scene to explain an interesting bit of symbolism, or jumps ahead to offer some ironic 20/20 hindsight. Also featured are countless cameos from local superstars ranging from the Fall's Mark E. Smith to Mani of the Stone Roses, making the film an absolute thrill for fans of the Manchester scene.