This absorbing documentary from director Grant Gee is an exploration of the inspirational and influential punk band Joy Division (1976-1980). Rather than focusing the storyline predominantly on the domestic drama of Ian Curtis, (suggested in Anton Corbijn’s Control), this documentary explores the band’s legacy.
Subconsciously, this film also illustrates the transformation of initially grimy Manchester into a new modern city, full of vibrancy and expectation. Joy Division reveals the city’s significance in making the band sound so unique: music and Manchester are intertwined.
The chronological approach taken allows insight into the journey taken by the band. Strings of lyrics (“Your confusion, my illusion, Worn like a mask of self-hate, confronts and then dies.”) enhance the soundtrack.
Not only does this film feature personal photographs, unseen live footage, and recently discovered audiotapes but it also features the participation of all the surviving band members (renamed New Order after Ian’s death). The poignant insights from Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris provide insight into the tragedy of their friend’s death…and life.
The change of band name should be adequate evidence that Ian was the true soul of the original group. He would dance in a dynamic trance as though he was possessed and overwhelmed, making it difficult to distinguish when he was actually suffering from his frequent epileptic fits. He was suffocating in his own life, expressing his need for help through music.
Despite the truism of his lyrics, his silent plea was ignored. Each band member and associate, excluding Anik his lover, claims that they overlooked any meaning in Ian’s lyrics as ‘it was just art’. Whilst many thought he was elevated on drugs, in reality it seems that it was his music that was controlling him. His self-expression was inevitably self-destructive.
To highlight the numerous covers of the seminal single “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, the audience is shown an iPod search screen. It proves that Joy Division still has a place in the hearts of its fans, but also it reminds us how, for all the developments in technology, the music remains powerful and relevant.
Joy Division is a compelling film. The truth is presented in statement: the integrity of New Order is evident, and the ‘not for the money’ approach taken by Joy Division is inspiring. New Order presents the rebuilding of a story, which begins with them: “they wrote great songs, and great songs never die”.
Review by Heather Young
View the Joy Division trailer:
And here’s some vintage footage of the band’s most famous song: