Joy Division (2007, Director: Grant Gee): I wanted to catch this back at TIFF in September, but saw Anton Corbijn’s Control (review) instead. The two films essentially complete each other, and seeing this after Corbijn’s dramatic film made me appreciate how closely that film hewed to the facts. And seeing footage of Ian Curtis performing made Sam Riley’s performance that much more eerily compelling in retrospect.
Gee fashions his film around the image of the changing city of Manchester. He points out explicitly how many of the landmarks in the life of the band no longer exist. Sadly, this also applies to the people themselves. Manager Rob Gretton and engineer Martin Hannett are no longer with us, nor is radio DJ and supporter John Peel. Most poignantly, Tony Wilson, who appears in the film, died in August 2007. The images of transformation describe the career of Joy Division especially well; after the suicide of Ian Curtis, the three remaining members decided to change their name to New Order and keep going. Just as Manchester rose from the rubble of its industrial past, New Order became one of the most successful British groups of the 80s and 90s. It started so much more inauspiciously.
Inspired by the punk of the Sex Pistols, Joy Division (originally called Warsaw) formed in 1977 and quickly gelled around the magnetic figure of Ian Curtis. The film brings together lots of old performance footage in addition to interviews with the surviving band members. Especially welcome is the contribution of Annik Honoré, Curtis’ Belgian girlfriend, who still seems deeply affected by his death. She is still incredibly beautiful and embodies the sophistication that made some of the other band members a bit nervous.
Gee also spices up some audio-only interviews with motion graphics and otherwise mixes up his methods to keep the audience interested. It was understandable but still disappointing that Deborah Curtis’ (Ian’s widow) wasn’t featured, though there were a few written quotations featured on-screen (from her biography Touching From A Distance, I assume).
It’s particularly fitting for me to be reviewing a film about a great band in the middle of a music festival where more than 1,500 bands are playing in the space of a week. Among so many hard-working and talented musicians, this film makes the achievement of four working-class lads from Manchester that much more impressive. Gee’s film has given me a better appreciation of the band, and of Corbijn’s film in particular. They should be sold as a set, I think.