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Joy Division [Film Review]

Ian Curtis Joy Division Documentary

Written by bob_vinyl

This documentary was clearly released in tandem with Control and, while that was surely a good move commercially, it makes it difficult to get as involved in this versus Anton Corbijn’s brilliant dramatization. Of course, the two aren’t quite the same, Control being the story of Ian Curtis and Joy Division the story of the band itself. Nevertheless, this documentary has a hard time getting out of the shadows of Control.

Director Grant Gee tries to draw parallels between the band and the city of Manchester, focusing on the city’s and the band’s rise and fall as well as all the landmarks for each that are no longer there. It’s a clever idea, but it seems to get lost at times and never flows smoothly.

Clever conventions aside, the film does a good job of telling Joy Division’s story. The bulk of the interviews are with surviving band members Peter Hook, Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris as well as Factory Records founder Tony Wilson and Curtis’ girlfriend Annik Honore, but it also has insights from those outside of the inner circle such as the Buzzcocks’ Pete Shelley and other contemporaries. Oddly enough, all contributions for Deborah Curtis are quotes on the screen and not filmed interviews (a convention understandably used also for the late Rob Gretton).

Joy Division deals more with the band than with Curtis’ personal life and therefore sheds a kinder light upon him. While I’m not sure he should get a pass, there is more to the story than his personal problems and they did a very good job of dealing only with those parts that directly affected the band.

Overall, this is a good rock documentary. It’s intelligent and clever, but offers no truly great insight into Joy Division. As Peter Hook says in the film, they were four guys who had no idea what they were doing… unless Ian did and we’ll never know. It’s certainly not as riveting as Control, but this one is about music more than people and that is both its strength and its weakness.

Joy Division DVD

Miriam Collection [DVD, 2008]

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