To be modern is to find ourselves in an environment that promises us adventure, power, joy, growth, transformation of ourselves and the world–and at the same time that threatens to destroy everything we have, everything we know, everything we are.
–Marshall Berman, All That is Solid Melts Into Air (the opening quote of the film)
Given the chance to gain intimate access to members of New Order and charming, garrulous raconteurs like Tony Wilson, most filmmakers would be hard pressed to not give in to the temptation to simply just present talking heads.
Surely the average Sundance documentary would do as much, so this makes us appreciate director Grant Gee’s inspired, insightful, and vibrant take on the well-documented unlikely rise and fall of seminal Manchester post-punk depressives Joy Division all the more.
The man behind Radiohead’s “Meeting People Is Easy” and videos for Tom Waits, Blur, Sparklhorse and Thom Yorke’s pals (to name just a few), from minute one, Gee announces himself as a filmmaker with an incredibly strong command of a striking cinematic language.
Obviously the chronicle within the titular “Joy Division” of doomed singer Ian Curtis’ eventual suicide is well-told, but the Gee’s energy and imaginative storytelling makes the documentary endlessly viewable despite being told in a seemingly obvious chronological order.
Impressionistic, inventive and artful, “Joy Division” is held up by tons of key interviews (Peter Hook, Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morrison, Factory Records impresario Wilson, celebrated British rock journalist Paul Morley, Factory Records sleeve designer Peter Saville, members of the Buzzcocks, director Anton Corbijn, Psychic TV’s Genesis P-Orridge and more), but the manner in which their recollections are conveyed is continually resourceful and engaging (the way audio clips are displayed as sound waves reminiscent of Unknown Pleasures’ artwork is rather inspired).
There tons of archival photos, and footage that reminds you of the electrical magnetism of Joy Division – a fierce live band even evocative of the volume and grandeur of My Bloody Valentine in moments (for those that became familiar with the groups the other way around).
One also can’t discuss Joy Division without articulating the post-industrial nightmare that was their experience growing up in Manchester – a city inexorably tied to the band in both literal and figurative manners that are both physically and cerebrally explored and represented in the doc.
DVD Extras include the entire performance of “Transmission” on Tony Wilson’s seminal “So It Goes” program plus some 70 minutes worth of extra interviews. This is about as much of a “review” we can muster today, but suffice to say “Joy Division” is a fantastic treat and puts the rather dull feature-length narrative, “Control,” to shame. [A]
We have two exclusive clips from the film and by exclusive, we mean two clips we uploaded to YouTube ourselves (actually, our little bro did, thanks Holmes) for everyone to pinch too (we’re egalitarian, what can we say?)
Scene: Peter Saville notes the Closer cover wasn’t exactly apropos after Curtis’ death.
Scene: Peter Hook reminds us all how much of a clueless yob he is. New Order seemed clueless about Curtis’ state of mind near the end (it’s almost criminal).
Watch: “Joy Division” trailer