Friday, 2 May 2008

Joy Division - Review by Joseph Wren

Director: Grant Gee
Running Time: 93 mins
Certificate: 15
Release Date: 2 May

It’s been 30 years since the first time anyone heard a Joy Division record, and 28 since the death of singer Ian Curtis. Yet those two years, 1978-1980, and the musical sparks coming out of the Manchester scene, have been covered in two very good films in the past few years - Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People, and Control, made by Joy Division photographer Anton Corbijn. While Winterbottom told the story of the birth of the scene through the persona of Tony Wilson, Corbijn focused on the scene’s most exciting talent and ultimate tragedy, the enigmatic Ian Curtis, as based on the book by Deborah Curtis. With all of the ground covered in recent years, music video director Grant Gee searches for fresh stories in his new documentary.

What this Joy Division documentary offers is a plethora of live footage not previously seen on the big screen. As one might surmise, most of the footage is raw, crusty, fan-shot VHS recordings. The most prized footage is the original Grenada TV appearance of the band’s infamous breakthrough spot on Tony Wilson’s “So it Goes” programme, which was recreated so beautifully in Control. Interviews with the dearly departed Wilson and legendary producer John Peel will be a genuine treat for music lovers. Along with Anton Corbijn and the remaining members of the band (who are now New Order), the most intriguing interview subject is Annik Honore, the Belgian journalist with whom Curtis had the affair that inspired “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, the band’s biggest hit. What is blaringly absent is the inclusion of Deborah Curtis. Though her book was the source material for Control, seeing her speak directly may have given this documentary the punch that it sorely lacks.

Shot in a straightforward documentary fashion, with mild stylistic touches by Gee, Joy Division lacks any real cinematic quality. It retraces over the lines drawn by Control and Party People, and little new information or specific insight comes to light after 93 minutes. That being said, there are enough nuggets here - such as finding out how the band came up with such a signature bass sound – to be of interest for Joy Division fans. While it works as a nice companion piece to Control, this documentary seems more like a bonus disc in a nice DVD package of that film than a proper stand-alone doc. Fans only.

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