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|Index||11 reviews in total|
The only shortcoming perhaps of this documentary, is that it didn't
range too far beyond the context of the group and into the rest of the
music scene at the time. However that is a valid choice for the
film-maker. There was a lot of ground to cover, and fans will
appreciate the depth and attention paid to the music and live footage.
The film zeros in on the dynamic formation and growth of this seminal band, and particularly the increasing struggles of fated lead-singer, Ian Curtis. This was handled with surprising candor and integrity, no small accomplishment.
Those with only a basic knowledge of the role Joy Division played in the renewal of both the post-punk music scene and Manchester will find this an informative documentary. In addition to retrospectives by all remaining band members, a well-balanced range of contributers comment on everything from the scene, to music production and cover art design, to the cultural influences behind the band's unique style.
As a hardcore fan, I really enjoyed this Joy Division doco more than I
expected. Given that they were a shortlived band from a provincial
area, and had only achieved up-and-coming status at the time of their
demise, any documentary maker must face the challenge of the severe
lack of video footage of the band, and poor quality of what is
available, further exacerbated by the death, and hence unavailability
for interview, of some of the key players viz Curtis, Hannett &
Gretton. What's more, their active years coincided with Manchester's
large-scale redevelopment, hence their old haunts have long since been
torn down and replaced. Offset against this is the newfound openness of
the remaining players to giving honest and full answers in interviews.
They had previously been very reticent, particularly about Curtis whom
they professed to be sick of discussing as they tried to establish New
Order independent of the Joy Division legacy.
Overall, Gee rises to the challenge brilliantly. Gee's solution was to use extensive interviews with remaining members, brief interviews of many of the bit players, and waffling from some intellectuals explaining the band as being products of their time and place. This is combined with general video footage of 1970's Manchester, snippets of the limited available TV & gig footage, arty stills of the band taken mainly by Anton Corbijn with discussion of the photos' backgrounds, stills showing external shots of the band's old haunts then and now (the "Places that are no longer there" series), and the odd audio recording (e.g. Ian's hypnosis tapes, John Peel getting the speed wrong playing "Atmosphere") with oscilloscope visuals. The briefness of the video snippets used and the snappy editing successfully prevents the viewer noticing the paucity of the source material. Though we are constantly made aware that we are discussing a time and place and singer that are long gone, it all seems appropriate given that their music was mainly about loss.
Highlights included seeing the decaying 1970's Manchester which so inspired and suited their music. It was great to see pictures of the venues I'd only read about, even if they were old stills. There were few truly new facts for the Joy Division anorak, but it did give a sense of time and place and mood to known facts, and put faces and personalities to names. It was fascinating to hear Bernard's detailed account of Ian's first seizure, and the band's reactions to hearing of Ian's suicide first-hand. They are typical northerner artists, in that their brilliant, highly emotional music is created by remarkably dour people, and their sense of humour is cringeworthy. Though the band find their own anecdotes hilarious, Gee edited most of them into an incomprehensible mish-mash to hide how dull and unfunny they were. Lindsay Reade and Lesley Gilbert are remarkably beautiful for fiftysomethings, while the young Annik Honoré is much less pretty than her hold on Ian would suggest. She is overly melodramatic in interviews. Genesis C_Ornflakes is an even bigger freak now than in his Gristle days, and his stories lack credibility.
On the negative side, the intellectuals and their thesis-pushing grated. Joy Division were neither commenting on nor a product of an intellectual notion of "modernity". They were a bunch of rather ordinary Mancunians dreaming of a more exciting life than their dead-end jobs, who happened to be musical geniuses and with a singer/lyricist obsessed by darkly melodramatic bands like the Velvet Underground and the Doors. Nor were they anti-Thatcherites with revolutionary sympathies as the intellectuals claim. The Thatcher government took power in May 1979, whereas punk and post-punk emerged under the previous Labour government. As his wife and bandmates revealed elsewhere, Curtis himself was an ardent Tory with robustly "traditional" views on women and immigrants, while Stephen Morris has said he didn't vote in the first election for which he was old enough through lack of interest.
Joy Division, the mercurial Manchester based masters of dark post punk
sounds, who in Ian Curtis had one of the eras most tortured souls.
Directed by Grant Gee and written by Jon Savage, this documentary actually brings nothing new to the table for hardened fans of the band, of which I am unashamedly amongst that number. There is a tendency with musical documentaries to be over praised by fans simply because, well, they just love to see their idols/heroes/inspirations up there on the screen. Grant Gee's film has strong merits as an introduction for those new to the band, for the curious and to those hypnotised by tunes so hauntingly poetic they can reduce you to tears, but again for those who have followed Joy Division and their subsequent brotherhood band, New Order, there is nothing to be learned here.
The absence of Deborah Curtis (Ian's widow) from the doc is annoying, where we are only given printed quotes from her. One can only guess that she refused to be sharing screen space with her love rival, and fellow tormentor of Ian Curtis' psyche, Annik Honoré, the latter of which who is more than happy to fuel the documentary fire. At times this feels like a copy of Anton Corbijn's superb film, Control, only with the real life band members and entourage commenting from the edges of the frame. But then there is of course the live excerpts of the band, which lifts this up to the high levels set by Control and Deborah Curtis' excellent book, Touching from a Distance.
In that, there is the crux, Joy Division the film is essential for fans, to see that performance of Shadowplay and etc etc, it's these moments that make us forgive the narrative, which quite frankly, is a bit of a cash cow cash in. And I really do say that with heavy heart. 8/10
This is a quite beautiful, intrinsic and simply made documentary about the band Joy Division, and about Manchester's youths during the late 1970s and early 1980s. As a few lads congregated, learned their instruments and put together their landmark mal de vivre with the help of Martin Hammett in the shape of "Unknown Pleasures", the life of the group is both professional and private. Ian Curtis' life is high- lighted, and still not dissected from the view-point of Deborah Curtis. Annik Honoré, Curtis' lover, is interviewed, as is a bunch of Manc people, e.g. the members of Joy Division, Richard Boon, Kevin Cummins, Paul Morley, Genesis P. Orridge. They're not there to be name-dropped, but all bring good info to the table. Very little of what's found in this documentary is filler. There is bootleg video included, a piece of a conversation between Curtis in hypnosis and Bernard Sumner, filmed scrawls from Rob Gretton's note-book. All in all, a quite precious film, laying bare the landscape that was the preface, basis and aftermath of Joy Division. A very good music documentary indeed.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film about Joy Division is the best yet. For an understanding of
the story of the band, I found it better than the Ian and Deborah
Curtis-centered drama-biopic 'Control'. It will probably end up being
the definitive docu-biopic of Joy Division - not least because it's not
just about the band, but about their place within the late 70's English
Zeitgeist and the 'psycho-geography' of Manchester. On the DVD, the
extras with the interviews are particularly good - being a JD fan from
the first time I heard 'Transmission' on the John Peel show as a 15
year-old back in '79, I was pleasantly surprised by them. The movie in
and of itself gets an 8 from me but it's the extended interviews on the
DVD release that upped the score to 9.
I would have given this movie/DVD 10 out of 10 if it weren't for the use of a curtailed version of 'Atmosphere' to close the story. The missing lines at the end of the sublime Hannett-produced 12" release of 'Atmosphere' go something like -
'People like you find it easy - Aching to see - Walking on air - Hunting by the rivers, through the streets, every corner - Abandoned too soon - Set down with due care - Don't walk away - In silence - Don't walk away'.
- and the song is all-the-better for them, I reckon. And this film would've been that bit better if they hadn't been left out.
In June 4, 1976 at a Sex Pistols show in Manchester, Bernard Sumner and
Peter Hook decide to form a group. Ian Curtis joins the band and
drummer Stephen Morris answers their ad. They named their punk band Joy
Division from its Nazi origins. Local TV personality Tony Wilson
champions the group and DJ Rob Gretton starts managing the band.
The great thing about this documentary is the sense of time and place and the rundown depressing industrial city of Manchester. It has the cooperation of all the main people. It takes the band's progression chronologically. For fans of the band, this is a joy to relive the times. It's mostly about the music. Ian's wife Deborah gives some text inserts. She's the main missing part. She could have provided more personal insights into Ian's psyche. This one sees his struggles more from the outside and through his music. The bandmates are mostly clueless or maybe they're just willfully ignorant. It's compelling how they deal with the shock of it all.
Post-punk band Joy Division were only around for a very short time but
left a massive impression and would become one of the most influential
bands of their time. They only recorded a couple of albums - 'Unknown
Pleasures' and 'Closer' but both would immediately be afforded
classic status. In recent years there has been quite a lot of interest
in them and the Manchester music scene that spawned them which has
resulted in a couple of excellent films, 24 Hour Party People (2002)
and Control (2007). The latter of which focused specifically on the
late Ian Curtis, singer in the group. He was a famously troubled
individual who was afflicted with severe epilepsy. His dark, highly
personal lyrics went some way in characterising the Joy Division sound.
Far from a typical rock character, he worked in the civil service
helping the disabled find work. He killed himself in 1980 on the eve of
Joy Division's first North American tour, he was 23. While this film is
not all about Curtis and is more about the band in general, his
presence in their story remains colossal and ingrained.
The story is significantly about the setting as well. Industrialised Manchester was a pretty bleak place back in the 70's and it's from this backdrop that the band emerges. There wasn't a great deal of hope for a lot of young people at this time and their frustrations were vocalised in the punk rock scene. An early Sex Pistols gig in the Manchester Free Trade Hall proving to be a massively influential event which encouraged the members of the future Joy Division that they could form a group and do a similar thing. By the time the band got going, the restrictive nature of pure punk rock had meant that in order to take its ethos forward a new music which retained its attitude but expanded its musical palette had to be devised. Joy Division were one of the key early innovators in what would go on to be known as post-punk. The documentary really focuses solely on Joy Division themselves and not this wider, very original music scene which ultimately led to alternative rock.
The film is based around the recollections of the three surviving members Bernard Summer, Stephen Morris and Peter Hook. It also has contributions from many others involved directly in the story such as Factory Records founder Tony Wilson, while it looks back on the significant work of others no longer with us like producer Martin Hannett. Curtis's lover Annik Honoré appears but his wife Deborah does not; there is still some understandable bad feeling from the latter about how she and her child were treated specifically in relation to Curtis's relationship with Honoré. Because of the lack of media outlets at the time and the very underground nature of the band there really is a paucity of visual material of them, aside from some bootleg footage and some television appearances, in addition there is a strange taped audio conversation of Curtis while under hypnosis. But the film-makers do make the film visually interesting enough for you not to really notice this very much, with much footage of Manchester at the time which almost feels like it is from another world now. There are also many experts who offer ideas about high concepts that they believed the band were aiming for with their music. While these sound good, they are a common trait of music journalism in general where everything is over-analysed. The truth comes out more from the mouths of the band themselves where we learn that Hook's distinctive high pitched bass style was devised purely because it was easier for him to hear over the top of the rest of the group during band practice and we also learn that the rest of the group really paid very little attention to the actual content of Curtis' lyrics at all. Like most great music it was created by chance chemistry between individuals and there wasn't much more to it than that. All-in-all, an informative documentary which illustrates how significant a band Joy Division was.
Grant Gee's inventive and honest documentary about Joy Division is not
just a fine example of non-fiction film-making, but of film-making,
After the success of "Control", "Joy Division" has a new lease of interest behind it. It is, therefore, very good news to report that the film is not only interesting and informative, but also very effective. It is intelligent, though never ponderous. It is artistic, but never loses sight of its purpose.
The central interest of the film is not so much the eponymous band but the city of Manchester and the time and place which Joy Division found themselves in. Its focus here might tend to the ludicrous at points, but this is balanced by the human stories playing out in front of the northern backdrop.
There is very little complaint to be levelled at this film. It is not a masterpiece or extraordinary, but it is an excellent slice of cinema, knowledge and storytelling.
Rather than go on and on I watch this every day at the moment and have
done for about a month. If you like JD you will like the doco. I
usually put this on because I have only owned the album "Substance"
which is a collection of JD not an actual album. I put the doco on,
usually after and listen to it like music with all the stories and
performances. I love it. Their music was so modern it stands up to the
test of time. The doco itself is a well put together, linear story told
by surviving band members, all those people you remember from "24 Hour
Part People" and more. get it and watch it more than once because there
is a lot in there. Top marks.
One of my five favorites films in 2007 was Control, Anton Corbijn's
beautifully bleak black and white biopic of Ian Curtis and Joy
Division. Aside from the music, what I loved about the film was its
kitchen sink realism and incredible attention to detail. Following the
trend, last night I watched Grant Gee's documentary Joy Division about
-you guessed it- Joy Division. As much as I enjoyed Gee's documentary
(which I did), it only made me appreciate Control all the more.
Corbijn, who participates in the doc, was amongst a handful of
photographers who glimpsed, first hand, the ascension of Joy Division.
While watching Gee's film it proved Corbijn spared no effort to make
Control as factual and accurate as possible. The two films make great
companion pieces, not just because JD fills in a few of Control's
narrative gaps, but mostly because it introduces us to the real faces
behind the story told in Control.
I feel like I'm slighting Gee by talking more about Control than his documentary, but the truth is, I can't say enough good things about Control...I sincerely believe it is one of the best music biopics I've ever watched. Simply put, there's little wrong with Control, and the casting alone is worthy of great praise -- not only are the actors in Control dead ringers for their real life counterparts, they're great actors.
Considering this is a review of Gee's doc, I suppose I should make an effort to discuss it. In short, JD doesn't break any new ground, nor does it provide Joy Division enthusiasts with any new revelations or insights. The greatest strength of the doc is how Gee emulates the same stylistic aesthetic associated with the band, their music, their album art and the movement they spawned. JD is a great looking documentary, visually compelling from beginning to end and its chock full of vintage, low-fi concert footage pulled out from the vaults. If you're a Joy Division fan you'll enjoy this documentary as much as I did, if not, you might enjoy it but it certainly won't change your life.
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