Joy Division

Joy Division


Reviewed by: Daniel Hooper

The documentary Joy Division has a task ahead of it – how do you tell a story that’s been told so many times before (including in Anton Corbijn’s recent biopic Control) and keep it interesting? Thankfully, as the late Tony Wilson observes, the story of Joy Division is not just the story of a man or a band but also ‘the story of a city’ (a fact neatly observed in a more general way in 24 Hour Party People) and it’s from this angle that director Grant Gee has found a new take on a story immortalised in the pop-culture psyche.

Perhaps the biggest trump card Joy Division has going for it is the participation of the former band members Peter Hook, Bernard Sumner, and Stephen Morris. Their presence gives this documentary the authenticity of lived experience, which in turn gives an emotional pulse to the narrative; the happy moments shared by the band are enjoyably expressed, as well as the sadness of the tragedy and their regrets. Gee has also assembled a rounded variety of talking heads including the aforementioned Tony Wilson, former NME writer Paul Morley, and, most impressively, Ian’s lover Annik Honore. The only real notable absence is that of Ian’s wife Deborah, though quotes from her book Touching From A Distance do pop up at points in the film.

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Watching 90 minutes of people reminiscing all things Joy Division may not sound like the most cinematic experience but the director has done his research and picked out some wonderful archive material like Tony Wilson’s enjoyable television reports and classic footage of John Peel playing a Joy Division EP at the wrong speed.

The soundtrack is, of course, superb, and the television appearances and bootleg live videos testify to how charismatic Joy Division were as live performers. Gee’s previous work includes the beautiful Radiohead tour documentary Meeting People Is Easy, and a lot of the visual style that made that a pleasure to watch has transferred to Joy Division - credit should go to the editor of both, Jerry Chater. Like Gee’s earlier film, there is wonderful use of layering of negative shots on footage, images of bustling cityscapes, and fast paced editing. In one stunning sequence they dissolve images of a dancehall with a Manchester tower-block, while mixing a Northern Soul song and the Joy Division cover version on the soundtrack.

Joy Division is a welcome addition to the legacy of material that surrounds the band, and may be the definitive history of Joy Division thanks to the quality of the speakers, the wonderful production work by Gee, and the co-ordination by writer and punk historian Jon Savage. For the uninitiated this isn’t as easy an introduction as the visually stunning Control but the group's many fans will enjoy this more realistic attempt at the Joy Division story.

Reviewed on: 22 May 2008
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An in-depth biographical account of the legendary Manchester band.
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Director: Grant Gee

Writer: Jon Savage

Starring: Peter Hook, Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris, Tony Wilson, Annik Honore

Year: 2007

Runtime: 93 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US, UK

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