At The Cinema: Joy Division

I saw a preview for “Joy Division” while watching my DVD copy of Control for the first time. Naturally, I felt compelled to watch the documentary version of the dramatic version of the true story of Ian Curtis and Joy Division. Finally, it arrived in my Netflix queue. And it was so good, I kept it two nights, instead of my usual “watch it and return it” process.

Where the drama starring pretty young things was pretty bloody great, so too is the doc featuring the genuine articles.

We begin with a Marshall Berman quote (from All That Is Solid Melts Into Air), stark white text on a black screen: “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.” These words ring true of so many, undoubtedly, but for our purposes, they certainly apply to Ian Curtis. But this film, unlike Control, is not just about Ian Curtis.

It’s as much about the city of Manchester as it is about the musicians she spawned: a “story of a city” as they say in the opening seconds. Vintage photos and news footage shape the impression of Manchester in the 70s as a grim, grimy, desolate modern wilderness, caked with the soot of industry and left to ruin, with giant apartment blocks going up one after the next adding to the soulless feel. It’s no wonder one of the greatest post-punk bands (and so many great, yet moody bands) emerged from the crumbling city.

Interspersed with tales of Manchester are the threads of the Joy Division story. The Sex Pistols gig did indeed inspire Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner to start a band, which they called Warsaw. Ian was next to join, followed by drummer Stephen Morris. The band was renamed Joy Division after something Sumner read in World War II-related book House of Dolls. Hearing these stories come from the mouths of those who were there really gives life to the legend, and additional testimony is added from Very Important Persons in the saga of Joy Division like Tony Wilson and Ian’s Belgian gal pal Annik Honoree. There’s tons of vintage footage from Joy Division gigs and TV appearances to hit home just how good a band this was. All in all, “Joy Division” is a touching, visually-stunning, important film about the doomed pioneers of post-punk, and a valentine to the musical legacy of Manchester.


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